Nov 2: Nationwide Solidarity Protest for Occupy Movements


Occupy Detroit created a great statement during the General Assembly Tuesday Nov 1. We are a LEADER FILLED movement. Detroit is known as a city rich in labor union history and civil rights activism. Our past, present, and future come together to foster the bonds of leading For The People By The People.

Several activities are planned for Nov 2 – across the nation Occupy movements are actively protesting all day. We are observing a day of solidarity with Occupy Oakland and other Occupy movements – we are protesting police brutality and calling for order from those upholding the law.

  • 2:30pm Protest the New York Stock Exchange, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan / Chase Bank. The CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, Duncan Niederauer, will be taping a show for Wayne State’s School of Business Administration at Maccabees Hall, 5750 Woodward. His prior job was as a partner at Goldman Sachs. The building also hosts an office of Chase Bank. Be on your best behavior as this is also the home of Detroit Public Radio, National Public Radio, so this location is highly visible and coverage likely. Follow directions, obey the law, be a vocal and peaceful protester keeping to the numerous public spaces nearby (Detroit Public Library Main Branch, Detroit Institute of Arts, and Rackham Auditorium). This corner is also a major bus stop for SMART and DDOT bus systems.
  • 5:00pm The Craft and Knitting Circle meets near the food tent.
  • 6:00pm Solidarity march for Scott Olsen of Occupy Oakland. Begins with a teach-in about police brutality and the role of veterans in the Occupy Movement at the fountain at 6pm. After the teach-in, we will march to Hart Plaza and hold a candle light vigil for Scott Olsen in solidarity with Occupy Oakland.

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#Occupy the Weekend

We had fantastic weekend at Occupy Detroit. Some folks from Occupy Wall Street and Occupy the Hood NYC come visit us as the first stop on their three-city Solidarity Tour.

Tommy Nugent wrote a piece for the Occupy Detroit blog on the visit:

Representatives from Occupy Wall Street were introduced to the Saturday Occupy Detroit General Assembly. Detroit is the first stop on the inaugural OWS Solidarity Tour, which will roll through the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Occupies on its way back to NYC later this week.

After the noon General Assembly, three of the four visitors sat down in L.A.X. with about a dozen Occupy Detroiters for a conversation. Justin (originally from Royal Oak), Preach, and George discussed similarities and differences between the occupations in New York City and Detroit, offering encouragement and food for thought.

We had a Family Day on Sunday, with a bunch of family-friendly fall activities. I spent a few hours carving “Occupy Halloween” into a pumpkin, a task that was much more ambitious than I had initially realized when I grabbed a marker and started outlining the letters. My readings on Heidegger and poiesis proved helpful in assisting me bring “Occupy Halloween” forth from the uncarved pumpkin.

Photo by Fuzzytek

The folks OWS filmed some video of the camp and posted it on the OWS YouTube channel. In the video below, you can catch me carving the “Occupy Halloween” pumpkin in the right hand corner at 1:02.

Here’s pair of excellent video interviews with some Detroit occupiers Patience and Deidri, also from the OWS YouTube channel.

Sunday’s media working group meeting had founders of both Occupy Wall Street and Occupy the Hood present, which was pretty awesome.

After the media working group meeting, Justin Wedes from the OWS media team conducted an Indie Media Workshop at Occupy Detroit. Niraj Warakoo wrote an article on the workshop for the Detroit Free Press:

“I call it tweets from the streets,” Wedes said Sunday night in Detroit in a talk broadcast on Livestream. “Take your computer to the streets. Take your iphone, your smartphone…Make the street your office, Make the park your office.”

You can watch the video of the workshop here, at the Occupy Detroit LiveStream page.

Civil Disobedience, Part 1

My friend Cody Jo is a student at the University of New Mexico. He founded the blog The General Collective, to which I have contributed in the past. Last week we was reading on a bench at Yale park on the UNM campus. Campus security arrested him for remaining at the bench while trying to herd of folks from (un)Occupy Albuquerque. Here’s an excerpt from his eloquent account of his arrest.

Upon arriving at Yale Park, at around 6:07 Wednesday evening (October 26, 2011), the (un)Occupy Albuquerque protestors were being herded off the grass by campus security. They responded by chanting, “this is what a police state looks like.” Many of the prior night’s arrestees had returned from their brief incarcerations. I noticed how the fire of sunset was alight on the skins of the protestors and police alike. The General Assembly quickly relocated across the street to Satellite Coffee. I was suppose to meet someone, but since I couldn’t find them I moved away from the police and took a seat on a bench beneath the tall pines. While waiting for my friend’s textual response, I looked around. A news crew surveyed the park and the campus police were occupied with fending off occupiers. As I sat here, for twenty minutes or so, I read from Henry Miller’s ‘Wisdom of the Heart.’ I had no trouble focusing, for I read on campus every day, and while people walked to and fro, I was left peacefully alone.

Miller attributed the sickness of society to people’s lack of faith in life, whereby they respond to most stimuli with a negative, or defensive, reaction. Please, follow how this works. Because the people in power fear the end of their power, they tend to function negatively, and in turn, the majority of the structure beneath their seat must also respond negatively. The top-dog then develops a fear that anything not for him – that is to include, anything that is not of benefit to him – must be against him. They retreat into their fear and become dictators, if not in position then in spirit; From their mouths are issued oppressive edicts by which to solidify their authority. Subsequently, the entire chain of command carries out these demands and in “doing their jobs” commit a disservice to society, whom must readjust themselves according to the effect of this negativity. Society then roars up and says to the dictator, “you are wrong and we hate you,” which bolsters his insecurity. The vicious cycle goes ’round and ’round, society slips back, freedoms are lost, and peace is forfeit. This is “the law of infinite regress.”

Read the entirety of his account here. Here’s a video of the arrest.

Thanks for resisting, Cody Jo. Mad love.

New #Occupy Blog: occupynycto313

My friend and fellow-occupier, Ross, just started a new #Occupy blog, occupynycto313. Ross is the guy who coined the term “global system of bullshit,” after which I named the inaugural post of this blog. Largely in the form of personal narrative, Ross’ new blog is devoted to telling the story of the #Occupy movement from the perspective of an occupier (at both Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Detroit). Such a task is very important. It is necessary that we situate the need for global change within our own personal narratives. This is why that the “We Are the 99%” photo blogs are so important. Ross is able to discern both the political significance of the personal and the personal significance of the political. He writes,

 My political awakening has been one of an entire lifetime. One of my very earliest memories is of my mother reading a poll in a newspaper in the living room I grew up in, explaining to me who the President was (Reagan, at the time), and why it was such an important job. Fast forward a few years and my father is in the same living room with me in front of the TV trying to explain to five-year-old me why we were bombing the fuck out of Iraq and Kuwait. I believe that may have been the first time I attempted to comprehend the great injustices in the world, a topic I still grapple with each day. The next two decades -most notably the past decade, as we’ve watched our civil liberties wither in front of our faces and as America enacts great feats of oppression across the world- filled me with a sense of frustration and helplessness as I learned more about how our government works, how it’s supposed to work, and how that fits into a global system of bullshit.

The kind of thinking that enables one to weave one’s personal narrative into a global one is precisely the kind of thinking that is necessary for us to expose our own place (our own lived complicities, privileges, and disadvantages) within this global system of bullshit. Such thinking runs directly counter to the journalistic tendency to look at issues and events atomistically, as isolated phenomena and not as historically situated happenings. To borrow the words of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, this atomistic frame creates a situation in which the occupations on Wall Street (and now elsewhere) become “reduced to the level of the absurd” through the media’s practice of “only showing those elements that can be shown on television at a given moment, cut off from their antecedents and consequences.” The media’s tendency to overlook the functional dynamics of horizontalism and focus instead on “dirty hippies” or individual “freaks” at OWS reflects the media’s failure to think in a globally holistic manner.

Ross understands his place within cultural-technological practices that have produced a generation of people who are unable to connect the dots and think globally. But he also understands how the technologies that contribute to our self-absorbed atomization can in fact mobilize us to enact change (social media played a huge role in mobilizing people, both in Egypt earlier this year and in America with the #Occupy movement).

Most alarming of all was how few people in my generation seemed to understand what was really happening, at least in the larger scope of things. After all, we’re the internet generation. We’re the generation engrossed and self-absorbed in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, our iPods/iPhones, video games, and reality TV shows. I felt we were a generation lost, too complacent, distracted, and ill-equipped to truly create any sort of political change. All our lives, we as “young people” had been told that “we’re the future”, but if that were true, then why the balls weren’t young people attempting to shape the future?

For Bourdieu, “the journalistic field produces and imposes on the public a very particular vision of the political field.” Because journalists think in terms of isolated events and produce content based on such tendencies of thought, the public — in consuming media — begins to develop the same destructive habits of thought themselves. If all one knows of political discourse is punditry, one’s ability to think about politics constructively becomes crippled, a product of blindly emulating the bad examples one sees on TV. As Bourdieu writes,

All of this leads [journalists] to a cynical view of politics, which is reflected in their political arguments, and in their interview questions. For them, politics becomes an arena full of hyperambitious people with no convictions but a clear sense of the competitive situation and their opposing interests.

Politics, in the eyes of media, is not about transformative change, but about negotiating self-interest within a dog-eat-dog political arena (a competitive arena whose very nature is bound up with the dog-eat-dog nature of our global economic system). Because OWS seeks transformative change, its very existence counteracts such a hypercomepitive political arena. Combined with journalistic tendencies toward an ahistorically atomizated presentation of events, the journalistic tendency to feed the current political machine creates a situation in which people only see the youth at OWS (youth who reject the values of hyperambition and dog-eat-dog competition) as lacking a legitimate political voice. We need to understand those people who say that nothing will come of OWS as people who think that political change can only be obtained within the ugly, elitist political system that the corporate media (by their very nature) function to maintain. Instead of giving legitimacy to the voices of the pundit class, OWS operates within a discursive framework independent of narrow journalistic frames. It is not the 99% who are confused, but the pundits who work to maintain the privilege of the 1%.

One thing that is radical about OWS is that people go to Liberty Square to occupy their time (in ways that are not compensated monetarily) with building a community whose very mode of operation is antithetical to the prevailing modes of doing things. After being involved in the #Occupy movement for over a month, I’ve come to learn how my own immersion in the movement played a crucial role in my understanding of it. Indeed, there is a large degree to which one has to be immersed in the culture of the place to have a sense of what it’s really about. This is why narratives such as the ones told by Ross are important. Those who say to us, “Get a job,” overlook the fact that occupations are, at their core, places where people come to build and work.

#Occupy movements have created sophisticated computer networks with which to communicate both internally and externally and we have used social networks to their full potential to help our message reach as many as possible. Media teams are full of film and multimedia production students or graduates, Medic tents at each Occupation are populated by med students and volunteer EMTs, you’ll find certified teachers and education students giving teach-ins, lectures and running open-forums. You can even get a haircut or take a yoga class. #occupywallstreet has over 70 working groups that have been autonomously created by an individual or group possessing a certain set of skills that they want to lend to the Occupation, and the other Occupations are following in the same footprints. Though misleading, perhaps “HAVE a job here!” would be a better response from those unemployed to the “Get a job”ers yelling at us from the sidewalk. Or maybe we should simply ignore them. After all, we have working group meetings to attend to.

The really subversive thing about OWS is the space. Corporate media have an interest in overlooking the functional dynamics of horizontalism because horizontalism is predicated on the belief that people (by non-coercive voluntary association) can put themselves to work for the common good.

During the beginning of the occupation at Wall Street, Chris Hedges appeared on the OWS LiveStream and spoke about the necessity of physically obstructing the machine through collective acts of civil disobedience. One of the most potent modes of civil disobedience is people gathered together in physical space to work on common tasks dedicated to collective well-being. Occupations are places where people are gathered together in a physical space, devoted to common tasks, receiving new faces as friends and valued community members.

The myriad ways in which we are situated in everyday space (at our computers, watching our televisions, working on our individual tasks, driving in cars, working on our careers, sitting behind counters operating cash registers) are quite antithetical to community and solidarity. OWS is a physical space that seeks to disrupt our very notions of space, which is why it is important to think of ‘occupation’ spatially, and not simply about protest. OWS is about confronting our normal ways of dwelling in space and understanding how our relation to space contributes to social atomization. It is important that we think of the word ‘occupation,’ not simply in militaristic terms (as when we talk about “the US occupation of Iraq”) or in terms of direct action or civil disobedience narrowly construed, but in terms of the spaces we occupy and how we occupy ourselves in those spaces. It is apt, therefore, that the very first sentence in Ross’ blog is about his place in space. Ross’s prose points to the ways in which occupation puts oneself in certain relations to space that one had formerly not experienced (after all, how many of us have, until occupation, had to worry about where we were going to piss?).

Currently I’m sitting on the 3rd floor of a space generously donated to Occupy Detroit by LAX, a super hip tri-level nightclub in Detroit. The DJs are setting up at a DJ booth surrounded by blindingly bright LEDs that combined with the deep subwoofers here could easily put you into a trance if you stare at them for too long. The owner, Omar, is dressed in a sharp black suit with a yellow tie and is making his rounds upstairs, making sure everything is meticulously prepared for a party that supposedly started 20 minutes ago. Omar is a businessman and a Detroiter who has provided the backbone for operations here at Occupy Detroit, giving us space for our working group meetings, a place to warm up as the cold Detroit winter prepares to set in, and most importantly, a place for us to piss! The party is a fundraiser to help open the doors of his business back up to the public and a chance to relax and have some fun for all who are living across the street in Grand Circus Park.

Keep up the good work, Ross.

Connecting the Dots

One of my pieces was published on the Occupy Detroit blog. Click here to read it in its entirety. Here’s an excerpt:

It is not a fault of ours when the media says that the Occupy Movement lacks focus, or when naysayers are unsure of what this movement is all about. Rather, such superficial criticisms are a product of the media’s failure to connect the dots. One powerful element of the occupy movement is its composition – a diverse coalition of everyday people unified in the understanding that we cannot fight for economic justice without fighting for racial equality, for peace, or for ecological justice.

The media fails to grasp what we at Occupy Detroit understand, that Wall Street is but one player (albeit an important one) in a global system in which finance, governments, and multinationals work for the benefit of the 1%. We understand that rise of foreclosures in Detroit is not simply an isolated phenomenon but is enmeshed within a global system that privileges the rich at the expense of the rest of us. We understand that the problems of this world cannot be tackled by a single-issue approach. We understand that so much of what is wrong in this world is interconnected. We understand that if we are to make a better world, we have to tackle things globally, as well as locally.

Read more…

The Importance of a Self-Critical Horizontalism

This piece from the Economist is one of the most cogent critiques of Occupy Wall Street that I have seen. Instead of relying on the superficial talking points that characterize corporate media’s coverage of OWS (such as the complaint that demands have not coalesced), the author of this piece has a pretty good understanding of what OWS is all about. For example, the author eloquently sums up that the movement is not simply about protest, but is itself a mico-society and micro-government in which participatory democracy is directly enacted, serving as a model (albeit a functionally constrained one) for how we ourselves (independent of the prevailing economic-political structures) can build a better society:

Occupy Wall Street is not only a mass protest movement intended to draw attention to economic injustice and political corruption. It seeks to embody and thereby to demonstrate the feasibility of certain ideals of participatory democracy. … OWS is not simply a group of like-minded people gathered together to make a point with a show of collective force, though it is that. The difference is that it has developed into an ongoing micro-society with a micro-government that directly exemplifies a principled alternative to the prevailing American order. The complaint that OWS has failed to produce a coherent list of demands seems to me to miss much of the point of the encampment in Zuccotti Park. The demand is a society more like the little one OWS protestors have mocked up in the park. The mode of governance is the message.

This point (“the mode of governance is the message”) was made early on when Waging Non-Violence released the video “The Demand Is a Process,” which everyone who wants to understand OWS should watch.

The piece is attentive to the intellectual roots of the movement, giving a particular nod to David Graeber. Moreover, instead of focusing on superficialities, the piece questions the fundamentals of the movement, questioning the desirability and feasibility of consensus, as well as its ideological nature:

Because the participatory democracy of OWS is an ideological endeavour, it can avoid the hard problem of liberal society: the ineradicable diversity of moral belief and the impossibility of consensus. Consensus-based communes composed of individuals who opt in specifically because they already agree with the commune’s founding values can work precisely because the people who would make consensus impossible—people with very different opinions and values—stay away. But not only does the OWS experiment skirt the problem of pluralism through self-selection, the ideological homogeneity of self-selection may make deliberation tend toward extremism…

Instead of simply saying that the movement is leaderless, we need to attend to how power is concentrated within the movement, attending to the nature and antecedents of the power structures at Occupy Wall Street (power structures that take the form of “unofficial” de facto heirarchies that are drawn along preexisting lines of race, gender identity, class, sexuality, age, temperament, geography, personal association, social connectedness, skill set, and ideological comportment). Instead of parroting the notion, oft repeated by OWS facilitators, that “we are leaderless,” that “anyone can get involved,” and that “no voice has more authority than any other,” we need to take a critical (and productively ambivalent) stance that explores how hierarchies, while tending toward being undemocratic, can also be productive. Working groups such as the Speak Easy Caucus, Safer Spaces, and the People of Color Working Group are important because their function has been to empower those who have been systematically marginalized at Liberty Plaza.

Finally, my experience at OWS (while inspiring and transformative) shows how much the setting favors certain personal temperaments over others, as is evident in the fact that public relations (an inherently defensive enterprise that prioritizes apologetics over embracing ambivalence) has taken precedence over critical thought at Liberty Plaza:

Moreover, direct deliberative democracy by its very nature puts effective power disproportionately in the hands of extroverted, energetic, and charismatic individuals with a knack for persuasion. The opinions of introverts and those of us who need a good deal of time to mull things over tend not to be fully included into the decision-making process. So these people (most of us, I think) must go along, their views systematically underrepresented until the rule of the pushy yammerers becomes too intolerable and they leave. Exit is more powerful than voice if voice is not your strong suit.

The next phase of the movement is crucial. It will be one of building, but also one of confronting a number of the issues addressed in this article. We should acknowledge that horizontalism is more of a guiding ideal than a de facto reality: as it is elswewhere, the structures that exist at OWS (while beautiful and much more democratic and egalitarian than the current economic-political system) are themselves hierarchical and do marginalize. We need to be careful though. The solution is not to exit, but to build momentum. Critique is important, but the only way that critique can aid solidarity is not by beating people over the head with criticism, but to learn from our mistakes and positively enact the changes we want to see. What we need is a lovingly critical horizontalism that is vigilantly suspicious of any attempt to claim that we have already transcended the structures of power and inequality in which we still remain steeped.


“Why are you here?” This is a question asked of many of us here at Occupy Wall Street, but one asked more by reporters than by fellow occupiers. It’s been a regular occurrence for reporters ask us this question and for us to tell our personal stories. But what’s remarkable is that — in my experience and in the experience of my friends here — we occupiers spend very little time asking each other to relate our stories. We all know what it means to be enmeshed in this global system of bullshit. We all know what it means to be part of the bottom 99 percent. We know how our lives intersect with global issues, because we view the problems of this world holistically. We understand that we’re not simply concerned about one problem or another, but about how so much of what is wrong with the world is interconnected with everything else. The networks of global commerce, international finance, state and military have no center: the goings-on of global finance extend throughout the world. The net of injustice is cast wide and cast globally. We can focus on various nodes within this network, such as Wall Street or Washington, but we understand that what goes on at Wall Street or in Washington has global implications.

We at #OccupyWallStreet understand this. When we meet new faces at Liberty Plaza, we all ask each other where we’re from, but we rarely ask each other why we are here. We all know why we are here. We know what the problems are and we all know what it means to be part of the bottom 99 percent. We’ve lived it. This isn’t to say that we don’t volunteer our stories from time to time. We do. And in fact, I’d like to volunteer mine.

My friend Brian and I came here from a small town in rural Michigan, the Village of Clinton in Lenawee County. The town is populated mostly by older folks and families with kids. Those few in our town who are in our twenties work subsistence-level jobs, are in debt, and often live with our parents to make ends meet. We know how sucky it is to have been 20 and have had a place of our own and then have had to move in back with in with our parents at 24, 25, or 26. We know what it’s like to have our adulthoods postponed.

In the case of Clinton, with the scarce few jobs that are available there, most of us have to drive at least 30 minutes (but often longer) just to go to work. We are forced us to consume gallons upon gallons of gasoline, killing both our planet and our pocketbooks. In the state the gave us Henry Ford, we know that cars are not freedom, but chains. When we drive to work, we pass fields of corn and soy genetically engineered by ConAgra. Because of big business and its Wall Street financiers, the grain and woolen mills in our town shut down decades ago. When we look at the remains of the old woolen mill, we can imagine a time when there were hundreds of people working there, a time when jobs were plentiful in our hometown. We look at these remains and imagine a time when textiles were produced in the United States, a time before textile production was outsourced to sweatshops abroad. And while Clinton is ostensibly a farm town, the food grown on our fields – instead of being consumed locally – is shipped elsewhere. Instead we eat McDonald’s. Hey, it’s cheap and available, after all.

I’ve rarely had to tell this story to my fellow occupiers. While the reporters who ask us why we are here might not understand why we occupy, those of us at the occupation do. Brian and I have had no need to explain to fellow occupiers that we’re here because our town is but one of the countless many being killed by those who care more about profit than about people. We who occupy understand this already. Brian and I come from the boonies. Brian left for home last week. Tonight, I hop on a bus to go back to Clinton. I’ll soon be on my way home to #OccupyTheBoonies.