(CounterPunch, VIJAY PRASHAD, September 17, 2012)
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A mid-September sunny day in New York City draws those with the day off to go to the parks and laze along the avenues, walking by the workers on call, cleaning up after tourists, holding together a city that always seems held together by the sweat of its massive workforce and a dose of city pride. Beneath the massive Washington Arch, a woman in a wheelchair, beside other men and women in wheelchairs and other prosthetic devices, holds a sign that says, “Occupy Wheelchairs.” The Occupy Wall Street Disability Caucus is holding an assembly to proclaim its presence at Occupy, Year 2. . . . Behind their wheelchairs, on the Arch, is a sculpture of Wisdom (made by Stirling Calder, the father of Alexander Calder), whose hand holds a book with Ovid’s quip, Exitus Acta Probat, which can be loosely translated as “all’s well that ends well.” It is a good hopeful slogan for the Occupy festival in anticipation of S17 (September 17), the day OWS returns to the canyons of Wall Street to shut down Money. . . . A man tells his three-year-old child, “let’s go occupy the playground.” It is the spirit of the moment. . . . The Occupy Catholics have a homemade sign: “We aren’t protesting. We’re advertising Love.” . . . A man in a police uniform holds a sign, “To understand us watch Inside Job. A film about Corporate Greed, not 9-11.” . . . Angela is frustrated by “everything that is wrong with the world.” She wants “real relationships between people, positive relationships.” . . . Not far from the wheelchairs is a row of four old typewriters. Ben, who had been active in Occupy Charlotte, is typing on one of them. He is excited to be here, in the midst of the color and chaos. The antique machines are courtesy of the Direct Action Flâneurs, whose typewriters and yellow paper allow people to tell their own stories. Ben is excited for the renewal of OWS, but he knows that it did not go away: it went into other struggles, “branched out” into anti-eviction fights, he says as an example. Where will OWS go, I ask? “It is hard to predict these things,” says Ben. . . . As the second anniversary neared, I went back and read as much as I could on Occupy, Year 1. There’s the Verso book (Occupy!), there’s Amy Schrager Lang and Daniel Lang/Levitsky’s edited volume Dreaming in Public: Building the Occupy Movement (New Internationalist, 2012), and there’s Kate Khatib, Margaret Killjoy and Mike McGuire’s We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation (AK Press, 2012). “Reality is never a simple thing,” writes Kate Khatib, whose reflection summarizes what most writers indicate, “Our demand? We want everything and nothing. Our perspective? We are all a little bit right, and we are all a little bit wrong. What matters is that we are doing something.” All the paper I have read on Occupy suggests this fact: something is being done, taking over public space to begin with, and then drawing that energy into the fights against eviction and against banks, against this and against that. . . . In the Year II issue of Tidal: Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy (September 2012), Jeremy Brecher quotes from Bertolt Brecht’s A German War Primer:
General, your tank is a strong vehicle. . . . It breaks down a forest and crushes a hundred people. . . . But it has one fault: it needs a driver.
. . . Our dependence on the 1%, Brecher writes, is contingent on the “cooperation of the 99%.” This is a call for a non-cooperation movement against war and capitalism. The system has failed. Jobs with dignity are not on offer. The writer Junot Diaz captures the essence of our contemporary system of Zombie Capitalism, “In the old days, a zombie was a figure whose life and work had been captured by magical means. Old zombies were expected to work around the clock with no relief. The new zombie cannot expect work of any kind – the new zombie just waits around to die.” The new zombie is sent to war or to prison. Or the new zombie can Occupy, build new solidarity economies, join collectives that experiment with new forms of political and social life, and shout themselves hoarse outside Money’s buildings. As Lemony Snicket put it in the New Internationalist collection, “A story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring of even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.” . . . Student debt is now over $1 trillion, just above credit card debt. No longer is the credit card a convenience for purchases. It is now the “plastic safety net.” A 2012 study by Demos shows that 40 percent of households used their credit cards to pay for basic living expenses (including food and rent, medical care and insurance). As Demos’ Amy Traub put it, “Americans are using credit cards to make up for the inadequacy of the public safety net, and to give themselves a raise at a time when unemployment remains high and real wages are in decline.” This is, as Strike Debt puts it, “history in reverse.” . . . The Manual ends with a litany of ways to deepen the resistance. Strike Debt has a campaign called Rolling Jubilee, a mutual-aid project that buys debt at steeply discounted prices and then abolishes it (to get involved, write to firstname.lastname@example.org). It has plans to create a Debtors’ Union, to remove debt from an individual-bank relationship to a much more equal debtors-bank relationship. To Wall Street and its minions, Strike Debt says, “We owe you nothing.” . . . This is the kind of boldness that emanates from Washington Square Park. And it comes with a big smile.