If the NYPD — likely on the orders of New York City’s second richest man, Mayor Bloomberg — was trying to promote the occupy movement by violently attacking it, they’ve succeeded magnificently.
Their brutal crackdowns on peaceful protesters on two successive Saturdays have managed to help amplify at least one message of the movement: the system is profoundly fucked up and must be changed.
Thousands of ordinary working people have gone down to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Liberty Plaza encampment in the last week to show solidarity with this diverse movement, find out more about it or just imbibe the spirit of resistance.
In a nation that has been crassly homogenized with box stores and strip malls that have obliterated most community spaces, the spreading occupy movement has provided the first commons most of us have experienced in decades, if not ever. That alone seems part of the appeal.
Dozens of teachers showed up at the square Sunday to stage a grade-in. What a creative idea for a group of demonized workers under constant assault to literally work together within the encampment and share what they do and think with each other and the thousands who streamed past yesterday.
If my own white-collar workplace of several hundred cubicle-dwelling Dilberts in Manhattan is any indication, OWS is gaining ground — and not just among self-identified leftists and trade unionists.
As an organized socialist with comrades who have participated in the occupation since the planning stages, I was aware that during the occupation’s first days it went largely ignored by my coworkers. Most of them are under 35 and scrambling to hold onto their precarious employment, as am I, at 46. Even coworkers active on Facebook and Twitter, were largely out of the loop.
But after the initial attack, Sept. 24, captured on video and broadcast on YouTube around the world, the shift at work was palpable. The chatter in the elevators, hallways and coffee stations was about the senseless brutality of the police toward young people just trying to get a hearing. A week after the state of Georgia lynched Troy Davis on Sept. 21, few could avoid making the easy connection between a state that ignored the pleas of an innocent man and the police pepper-spraying, slamming and arresting innocent marchers.
The empire, with a foreign policy of killing and brutalizing to secure its markets abroad, is domesticating its tactics — quite literally in this case — to protect its markets at home.
What was a vague, but widespread sympathy for OWS protesters, is now coming into focus. Coworkers are starting to filter downtown to the occupation and join the free market of ideas on offer at Liberty Plaza. I came back from an early morning spent at OWS last Thursday and reported to a huddled group of coworkers on my debate there with, of all people, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. You know you’re in NYC when…
He and I and an older Black woman community organizer, Queenie, agreed that we need to press for some concrete demands to push things forward. Some occupiers are resistant to any demands. Simmons is for electoral reforms, whereas Queenie and I argued for demands that we feel could help galvanize and channel the discontent, such as a moratorium on all foreclosures and a genuine mass jobs program using the trillions the banks are sitting on.
I also suggested putting a figure on the hugely popular tax the rich sentiment. Given the recent pop culture romanticism with the early 1960s, how about returning to the Camelot-era tax rate for the highest earners: 91 percent. Simmons, whose reported wealth is $350 million, sort of stared back at me wondering if I was serious. The anti-demands occupier nodded in approval.
Why not? If you’ve ever haggled at a flea market or a souk, you know that you stake your claim at the extremes of possibility. If we’re going to fight, let’s demand what we really want. If OWS has pushed one thing to the fore, it’s the sentiment that it’s time to dream big.
This week poses a new possibility. Trade unionists are getting on board, and not just the unions with leftish credentials. The United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, Workers United, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and others are mobilizing for this Wednesday’s mass march, gathering at 4:30 PM at Foley Square (it has changed from City Hall) and marching to OWS at Liberty Plaza.
This will bring the organized working class onto the stage in a very concrete way — with the power to nationalize a debate on a level impossible to dismiss and with the forces to back up a demand. Their sheer involvement, and the unanimous endorsement they have given already, raises the stakes and opens the way to new possibilities in this movement.
I aim to encourage as many of my coworkers as possible to join me down there. We are among the nearly 90 percent of American workers who are not (yet) in unions. And life is getting much, much grimmer inside what Fortune once nicknamed “the Fidel Castro of office furniture” — though, in all truth, Fidel has had greater longevity than the cubicle, which was invented nearly a decade after he came to power in 1959.
We Dilberts must join our unionized, unemployed, student and retired brothers and sisters on Wednesday, Oct. 5. We may inhabit 3-walled cells by day, but marching in solidarity with thousands to the square will make for a liberating evening. Let’s go Dilberts!
After the march, come join a discussion I’ll be leading on:
The Case for Socialism, Oct. 5, 7PM, Walker Stage, 56 Walker St., north of OWS, south of Canal.