People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 47

November 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street


An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Cannot Be Evicted


R Arun Kumar


IN the midnight of November 14, 2011 (early morning of 15th), the New York Police Department, urged by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, stormed the Zuccoti Park to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Police officers not only removed the protesters who had camped there for almost two months, but they also removed their tents, tarps and belongings. Bloomberg defended the decision to clear the park, saying “health and safety conditions became intolerable”. Many in the park locked arms and defied police orders to leave, singing 'We Shall Overcome' and shouting at the officers “disobey your orders.” The police commissioner said that nearly 200 people had been arrested, 142 in the park and 50 to 60 in the streets nearby. The police and the city administration had acted after a huge demonstration to “shut down Wall Street” was announced for the 17th November to commemorate the completion of two months of the occupation.


The police action was challenged in court by lawyers for the protesters. The judge of the State Supreme Court upheld the city’s move to clear the park and bar the protesters from bringing back their tents or sleeping overnight. Undeterred, the protesters regrouped again to 'occupy' the park, but the police did not allow anyone with backpacks, tents or large amounts of food to enter the park. As we go to print, around 750 people gathered again in the park and organised themselves into various discussion groups. Many people made arrangements for overnight shelter. Some people offered couches to one another, and two Manhattan churches opened their doors and said protesters could sleep there. Many people remained at the park and said they were prepared to stay awake through dawn.


The first general assembly organised in the park after they had    're-occupied', stated “They showed us their power. And we're showing them ours”. Further, “We are here because we believe a better world is possible. We are willing to endure mistreatment, if by doing so we can help re-enfranchise the 99 per cent and reclaim our democracy from the stranglehold of Wall Street and the top one percent...We will overcome the obstacles placed before us. We will not be deterred. We will persevere. Our message is resonating across America, and our cause is shared by millions around the world. We are the 99 per cent, and we want to live in a world that is for all of us – not just for those who have amassed great wealth and power. You cannot evict an idea whose time has come”.




Few days prior to the police action on the 'Occupy Wall Street' (OWS) encampment, they had received a solidarity statement from Cairo – the Tahrir Square movement, from which they claim their inspiration. It states, “Indeed, we are now in many ways involved in the same struggle. What most pundits call 'The Arab Spring' has its roots in the demonstrations, riots, strikes and occupations taking place all around the world, its foundations lie in years-long struggles by people and popular movements. The moment that we find ourselves in is nothing new, as we in Egypt and others have been fighting against systems of repression, disenfranchisement and the unchecked ravages of global capitalism (yes, we said it, capitalism): a system that has made a world that is dangerous and cruel to its inhabitants...An entire generation across the globe has grown up realising, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future in the current order of things. Living under structural adjustment policies and the supposed expertise of international organisations like the World Bank and IMF, we watched as our resources, industries and public services were sold off and dismantled as the 'free market' pushed an addiction to foreign goods, to foreign food even...We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same spaces of public practice that have been commodified, privatised and locked into the hands of faceless bureaucracy, real estate portfolios, and police ‘protection’. Hold on to these spaces, nurture them, and let the boundaries of your occupations grow. After all, who built these parks, these plazas, these buildings? Whose labour made them real and liveable? Why should it seem so natural that they should be withheld from us, policed and disciplined?...And so the occupations must continue, because there is no one left to ask for reform. They must continue because we are creating what we can no longer wait for...Those who said that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors that police visited upon us, nor did they see the resistance and even force that revolutionaries used against the police...It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose. If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted 'peaceful' with fetishising non-violence; if the State had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back...our only real advice to you is to continue, keep going and do not stop. Occupy more, find each other, build larger and larger networks and keep discovering new ways to experiment with social life, consensus, and democracy”. Indeed this proved to be a timely advice to the OWS movement.


On the 17th they are continuing with their call for 'shutting down wall street' with renewed vigour. A host of programmes are planned. They had decided to gather at Liberty Square at 7.00 am, before the trading starts and prevent the trading in the exchange. It was also planned to occupy the blocks around the Wall Street by gathering at the 16 central subway hubs and continue their campaign in the subway trains. In Spain, a general strike of university students is planned and a huge demonstration in Madrid. Similar protest actions are planned in many countries like Belgium, Germany and others.


In this background it is interesting to have a glimpse at the manner in which this 'OWS' movement which claims to be dominated by 'anarchist groups' functions. Apart from the General Assembly, that constitutes of all the 'occupants' participating, there are many working groups created to forward the movement’s goals. In these groups, ideas are exchanged, strategies are collectively shaped and the future of the occupation is being written. There are working groups like, 'outreach', 'medical', 'facilitation', 'food', 'design', 'comfort', 'library', 'action', 'organisation', 'information', etc. These working groups meet regularly, discuss and decide on the various tasks that need to be performed. As the solidarity statement from Cairo states, “Reclaiming these spaces and managing them justly and collectively is proof enough of our legitimacy...What you do in these spaces is neither as grandiose and abstract nor as quotidian as 'real democracy'; the nascent forms of praxis and social engagement being made in the occupations avoid the empty ideals and stale parliamentarianism that the term democracy has come to represent”.




It is interesting to note that there is a functional library in the park with hundreds of books. That a lending library sprung up fully operational from day one of the occupation makes sense when we consider that the exchange of ideas is paramount here. Just as occupiers of various religions, ethnicities mingle together in the park, the library too consists of varied books, an eclectic mix of de Tocqueville to Noam Chomsky. Authors like Naomi Klein have donated signed editions, and vanden Heuvel has pledged hundreds of copies of The Nation, Past and Present. Volunteers log each book on Library Thing, an online cataloguing site, by scanning the ISBN number using an iPhone app. In the Occupation at St Paul Cathedral, London, there is a 'Tent University' where professors from eminent institutes like London School of Economics deliver lectures on economics and other subjects. Another interesting fact is that the practice of holding a general assembly every day was continued by even those who were arrested in the jails.


The influence of the OWS on working class movement in the US too is already visible. Union leaders, who were initially cautious in embracing the Occupy movement, have in recent weeks showered the protesters with help – tents, air mattresses, propane heaters and tons of food. They have provided with nursing staff to attend to the injured, offices for accessing showers and toilets and intervened on behalf of the protesters in talks with the city administration. The protesters, for their part, have joined in union marches and picket lines across the nation. The General Assembly of Occupy Dallas called for a general strike on November 30. According to a report in the New York Times, “Labour unions, modelling at how the protesters have fired up the public on traditional labour issues like income inequality, are also starting to embrace some of the bold tactics and social media skills of the Occupy movement...Unions have long stuck to traditional tactics like picketing. But inspired by the Occupy protests, labour leaders are talking increasingly of mobilising the rank and file and trying to flex their muscles through large, boisterous marches, including nationwide marches planned for November 17”.


The New York Times in the same report quotes Arthur Brown, a mental health worker who said that the Occupy movement badly needed labour’s backing if it is to change the nation’s policies and politics. “Young people started this movement, but they can’t finish it,” Brown said. “They don’t have the capacity or the experience to finish it. We really need the working class and union folks, the older folks, the activists from the ’60s. ’70s and ’80s, to help make this a full-fledged movement that will change the political landscape of America”. María Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labour, said it remained to be seen whether the unions and the protesters could, by working together, achieve concrete change. “Workers are with the Occupy movement on the broader issues; they’re with them on the issue of inequality,” she said. “The question is, can the labour movement or the Occupy movement move that message down to the workplace, where workers confront low wages, low benefits and little power? Can we use it to organise workers where it really matters, in the workplace, to help their everyday life?”


But this, of course, worries some Occupy protesters that organised labour might seek to co-opt them. Jake Lowry, a 21-year-old college student and an Occupy participant, said: “We’re glad to have unions endorse us, but we can’t formally endorse them. We’re an autonomous group and it’s important to keep our autonomy”.


It is this reluctance that has to be overcome by the Occupy protesters, especially during these testing times, when the administration and the judiciary are bent on denying them space to 'occupy'. It is the classic 'State' in action. To fight the 'State', it needs the force of numbers and the might of organised working class. The earlier this is realised, the better it would be for all those who are vying to change the world for better.