Mic Check! Bernie Sanders Swallows Occupy’s Microphone

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We share a lot of the views and experiences described in the article below from our experience at the Freedom Plaza Occupation of Washington, DC. We also saw Democrats and other establishment groups trying to co-opt occupy. Co-option of occupy is continuing with groups like “Occupy Democrats” — when Occupy was clearly non-partisan and fought off efforts by Democrats to usher the movement into the Democratic Party.

As for the Sanders campaign, like many he spoke about wealth inequality and the corrupt economy long before Occupy. What Occupy did was made inequality and corruption national political issues by showing that there was wide opposition to the Wall Street-dominated economy. People who felt this way did not realize how many allies they had; and people who did not know about these issues understood them with much more clarity. Sanders has taken the rhetoric of the 99% and used it for his own purposes. We are pleased to see Sanders using occupy rhetoric as the task of the movement now is to build national consensus. Sanders is reaching hundreds of thousands of people through his campaign and that helps achieve national consensus. Of course, we have disagreements with him on foreign policy, especially around support for war and militarism as well as for Israel.

This does not mean we are endorsing Sanders, in fact we believe the movement must be independent and a major task is to weaken the power structure. An important part of the power structure is the two party system, including the Democratic Party. This is a party that is heavily funded by Wall Street and big business interests and puts them before the people and planet. Sanders running inside the Democratic Party strengthens the power structure rather than weakens it. There will be no revolution coming from inside the Democratic Party. We see how the nomination process of the Democratic Party is rigged to prevent people like Sanders from getting nominated. The Democrats have successfully prevented an insurgent that challenges the power structure from getting nominated and we expect they will do the same with Sanders. At that point, our task as a movement will be to show how corrupt the Democratic Party is. It will not be Sanders’ ideas that defeat him in the primary, it will be a corrupt political party.

One thing we disagree with the author on is we do not see the movement that ignited with Occupy as over, we see it as evolving into new fronts of struggle. Occupy was a tactic that was in service to a movement for economic, racial and environmental justice. We never sought to re-occupy because that tactic is not always the appropriate one. The movement continues to grow and has more people mobilized than during the encampment phase. And, it will continue to grow when the Sanders campaign is over. We will need to get all we can out of the Sanders campaign and keep building the independent mass movement we need to achieve the transformation that is necessary for people and planet.  KZ

Political Power

There are still barricades around Liberty Square. More than four years after the eviction, New York City and Brookfield Office Properties, the owners of the park, have physically enclosed the space. Cars parked on nearby streets bear the logo of the new NYPD special task force for handling protests, the Strategic Response Group. The government is still concerned about the possibility of occupation, and clearly intends to prevent it from happening ever again.

Occupy Wall Street challenged the legitimacy of the American state. Rather than plead for—or demand—a place within the existing political structure, the occupation created a new way of doing politics. Through a process of direct democracy, the people created a new kind of power. This power, just by existing, was a genuine threat to the dominant power of the media, non-profits, and political parties. Thus, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) had to be destroyed, through a combination of institutionalization—cooption—and brute force.

Now, more than four years later, OWS is a distant memory. All that remains is the history. The question is how this history is going to be written, and by whom. Will it be in the hands of those who lived it, or the state that destroyed it? We the people made a revolution once. Let us not forget.

The Assembly

On September 17th I stood in the middle of Zuccotti Park, with a group of facilitators, and began to hold an assembly. Thousands of people had come out for the call to #OccupyWallStreet, and they were intending to do just that. We talked for hours about whether to sleep in front of the Stock Exchange or to stay where we were in the park. Most everyone there agreed it was the experience of being together, hearing one another, and building an alternative to Wall Street that was important. We decided to occupy Zuccotti Park, and rename it Liberty Square.

That assembly became the New York City General Assembly, and the NYCGA became the governing body of the occupation. All decisions were made at the assembly through a directly democratic process. We used a form of modified consensus, which meant that on any proposal brought before the assembly, we would attempt to reach consensus, but if we were unable to do so, then fall back on a 9/10 majority vote. There were working groups for every aspect of life at Liberty Square including food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. Basic needs were met by and for occupiers. There were no managers or leaders making decisions for us. We made decisions ourselves. It was our space.

During the first two weeks of occupation there were multiple assemblies every day. Occupiers were so enjoying the process that many could not stop speaking. Most of us had never had the experience of being in a self-governed space, where we were responsible only to each other. The park was filled with voices. Conversations would flow from one to the next, and for the first time in many of our lives, we felt like someone was listening. We amplified each other’s voices. Often, literally. When someone spoke in  assembly their words would be repeated by all the other participants, who listened and internalized what they were saying. This ritual encouraged the individual voices to become a collective voice. We called this the people’s microphone.

We, the people at Liberty Square had found our voice, and it resonated far beyond the occupation itself. In dozens of other cities occupations were starting and forming their own assemblies. They even used the people’s microphone.

It was time that we all speak to each other, so the New York City General Assembly drafted The Declaration of the Occupation. We wrote, “To the people of the world, We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power. Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone. To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal. Join us and make your voices heard!”

 

The Movement

Occupy Wall Street was growing from an action to a mass movement within a matter of weeks. By October there were hundreds of occupations all across the globe. People everywhere were taking the square and creating direct democracy.

The larger we grew, the more attention we received. Reporters came asking for our leaders. They wanted to know what our demands would be. We tried to explain what we were trying to do, but the mainstream media simply was not interested in a story about direct democracy. They wanted a voice that adhered to the frameworks and discourses of institutionalized political power.

Then came the professional organizers. Whether from the unions, one of the many non-profits, the Working Families Party, or more openly the Democratic Party itself, and they came with their own agenda. They attempted to steer the occupation away from the process of direct democracy and toward electoral politics.

Despite all these external pressures, the occupation kept going. We continued to make our own collective decisions, make our own media, and represent ourselves. We refused to be institutionalized.

The New York City General Assembly even drafted The Statement of Autonomy which clearly states, “Occupy Wall Street is a people’s movement. It is party-less, leaderless, by the people and for the people. It is not a business, a political party, an advertising campaign or a brand. It is not for sale. “

 

The State

Once it became clear Occupy Wall Street could not be integrated into the state,  it had to be destroyed. Whether through emotional and psychological methods such as calculated fostering of internal division or by outright brute force. In most places, it was by a combination of both.

The New York City General Assembly, which was the source of our collective voice, and our political power, was the first target. All of a sudden there were people showing up to the assemblies with the explicit and stated purpose of trying to destroy it. They exploited our weaknesses around internalized oppression and access to resources. These weaknesses were real—they were indeed problems that needed to be resolved—but in fact it became impossible to resolve them under constant efforts to derail the process and condemn everyone making any serious effort to come up with solutions.

Many of us decided it was time for a new democratic model, and spent a great deal of time and energy convincing others to shift gears. The Spokescouncil seemed to be a best approach: rather than a simple assembly, the large meetings would coordinate between smaller collectives and working groups, each with rotating “spokes”. This approach we thought could address growth, scale, oppression, and accountability by building around smaller groups. A spokescouncil was created, but was never really able to operate due to the same calculated attempts at disruption that bedevilled the general assembly.

The facilitators, myself included, were verbally and at times physically attacked. Those of us most committed to building democratic and accountable structure were accused of being authoritarian would-be leaders. These attacks further discredited the decision-making process, as they could be held out as proof that democracy itself was flawed, and made it near impossible to move forward.

In the middle of all this, Liberty Square was evicted. I watched as police tore apart our tents and many of our bodies. Everything we had built was gone in a matter of hours, cleared in sanitation trucks, made “clean”.

In December 2012 a report came out from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund that revealed the extent to which all this didn’t just happen; Occupy Wall Street was targeted by a coordinated effort between Homeland Security, the FBI, private security firms, and local police departments, who set out to infiltrate, disrupt, and evict Liberty Square as well as every other occupation. The state considered Occupy Wall Street to be a domestic terrorist threat—not because of any acts of violence, because by the governments’ own admission there were basically none, but because we were engaging in direct democracy, and in contemporary America, encouraging democratic assemblies is itself considered a “terroristic threat.”

 

Diaspora

It wasn’t until long after the eviction that I came to terms with defeat. I kept calling for meetings and hoping another occupation would happen, and that we would build stronger democratic structures. But it eventually became clear that Occupy Wall Street was over.

Without the concrete everyday life of occupation it was unclear what decisions needed to be made. Direct democracy was only possible when the people were actually organizing their own lives. The indirect and direct brutality of the state had displaced us and ended our political project.

 

The Rise of the Party

The Democratic Party had always been waiting in the wings of OWS, waiting for the right moment to reveal itself. The Working Families Party, more of a progressive caucus within the Democratic Party than its own party, already had organizers in our midst during the occupation. However, they never managed to win much influence on the politics of OWS. It wasn’t until OWS was dead that they could fully capitalize on the movement.

Bill De Blasio was NYC Public Advocate during OWS, and he would come to the park to posture against the Republic Mayor Michael Bloomberg. De Blasio later ran for mayor with the Working Families Party in the image of a community organizer who cared about the plight of regular New Yorkers. In his first State of the City Address he proclaimed, “This is a team that knows how to execute its core responsibilities – while never losing sight of the fact that we’re called to be part of a larger mission as well. Because the truth is, the state of our city, as we find it today, is a Tale of Two Cities – with an inequality gap that fundamentally threatens our future.”

During his tenure in office, though, De Blasio has done very little to help the people of NYC. He has backed a housing plan that favors high density luxury condo development over real affordable solutions. He has evicted camps of homeless people while shutting down shelters. He has backed a police commissioner on broken windows policing, an increase of police in the streets, and strategic response groups to handle protests. The progressive vision he promised wasn’t much, but has not even lived up to that.

 

The Presidency

The race for the presidency is on. Politicians of all stripes are making grand and empty promises to the people. They say they’ll make America great again, and bring new jobs. They say that they are one of us and we shouldn’t think of them as politicians.

Bernie Sanders is running for president. He talks a good game, and, just like De Blasio,  uses the rhetoric of OWS in his speeches. In his announcement that he was running he stated, “Let me be very clear. There is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and when 99 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent.”

The entire campaign has been built around his outsider, activist, identity. He talks about the need for a political revolution and waxes poetic about taking on Wall Street and meeting the needs of regular people. However, he is in no sense a regular person himself. He’s a seasoned beltway politician that is running for the presidency of the United States.

This is a pattern repeated with each election cycle. Politicians say what they think people want to hear. That’s their job. It sounds good. But they’re still politicians. They can only represent the political and economic interests that pay to put them into office. Because that’s the other part of their job. Politicians are a managerial elite. They cannot represent the people. This is a crisis as old as representation itself.

No one can represent the people, and no one can represent the movement. A real political revolution is not a change of those in power but the creation of a new way of doing politics.

 

The Square

In 2011 there were occupations of squares happening all across the globe. From the Kasbah in Tunis, Tahrir in Cairo, Puerta del Sol in Madrid, to Syntygma in Athens, people were rising up. The space of the square was a symbolic and actual space in which the politics of representation were thrown out in favor of direct democracy.

We the people at Liberty Square in New York City understood we were one part of this global square. We drafted collective documents speaking to the people of the world. We were not a political party. We were just people coming together and taking control of our lives.

Now, political parties are claiming the square for their own power. They are trying to rewrite history and erase the actions of people. Worse yet, they are packaging this history and selling it back to the people. But we know better. We were in the square. We heard each other. We know our power. It’s time that we take it back.

  • occupyRUScom

    Mr. ‘KZ’ et al:

    BEFORE ‘OCCUPY WS” of Sep.17.2011 there was/is both the autonomous but spontaneous Movement (s) called “WALKEViLLE” (Against Gov.Scott Walkerr Regime in; JAN.15.2011; in the Country of Wisconson… Angered by His/their ‘AUSTERiY aka ‘Sequester’..) AND

    “BLOOMBERGVILLE” June.15.2011 (Also Angered by His/Their Draconian Cuts and Austerity measures against he ‘Working-Class’ et al and the Insult to The Peoples Intelligence That such CRONIES Inc; had dealt selves a 3rd-Term in office etc..in the Country of New York)!Sooo

    The FATHER + MOTHER of OCCUPY (S.17+) is ‘Walkervlle+ Bloombergville!”

    POiNT: “Bernie Sanders” et al; supported [US] in All Three-3 Movements. And Thus ‘OCCUPY’ (a CHiLD Begot by The Above PARENTS) is the “Prophecy Of OWS!” And Therefore

    It’s Time for [THiS] Wonderful POLITCAL Mouth Piece (as a INDEPENDENT) be CHOSEN by ‘CONSENSUS (aka Direct Democracy)!’ No-more BlahBlah..!

  • kevinzeese

    We covered Bloombergville and the Wisconsin uprising (went out to Madison for the latter). I’d also add the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignados and other European revolts that preceded Occupy.

  • occupyRUScom

    HUGGS n KISSES to ALL da SISTER(s) n BOTHER(s)! YU Too!

    WE are Legion
    WE Do Not Forget
    nor Forgive so easy…” Yet
    “TRUST BUT VERiFY’m” !…

    Give Regards To JENNA POPE!

    PS: i [WE] are On top of “PEDEMOS” and
    TheBillionPeopleMarch” (Global).

    Also the [Michigan] WATERBRIGADE is w/ Michael Moore et al!

  • glenn

    Kevin, I strongly believe occupation is more than a tactic, and ultimately, re-occupation must be the most important tactic. That is the reason occupations of central squares are brutally suppressed here and around the world. Here in Philadelphia, the city hall location of Occupy Philly has been privatized by the new corporate controlled quasi-government called a “special service business district.” It’s had an anti protest system of water jets installed, which has already been used against BLM protesters. I imagine most Occupy locations have had anti-protest redesigns, security systems, and privatizations put in place.
    Our rulers are experts at atomizing us. Occupation terrified them, and rightly so. Marisa’s description of the assembly is both beautiful and empowering. Occupy would have continued to explode through cities had it not been brutally destroyed. I learned the neo-liberal agenda and tactics, during the 90s, in the fight against urban gentrification and various forms of privatization of public space. All manners of public institutions and spaces are being destroyed or co-opted. While the blatant crackdowns have not yet occurred, our Philadelphia parks, are now rental venues controlled by corporate groups. “Permits” can now be required for almost any assembly of citizens, and even sharing food can get even a tiny group arrested.
    This needs to be debated among activists, but I strongly believe that we must retake real physical public spaces in our communities and generate real assemblies of citizens. We lost the gentrification fight in Philadelphia since the late 1990s, because we failed to facilitate public general assemblies, and hold onto public space. The Phila. gentrification employed anti-democratic civic associations and insisted on secret business meetings to take control of public spaces and government itself. We must not let them completely atomize us, and reoccupation is the only sure way for a mass movement to form!

  • rgaura

    Can we just fantasize that when the HRC machine steals the nomination from Bernie, he joins the Green Party ticket as Jill Stein´s VP, and they go on to capture the presidency and revitalize and restructure the institutions of power in the USA? Imagine that! Public banking, no health insurance extortion, justice, peace, and the first woman president. Its time to go for broke, as the system putters to its well deserved end. Renewal!

  • Aquifer

    “If Bernie does a switcheroo …” You mean like O and all the other DP “prog” co-opters of the last decades, at least?

    If you are hoping for a “revolution” at the polls, Bernie ain’t your man. Much better off with the GP, Stein for Pres. and Flowers (Sen from MD), both of whom supported Occupy …

  • Aquifer

    First off, Sanders will not join the GP – he plighted his troth to the DP some time ago, only recently coming out of the closet to make it official. He has said he will support the Party nominee, no matter who, and added as he always has. He has opposed third party nominees,

  • rgaura

    So, if we can´t draft him, we can do it without him. How many irate voters who agree with his domestic platform will swing to the Green Party? Most, who vote on issues, and see the dire straights we are in…

  • mwildfire

    Sure, you can fantasize anything you want. How about a new female Jesus comes to Earth in a cloud of pretty lights and tells everybody how it should be, after waving Her magic wand to do away with climate change, and another pass to clean up the oceans? Or someone discovers a simple spray which reconfigures the brains of sociopaths, so that they become the most caring and thoughtful of people…and runs around spraying this all over the Capitol building and the White House before he can be stopped, and…
    In the real world, though, your scenario is impossible. Not step one, where HRC “steals” the nomination…but Sanders defecting to Greens is something he’s promised not to do, and if he did, that would easily swing the presidency to whoever the R’s nominate, likely (shudder) the [one who must not be named as I’m sick to death of seeing that name fifty times a day]. The American people are not “ready for ” Jill Stein, which is to say the corporate media will not support her and therefor they mostly won’t know of her existence, and will see her as extreme.

  • rgaura

    Imagination is the doorway to reality; nothing has come into being by human agency without being imagined first!

    I actually think you have a pretty good imagination. Did you know that a technology has been invented to clean up plastics from the ocean? Nothing like a good purpose, a lively imagination, and a team of engineers…

    Pay more attention to the desirable vision, turn off your TV and the pundits. Americans have been ready for single payer, justice, and sanity for a long time. This year the dam breaks, the tattered veils lift. Lets be there with a plan (or a hundred plans!) and a community of caring individuals.

    I´v been doing the impossible with no money all of my life, so I just know that the universe works with a committed mind. Buck up, this should be fun.

  • Aquifer

    Hmmm, why are the American people “not ready for Jill Stein”? If they are ready for Sanders, as many seem to think, why not Stein?

    It has been argued that the corporate media are trashing Sanders, but folks support him anyway – so what difference would it make?

  • Aquifer

    That’s the problem – those Sanders supporters, just like Kucinich supporters when I worked for him some years ago, will most probably do the LOTE thing if Sanders doesn’t get the nomination … I switched to Nader, but my co-workers went with Kerry 🙁

    i agree, we could indeed do it without him, we could have done it without his Dem predecessors, as well, but first folks have to decide that principle IS more important than party, and folks insistence on supporting Sanders when there is a better 3rd party candidate out there on the domestic issues Sanders bases his popularity on, and certainly on FP issues, rather indicates that party affiliation still seems to be all too strong … THAT is a mountain whose top certainly should be removed …

  • mwildfire

    Big differences. Sanders supports Israel and US war mongering, if less than most in Congress–he makes his compromises, Stein won’t. And he’s (relatively) well known. People will regard Stein and the Green party as weirdo fringe candidates. Don’t forget that at least as many people actively support Trump or one of the other clowns as our candidates and issues…national-level politicians all support the bullshit of American exceptionalism because the bulk of the population is unwilling to hear certain critical realities and thus the policies needed to address them responsibly. I mean: the reality that we live at the top of the food chain globally because of exploitation, for centuries, of the global South, that justice requires, if nor reparations, at least a more equal distribution in which Americans, feeling put upon because their privileges have been reduced by the gargantuan greed of the 1%, would have still less. And the reality that climate change is not some minor environmental problem but a looming threat of such magnitude it could even threaten the existence of our species…and it’s only one of many environmental crises bearing down on us. Not to mention other species because why would we mention other species, when human exceptionalism is even more unchallengeable than American exceptionalism? Then there are the related threats of resource depletion; massive changes are coming to life on this planet which would be difficult to address even were we willing to confront these realities with appropriate policies like a universal one-child rule till we get our numbers down to something sustainable, and nearly level economic redistribution so nobody starves or is homeless…no no NO! We are firm in our choice to get through this with a mass die-off instead, which is what our collective denial guarantees. I think that Stein is aware of all this, and in that imaginary world in which she could get elected, she would institute appropriate policies to address the scale of the real problems (Congress would be no impediment in that imaginary world).
    If you think the American people would vote for Stein despite the horror with which the corporate media would view her candidacy if they were to even notice it, you need to get out more. Talk to a few unaffiliated people like maybe neighbors, people waiting on line somewhere, etc. Ask them if they would vote for Sanders, if they would vote for Stein. I predict virtually all will say “Who’s Stein?” And by the way, don’t forget Plan B–the ruling powers can jimmy the vote-counting computers if even a loyal candidate like Gore or Kerry looks to win over their preferred candidate.

  • Aquifer

    The corp media, we are told, view the Sanders candidacy as a horror – but that doesn’t seem to have deterred his supporters …

    The point i am trying to make is that all the things folks have said against a Stein candidacy have been said about a Sanders one – and they have all been refuted re Sanders – by the same folks who mount them against Stein – if people are “ready” for Sanders based on his stated principles, they are more than ready for Stein, who, as you point out, is so much better in a number of areas – if based on party, then it’s an issue, but as a recent poll has pointed out, more than 50% of the voting public identifies with neither major party – they are indies. They may “lean” on way or another, but their ties are not what they used to be – they are moving away and, hopefully, ready to “bolt” – they need someplace to “bolt” to – as to “who’s Stein” that is where we gotta get out there and let them know …

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