The FBI considered the Occupy Movement a terrorist threat

From a PCJF news release:

FBI documents just obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) pursuant to the PCJF’s Freedom of Information Act demands reveal that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at occupy protests.

The PCJF has obtained heavily redacted documents showing that FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conducting surveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country.

In other words, according to Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the Executive Director of the PCJF:

“These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity. These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”

It is always good to have allies in high places….

Along with the thugs they authorize….

Food for thought

Food for thought

The political philosopher Andrew Levine recently addressed the nearly lifeless condition of democracy in America. The condition he discussed hardly affirms America’s self-identification as the world’s oldest, freest and most democratic country. Yet this sour claim resonates with the experience of many, and has real material and systemic causes which cannot be separated from the institutions which self-satisfied patriots affirm without thought or irony. These causes include a duopolistic party system with nearly unscalable entry barriers; the strongly anti-democratic features of the 1787 Constitution; the vast sums of money now spent on electoral campaigns, monies which mostly spring from the coffers of the better-off, the massive corporations and the obscenely rich oligarchs; the social, economic and political powers embedded within private institutions; and the enormous size, complexity and diversity of the American social system. These factors affect the quality of American democracy, as Levine points out:

Despite what students are told in civics classes (where they still exist) and what normative theories of democracy propose, democracy in America today has almost nothing to do with rational deliberation and debate, and very little to do with aggregating preferences or reconciling conflicting interests. It is about legitimating government of, by and for the corporate malefactors and Wall Street banksters who own Congress and the White House along with an obscenely large chunk of the nation’s wealth.

The Occupy movement has driven this point home, but it was widely appreciated long before Zuccotti Park entered the national consciousness. Why then is there no legitimation crisis here in the Land of the Free? The answer, in short, is that we hold competitive elections and, for the most part, abide by their results. Evidently, that suffices.

Thanks to centuries of struggle, we are all today at some level democrats, no matter how removed our political system is from anything like real democracy — rule by the demos, the popular masses (as distinct from economic and social elites). Democratic commitments run so deep that almost anything that smacks of real democracy becomes invested with extraordinary powers of legitimation.

This is why competitive elections have the power to legitimate even regimes like ours in which elites plainly do rule a disempowered ninety-nine percent plus of the population. Competitive elections embody a shard of what real democracy is supposed to be, and that evidently is good enough for us.

The United States of America — a land with a deep and intractable legitimation deficit (due to its democracy and accountability deficit) but no legitimation crisis to speak of, a country where the well-off and powerful fear the latent power of lesser people and where the relatively powerlessers have little input into the system which governs them. Common Americans mostly obey the laws made for them while meekly meeting the needs of their betters, a feature of the American system which affirms the status quo. The public face of this paradox will be on display this election year. One need only juxtapose presidential Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to sense the absurdity of this electoral contest, the completion of which will legally but not popularly legitimize the government thus elected. We have government with only barest consent of the governed.

This condition, ironically enough, may be compared to one which could be found in the various countries which composed the Warsaw Bloc prior to the Velvet Revolutions of the late 1980s. There one could find a depoliticized and seemingly cowed population, one which endured the policies and intrigues of an elite which they could not hold accountable in any way. Only a popular refusal to submit to authoritarian governance, when coupled to the dissolution of the Soviet imperial system, put these regimes into their well-deserved graves. Neither the Tea Party Movement, the two legacy parties, the Pentagon and the security-surveillance apparatus in general nor the coequal branches of the federal government embody the spirit of the American Revolution. That is, they are not agents of radical democratization. In the United States today, that honor today belongs to the Occupy Movement, for democracy in America can be found only when it is put into practice on the streets of its cities and towns.

As a matter of fact, the Tea Party Movement, the legacy parties, the security-surveillance apparatus and the coequal branches of the federal government are committed opponents of the democratization of the American political system.

Occupy Wall Street protesters evicted from Zuccotti Park

The New York City Police Department, currently embroiled in scandals which are so common (ticket fixing, gun running and contraband smuggling, rape, killing of the unarmed, surveillance of the innocent, identity-biased stop-and-frisk searches, etc.) that they now define its very existence, added to its current scandal list when its members “rioted” (see this and this) while removing Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. The protesters reoccupied the Park while celebrating the sixth-month anniversary of its emergence.

Sadly, not much has changed for the better since 1996 when Amnesty International released its infamous report on the NYPD’s human rights violations. To be sure, the Department’s political and corporate paymasters would not have it any other way.

Quote of the day

Addressing the political situation which can be found in the world today — a situation defined by an epoch-marking economic crisis, by popular resistance to the austerity programs allegedly meant to overcome the crisis and by Barack Obama’s dedication to completing the neoconservative imperial political project — Mike Davis wrote:

In great upheavals, analogies fly like shrapnel. The electrifying protests of 2011—the on-going Arab spring, the ‘hot’ Iberian and Hellenic summers, the ‘occupied’ fall in the United States — inevitably have been compared to the anni mirabiles of 1848, 1905, 1968 and 1989. Certainly some fundamental things still apply and classic patterns repeat. Tyrants tremble, chains break and palaces are stormed. Streets become magical laboratories where citizens and comrades are created, and radical ideas acquire sudden telluric power. Iskra becomes Facebook. But will this new comet of protest persist in the winter sky or is it just a brief, dazzling meteor shower? As the fates of previous journées révolutionnaires warn us, spring is the shortest of seasons, especially when the communards fight in the name of a ‘different world’ for which they have no real blueprint or even idealized image.

But perhaps that will come later. For the moment, the survival of the new social movements — the occupiers, the indignados, the small European anti-capitalist parties and the Arab new left — demands that they sink deeper roots in mass resistance to the global economic catastrophe, which in turn presupposes — let’s be honest — that the current temper for ‘horizontality’ can eventually accommodate enough disciplined ‘verticality’ to debate and enact organizing strategies. It’s a frighteningly long road just to reach the starting points of earlier attempts to build a new world. But a new generation has at least bravely initiated the journey.

Solidarity and self-organization, as Davis notes, provide the antidote to the dead weight of the neoliberal past. A revolution may be defined as an attempt to begin the world anew, to demolish posterity’s monuments and to debunk its idols. Surprisingly, the world today appears to be, Davis suggests, on the cusp of making such an effort. Antisystemic social and political entities have appeared in many places. They have pushed tyrants from power, made a few Eurocrats nervous and forced some of America’s politicians to acknowledge popular distress. Davis goes on to locate one system-wide source of an antisystemic solidarity:

The campus rebellions of 1968 in Europe and the us were spiritually and politically fuelled by the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, guerrilla insurgencies in Latin America, the Cultural Revolution in China and the ghetto uprisings in the United States. Similarly the indignados of the last year have drawn primordial strength from the examples of Tunis and Cairo. (The several million children and grandchildren of Arab immigrants to southern Europe make this connection intimately vivid and militant.) As a result, passionate 20-year-olds now occupy squares on both shores of Braudel’s fundamental Mediterranean. In 1968, however, few of the white youth protesting in Europe (with the important exception of Northern Ireland) and the United States shared the existential realities of their counterparts in countries of the South. Even if deeply alienated, most could look forward to turning college degrees into affluent middle-class careers. Today, in contrast, many of the protesters in New York, Barcelona and Athens face prospects dramatically worse than those of their parents and closer to those of their counterparts in Casablanca and Alexandria. (Some of the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, if they had graduated ten years earlier, might have walked straight into $100,000 salaries at a hedge fund or investment bank. Today they work at Starbucks.)

Globally, young adult unemployment is at record levels, according to the ilo — between 25 and 50 per cent in most of the countries with youth-led protests. Moreover, in the North African crucible of the Arab revolution, a college degree is inversely related to likelihood of employment. In other countries as well, family investment in education, when incurred debt is considered, is paying negative dividends. At the same time, access to higher education has become more restricted, most dramatically in the us, uk and Chile.

Behold — a growing and youthful lumpenproletariat, a sometimes well-educated group with little to lose. Their history, much like the death of the American empire, has yet to made.

The latest in agent provocateur technology

One of New York City's demoralized homeless persons

A recent news report (also see this) reveals the New York City Police Department has begun to direct a “contingent of lawbreakers and lowlifes” found in New York City’s public parks to take their party to Zuccotti Park! Divide et impera! By creating a status distinction within the occupied space, this handy tactic forces the Occupy Wall Street group to police its space, suffer drug sales and other crimes, secure its individual and collective possessions, restrict the food it supplies, etc. Worst of all, it might also create a social condition which New York City’s government can use to remove the Occupation.

That said, let us appreciate how quickly the city’s government and the NYPD abandoned broken windows policing when doing so suited its purposes! Indeed, if we assume that the lawful exercise of an American’s free speech rights is not at all disorderly and that the Occupy Wall Street group has not broken a legally rational law, it follows that the Bloomberg administration and the Police Department have generated the urban disorder one can find around the Occupation!

A once-captive audience begins to listen, learn and act

The left died, and remains dead. That’s been a mantra among some leftwingers, all system politicians and respectable pundits for the last 30-years. Americans chant this whenever the left appears in public.

It was the Reagan Revolution which annihilated the American left. He defeated PATCO and buried the New Deal Coalition. He stood tall for America. He was America. More importantly, Reagan and Thatcher proved to anyone willing to see clearly and with their own eyes that there is no alternative to capitalism as we know it. The subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, along with François Mitterrand‘s tournant de la rigueur and the eventual political ‘failure’ of the Sandinista Revolution, only affirmed the obvious: Collectivism is always a mistake. “Society does not exist.” Markets are rational. Consequently, resistance was/is futile, and resistance only made/makes the resister look irrational, inane, laughable — a “loser,” to use common talk.

To be sure, the death of the left did not imply that leftwingers did not exist in the United States. They existed, wrote, criticized, marched, organized, etc. Anyone could find them if they cared to, especially if they looked for the left in America’s major cities and college towns. Nevertheless, Americans in general ignored the left even when they knew leftists existed: Leftists, it was believed, wasted their time, whereas their ideology was dangerous and akin to the ranting of a Harold Camping, Louis Farrakhan, L. Ron Hubbard or a flat earther. They could be found only on the margins of America’s civilization. They belonged there. After all, America had triumphed over its adversaries. Individualism also triumphed. Events in the late 20th century confirmed F.A. Hayek‘s famous diagnosis (1994). Americans knew they lived in the best of all possible worlds.

When considered at first glance, it appears that the Occupy Wall Street or 99% movement changed all of that. After all, leftwing concerns about class conflict, political power and economic justice have recently impinged upon America’s public space. The OWS/99% promoted these causes. Before late September American politics revolved around budget deficits, tax cuts and entitlement ‘reform’. Austerity talk remains in play, of course. But movement talk of justice now threatens to push it aside. The establishment media now pays attention to a fraction of the left, namely, to that fraction willing to encamp outdoors and directly contend with the security-surveillance apparatus. The marginal have come to occupy center stage, at least some of the time. The movement thus captured the attention of the nation in just one month. This is plain as day. And it is news.

Yet, I must ask: Did the OWS/99% movement actually accomplish this?

The answer to the question is ambiguous because it refers to our ambiguous situation. Something besides the motives, thinking or tactics of capitalism’s left critics recently changed. The left, such as it may be, remains much as it had been. Occupy Wall Street did not overcome obstacles others failed to surpass. OWS trods a well-worn path. Rather, what did change — and decisively so — is the audience the left always tries to address, namely, the 99% to which the Occupy Wall Street slogan refers. The 99% slogan points to common Americans, to everyone who is not an owner or elite manager of capital, especially finance capital. It is the many — the demos — that has changed. To grasp one effect of this, consider the following passage taken from a Tom Engelhardt piece:

Here are a few observations from recent trips to Zuccotti Park and various marches I’ve been on, including last Saturday when the Occupy movement went global with, the Washington Post reports, rallies in “more than 900” cities in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States. Having been at many demonstrations in my life, here’s the strangest and perhaps the most striking thing I’ve noticed: I have yet to see a single counterdemonstration, or even a single counterdemonstrator. Not one. Nor a single sign expressing disapproval, outrage, or upset with the Occupy Wall Street movement. This, believe me, is not normal for protests. Talk about expressing the will of the 99%!

And the earliest public opinion polls reflect this. According to an Ipsos poll, a startling 82% of Americans have heard of the movement, striking percentages are following it with some attention, and — according to TIME magazine — 54% of Americans have a favorable view of it, only 23% an unfavorable one. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising in a country in which 86% of those polled believe “Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington,” or in which median household income fell by 6.7% after the Great Recession of 2008 was officially declared over (9.8% since it began).

America once had a political culture captivated by hype promoting the belief that America was the exception among nations. “[W]e are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us,” as Madeleine Albright once stated. Americans ‘knew’ that America is the richest, greatest most powerful country in the world. They knew these beliefs to be true because they were part of America’s common sense, its civic religion, its collective identity. Affirming America’s self-conceit was a conspicuous feature of the Reagan Revolution. Indeed, the Reagan Revolution might have been labeled the “Reagan Renewal.” Reagan, it was thought, restored America’s belief in itself, in its destiny. America became America once again (yet, see this!) during the Reagan administration. Achieving this affirmation of an atavistic American nationalism was Reagan’s greatest political victory. And he had the scalps that seemingly paid for his claims about his America.

Today, however, a belief in American exceptionalism is faltering, slowly but surely. The audience receptive to crude Americanism shrinks accordingly. In other words, Americans are learning the truth about the Reagan Revolution. They are learning that it was anything but “Morning in America” in 1984. They are learning that they were conned, that decades of Reaganism in practice has undermined their security and the future their children must face.

I do not believe this demystification to be a collective harm. In fact, I believe it is the demise of this myth that is now creating the political space in which the OWS/99% movement can publicly make its case. From this case-making movement work, a new political situation in the United States is coming into being. The Occupy Wall Street/99% movement has merely called attention to some of the destructive effects caused by Reaganism in practice. Its very presence calls for government actions meant to make things right for most Americans. Nevertheless, everything today greatly depends on the willingness of the 99% — Alan Simpson’s “lesser people” — to listen to and even to join the protesters. It is their receptive ears and eyes which make the OWS/99% movement powerful. The attention and beliefs of the many, of the demos, pulls the movement into America’s public sphere, a system managed by the elite to keep just this kind of critique off-air, so to speak. They provide the horizon from which the movement may form a new public space, new political entities and from which it may even force needed reforms onto the elite. It is only the demos that can lay just claim to speaking in the name of “We the People.”

We the People. From this idea we may derive a defense of a radical democracy. It is this possibility which frightens Wall Street and the political elite.

So, is it reasonable to expect common Americans will listen to and even join the protesters? I believe it is. One can reasonably expect the 99% to listen, learn and even act as long as the 1% runs roughshod over them. We can expect these of them when they are forced to endure defeat after defeat in American’s class struggle. When put into different terms, the point I want to make is that an inescapable but unnecessary poverty is an effective teacher of rude truths and a compelling motivator of political action! I would call this listening and learning an education in democratic accountability and action. The telos contained within this education: The creation of democratic spirit that has been nurtured by the class aggression conducted under the auspices of the Reagan Revolution.

Simpson’s “lesser people” are now pushing back, and they are learning why they need to do so and how to actually do it.

Quote of the day

The plaza of Zuccotti Park.

The plaza of Zuccotti Park.

Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times used the ongoing occupation of Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park) in New York City to discuss the political degradation of public space in America as well as, but less obviously, the local political community which formed in Liberty Plaza during the occupation:

Much as it can look at a glance like a refugee camp in the early morning, when the protesters are just emerging from their sleeping bags, Zuccotti Park has in fact become a miniature polis, a little city in the making. That it happens also to be a private park is one of the most revealing subtexts of the story. Formerly Liberty Park, the site was renamed in 2006 after John E. Zuccotti, chairman of Brookfield Office Properties, the park’s owner. A zoning variance granted to Brookfield years ago requires that the park, unlike a public, city-owned one, remain open day and night.

This peculiarity of zoning law has turned an unexpected spotlight on the bankruptcy of so much of what in the last couple of generations has passed for public space in America. Most of it is token gestures by developers in return for erecting bigger, taller buildings. Think of the atrium of the I.B.M. tower on Madison Avenue and countless other places like it: “public” spaces that are not really public at all but quasi-public, controlled by their landlords. Zuccotti in principle is subject to Brookfield’s rules prohibiting tarps, sleeping bags and the storage of personal property on the site. The whole situation illustrates just how far we have allowed the ancient civic ideal of public space to drift from an arena of public expression and public assembly (Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, say) to a commercial sop (the foyer of the Time Warner Center).

The reasons corporations shun pure public space should be obvious. Public space is part of the commons, and few corporations consider every citizen of a country to be a member of their target markets. Indeed, they typically seek to control access to their quasi-public spaces because they fear so many, and seek to exclude them as unworthy of entering space they consider to be a part of their domain. Some of these quasi-public spaces are little more than cordon sanitaires meant to separate the safe space within from the dangerous space without. Liberty Park is not a cordon sanitaire but an economic convenience given by the city to a private corporation, one which a fraction of the public could put to good public use!

The polis endures!