The Occupation, despite any doubts I might have had, is back on. We’ve been in Union Square, on the 14th street side, since Saturday. A lot of people I hadn’t seen in a while are back. Not all of them, but not all of the more annoying crazies are back either. And most importantly, the Info table was up most of the day today, and I got to work at it a while.
This new phase is interesting, though for different reasons than the last one was. Now everyone knows, or at least everyone who comes to the table does, what Occupy Wall Street is and why we’re here. The people asking me “Why are you here?” were mostly other Occupiers looking for an example of how to handle the question when speaking to their friends, relatives, and acquaintances. My old stock answers were a bit rusty, but I got them mostly up to date. NDAA and a couple other developments mean the answers need to be updated. I’m working out the kinks at the table.
Most of the old info crew wasn’t there, though Rich was. Rich is probably the most dedicated info guy I know, and stayed with it through the winter. He photocopied most of the fliers we stocked the table with today himself. Since the Occupation is pretty close to broke now, this was important. The General Assembly was held at Zuccotti instead of Union Square today because of what I heard third hand as being “financial reasons”. I took this to mean, “The occupation is broke and we don’t want the press to know we’re broke.” I answer my straw man with “The press already knows we’re broke, we have to be transparent.” It’s unfortunate a lot of really unnecessary and crappy working groups ate up the money, but whatever. I never trusted the office crew much anyway, and seeing how we now have no money and no office, this makes it easier for OWS to be guided by the people who were/are in the park, which is how it was in the beginning and how it should be.
We didn’t get many interesting crazies today. The best one was a likely 500 pound man, whose hair had grown out naturally into a mullet while also thinning considerably. If he weren’t…you know…500 pounds, his glasses would have been a good size and shape for safely playing basketball. He had a black Star Wars t-shirt with Darth Vader printed large beneath a ragged jogging jacket.
“There’s nothing here by David Duke!!”
“No…he’s a klansman. The klansman.”
“No he isn’t! He’s totally behind you guys.”
“But uh…we got black people here. I seriously doubt that.”
“He isn’t a KKK guy any more! He’s totally changed. You should get some of his stuff and maybe I’d support you guys.”
“Well, I guess we’re just gonna have to make that sacrifice.”
Duke is considering trying for the 2012 Republican Nomination for president. This is more a sign of how much the Republican party has changed than any new leaf on Duke’s part.
I actually got a lot of reading done today. I picked up a hardcover collection of all of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ writings on the Paris Commune from the OWS library and am almost done reading it. Lots of choice bits and interesting terminology. Some of my favorite phrases from it, probably old hat to Marx enthusiasts but new to me were:
-“dictatorship of the proletariat”-what Marx calls the Commune
-“slaveholder’s rebellion”-what Marx calls the counter-revolution of the ruling party. Imagine all the articles about “I’m having trouble living on $350,000 a year!” and all the stockbrokers/CEOs who complained about Occupy and how we all didn’t/don’t appreciate them enough. Blech.
-“vile multitude”-what Theirs (the villain of Marx’s narrative) called the Commune and the working class
-“capitulard”-what the Commune folk called the people who wanted to capitulate to the Prussians
-“souvenirs”-French word for memories, what Marx uses to refer to the constructed/teleological/pacifying historical narratives guiding the various factions of the French populace at the time. He often uses this in the construction “national souvenirs”, national remembrances literally.
–“garrotte”-not one of Marx’s terms, but a silent assassination device I was unfamiliar with. Basically a really uncomfortable chair used to strangle people.
Marx has a lot of swagger talking about the Commune, which usually manifests itself in clever turns of phrase, cunning political analysis, and only rarely in the dialectic of someone showing off wallet snapshots of their children. Which sorta makes sense, since it was kinda his baby. He shrugs off the Bonapartes with a turn of phrase which, in a more devastating conception than simply assigning them the value of evil, opportunistic, or oppressive: he thinks they’re silly. In his “First Address on the Franco-Prussian War”:
“…the death knell of the Second Empire has already sounded in Paris. It will end as it began, by a parody. But let us not forget that it is the Governments and the ruling classes of Europe who enabled Louis Bonaparte to play during eighteen years the ferocious farce of Restored Empire.”
This ties in to the larger assumption guiding the text-that the lines are entirely class division and that national identity is a game of the ruling classes. It’s a powerful one, and I suppose I don’t need to expound on it much. Marx does it pretty well in a prescient passage describing what the legacy of the Franco-Prussian War, and with it the Paris Commune, will be:
“History will measure its retribution, not by the extent of square miles conquered from France, but by the intensity of the crime of reviving, in the second half of the 19th century, the policy of conquest!
Marx’s appraisal of the French government in the time of the Franco-Prussian War:
“The Second Empire had more than doubled the national debt, and plunged all the large towns into heavy municipal debts…It was only by violent overthrow of the Republic (the Commune) that the appropriators of wealth could hope to shift on the shoulders of its producers the cost of a war which they, the appropriators, had originated.”
Sounds kinda like the US military industrial complex and the bank bailouts at the same time. How to shift the costs, how to shift the costs…
The ruling class’s first move is, of course, to attempt to shut down the media so that no one could communicate. They put a two centimes tax on every imaginable type of publication. This worked in fooling the rural areas. When Theirs called up the National Guard to violently shut down the Commune, only 300 soldiers out of 300,000 responded to the call. The NYPD should learn from this, seeing how 25% of their pension was just put in Bank of America, and Bank of America is only a little more alive than Patrick Swayze at the moment. One cop said to me after I explained this: “Yeah! You buy low. Me, I just go in to work. They’re the guys that know how to handle the money.” They’ll learn, and soon they’ll Occupy.
Marx, in the third chapter of his essay “The Civil War in France”, points toward a total systemic overhaul as the answer to the tired cycle of labor-capital, empire-colony.
“But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for it’s own purposes.”
So we come back to that old question, “Where do we go from here?”, “What next?”, or, as one angry pedestrian put it to me at the table today, “Is this your idea of an ideal world? This is what you want the country to look like, a bunch of fucking hippies drumming in a park?”