Occupy Hardwood pt. 3: What is the Score as the Final Buzzer Sounds?

December 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m two weeks late to talk about the end of the lockout and the world wondering “what’s next” for occupy now that encampment after encampment gets evicted.

Two weeks later, we know what’s next: Fucking madness.

Thursday: On the day the Owners and the Players voted to ratify the new CBA, the small-market Hornets, a team the NBA had to purchase from its owner in a 300-million dollar bailout, were basically the shining example of the unsatisfactory economic model of the NBA and, in the owners’ perspective, why we needed a lockout in the first place. Their inability to keep Chris Paul, one of the 5 best players in the league, was a microcosm of everything this CBA was supposed to solve. Thursday, after hearing for months that Paul would not stay in New Orleans past this coming season no matter what, New Orleans decided to get what they could for him, leave themselves in a position to build for the future, and traded him. To the most successful and second-richest team in the league — the Lakers. Wuh oh.

NBA commissioner David Stern, given executive control over the Hornets by virtue of the fact that the league now owns the team, looked upon this and said, like the clucking benevolent patriarch he is, “no no no no no no no”. And he blocked it.

A few hours later in New York, the Spectacle devoured itself.

Law and Order SVU decided to do an OWS episode. Presumably because the producers have all been reading Occupy Patriarchy and decided to contribute to the discourse. To film this episode, Law and Order built an entire Occupy encampment set in Foley Square, complete with kitchen, library, and signs.

Then, the real occupiers showed up and made use of the fake encampment to stage a real protest.

I was going to quote Guy Debord here but it basically doesn’t matter. Mostly because saying you’re going to quote Guy Debord accomplishes everything you would have accomplished by actually quoting him.

Kind of like how Occupiers don’t actually have to bring more than 100 people or stay for more than an hour at the TV set to get their point across. All you really need to do is stay long enough to have your yuks over the human mic, be able to quote a police officer yelling “I NEED LAW & ORDER”, get a few dozen media hits, and call it a night.

It’s about the simulacrum superseding the original.

If you’re David Stern, this might manifest as blocking the trade that would signify the utter failure of a collective bargaining agreement for which you locked your employees out for 7 months — on the day it would be ratified — not because blocking the trade fixes the problem of a lack of competitive balance between large- and small-market franchises in your league, but simply to avoid a news story. To avoid the creeping realization that, no, this lockout was never for a moment about competitive balance, or creating a more financially successful, enjoyable league, or any of that other horseshit. The 2011 NBA lockout, like every lockout in every industry that has ever occurred before it, was about ownership looking to take money and control away from its employees.

Getting back to the original question: What comes next? For the NBA, more of the same, obvs. For occupy? Very much not.

The easy answer is, no, the movement has not gone away. Wait for springtime, when the weather warms up, when shit historically tends to happen.

And while that’s true, I don’t think it really captures the full answer. When non-organizers ask what’s next for a social movement, I get the feeling that what they really mean is, what’s this thing going to accomplish? How big is this thing getting? Are you going to win?

Leaving the UC Nuclear Free/Demil movement and through into my involvement with Think Outside the Bomb, I’ve had a preoccupation over the last few years in my organizing with winning. I’d had enough of doing activism to make me feel better about the world, or because “someone needs to do it”. If I was going to pour myself into a movement, I expected to see results. This made sense from a standpoint of prioritizing which cause to focus on, as well as a tool for self-accountability and self-challenge. In campaign-based groups, it was always easy to tell what winning was — you get the UC to end its management of the labs, or you don’t. You shut down the CMRR, or you don’t. Cut and dried. Bing bang boom.

Occupy is a different monster, and not just because it doesn’t have demands. Occupy is, to me, a revolutionary movement that does not intend to overthrow (and barely acknowledges) state power. Revolutionary in the sense that Occupy purports and exemplifies a radical re-envisioning of how people interact with one another and live together. Occupy’s principals extoll a vision of the world which is likely incompatible with the current social and political order, and yet the main action of occupy — the occupations themselves — aren’t focused on the world outside of the encampment at all, much less overthrowing the government.

Instead, Occupy creates a replacement to the existing miasma of local, state, and national governments in consensus meetings and assent to the rules within the space as well as (most of) the laws outside it. The creation of these spaces is essentially all that occupy has done. And every person who has been arrested, beaten, teargassed, pepper sprayed, or shot with a rubber bullet at an eviction of an Occupy site has been attacked as such simply for trying to exist within a separate social structure in a public space. For acting free, even though we are not.

I first called myself a revolutionary when I was 15 years old, and first discovering radical politics through punk music. Recently, though, I’d begun to shy away from that label. Out of fear. The same fear I’d felt when Bush got reelected, when I thought there was no way it could happen. The fear that the people of this country are, for the most part, fascists. That jingo, blood lust, and a love for authority and punishment had swallowed America’s deep cultural passion for freedom and verdant multiculturalism and shat them out, replacing them with empty slogans and xenophobic paranoia.

I was afraid to want a revolution because I thought that any disruption of the current political order would bring us more fascism rather than more democracy. And while I believed and still believe that revolution does not necessarily involve overthrowing or even destabilizing state power, I don’t think I really understood it the way that I feel like do now that I’ve seen Occupy.

It doesn’t mean fascism is any less big or scary in America, but it helps frame the ways we can oppose it, and install cultural changes towards democracy instead. Changing culture — that’s how we win.

When thousands of people get experience with consensus, making decisions as if what they have to say matters, with freedom and the idea that we deserve it — this is us winning. When these little semi-TAZes pop up in hundreds of cities and towns across the country, this is us winning. When the kids at UC Davis turn away the police who brutalized them using only the power of their voices, and get their first taste of victory earned through civil disobedience, this is us winning. When Stephen Colbert does twinkle fingers and Martha Stewart pepper sprays her thanksgiving turkey, this is us winning. When our tiny little Occupy Lompoc has the most beautiful goddamn Really Really Free Market I’ve ever seen, and our members as well as passers-by in the community walk away with the feeling that something is going on here, this is us winning.

Thanks to Occupy, I feel comfortable calling myself a revolutionary again. And I don’t have to give up on winning, either.


Occupy Hardwood part 2: The unity of the NBPA must be a complex unity

November 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Decertification of the NBA players association was Chekhov’s gun, and so was the Occupy Wall Street raid. Now they’re going off, very very slowly. Say you’re watching a movie. A scene early on plays out as such:

A: “I know you’re trying to sleep with my sister.”
B: “Believe me, I have absolutely no intention of sleeping with your sister.”
A: “You’ve been trying since day 1 to sleep with my sister, you’ve wanted nothing else. If you do, there will be hell to pay.”
B: “Here’s the thing, though, is that we’re trapped on an iceberg floating aimlessly through the arctic sea, just the three of us.”
A: “I’ve noticed that.”
B: “It’s not like this is a new situation. We’ve been on this thing for two years.”
A: “True.”
B: “Now, I’m really horny, and so is she. In fact, I’ve been avoiding her for months now because I honestly don’t think I can turn down another of her advances. Do you know how hard it is to avoid a person when you’re living on an iceberg only 6 feet across?
A: “Yes, I do. Do you know how hard it is to avoid two?”
B: “All I’m saying is, it’s been two years, freezing to death, waiting for someone to swing by and pick us up. A little shared body heat will either save our lives or make life a bit more bearable in the meantime.”
A: “Maybe, but then I’d kill you.”

If the rest of the movie failed to revisit the sexual tension between B and A’s sister (who is named N, just to make the allegory that much more Hawthornianly ‘Hester-Prynne-rhymes-with-sin’ blatant), it would be a terrible movie. NBA negotiations needed to go here, because if they didn’t, the players wouldn’t have used their leverage, and the negotiations wouldn’t have been complete. Decertification has been hanging on the wall since Act 1 — why is anyone surprised that it’s gone off now?

Part 2 of Occupy Hardwood is about the NBPA decertification, and the Oakland and New York Occupy evictions that have bookended it. It is about the way decertification and the threat thereof mirrors the hidden anarchist principles of Occupy which have allowed the social movement to escalate — peacefully and effectively.

Contemporary anarchism, having “embraced post-modernism better than any other social movement”1, has informed and influenced the shape, culture, and organizing model of the Occupy movement in beautiful ways that, sadly, it probably won’t receive the credit for (we just get the blame when people break shit). Most obviously in the idea that the Occupy movement has no leaders, but it goes much deeper than that. Anyone who has studied social movements can see that Occupy has borrowed some of their most essential characteristics — consensus decision making, honoring a “diversity of tactics”, and prioritizing community building and the creation of alternative and radical space over submitting a list of demands2 — from the largely anarchist-inspired social movements such as the anti-nuclear movement of the 70’s and 80’s, the counter-globalization movement popularize by the Battle in Seattle, and infoshops and anarchist collectives nationwide, rather than older progressive, liberal, and socialist social movements which retained hierarchical decision making and strategic models, and focused more on “institutional” channels of reform.

By using and popularizing consensus decision making, we create a space in which people who often feel shut out of political action, both on the electoral and grassroots level, are given a space in which they feel like their voice matters3. By eschewing formal leadership, we bridge the Alinskyan split between organizers and partisans, and instead enable and encourage everyone involved to assume decision making power within the group, and in turn entrust them with the responsibility to do work for the group. As Spider-Man’s uncle Ben famously said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Uncle Ben would have been a fucking great anarchist.

Boil all this together and you have a space in which it’s possible to create what Angela Davis has been calling a “complex unity”4 — a group of people who have enormous differences, ideologically, culturally, in terms of privilege, etc — and work together not just in spite of them, but through their differences draw strength from one another.

In the NBAPA, you see a unity much less complex (they all roughly want the same thing), yet still pretty chewy. Spencer Hawes is a die-hard conservative teabagger who has, according to his twiter, suddenly learned the beauty of solidarity. Kobe Bryant is reportedly giving money to less financially stable players to help them survive the lockout. Would-be rookie Kemba Walker, who hasn’t even gotten his first NBA paycheck yet, tweeted “No money. Ok. I grew up with no money. There’s nothin new!”. Having the Paul Pierce decertification-crazy contingent coexisting peacefully under a blanket next to the Derek Fisher bargaining committee, though, was a beautiful use of a diversity of tactics. Allowing a radical, contradictory tactic to develop peacefully next to well-dressed D-Fish at the table for 16 hour sessions allowed the players to use what leverage they had effectively, and seamlessly prepare for the next step if they felt pushed to do so. Kind of like holding Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland until the police raid and brutalize you, then gathering the next night and deciding to hold a general strike. Or bouncing back to push through a legal decision protecting tents as free speech only hours after police raid Zuccotti Square.

The truth is, I have no idea what is going to happen to the NBA post decertification, and I have no idea what is going to happen in Occupy Oakland and OWS after the raids. But in each case, those on the bottom have done everything right up until this point, to put themselves in a situation to respond.

Here is the entire post illustrated by video: 1,

PS: Etan be reading my mind.

PPS: Tweet of the day — @adrian_parsons: #OWS protester: “the cops have occupied Zucotti Park, we’re just trying to figure out what their demands are.”

(1) Quote is from my rooommate. And before you ask, actually yes, he is an authority on the subject (of anti-authoritarianism?).

(2) A note on the utility of having no demands: By submitting a list of demands to an elected official (or the unpaid intern of a hired spokesperson of an appointed representative of an elected official), you give them the opportunity to ignore the demands as they see fit, or shape the implementation of those they adopt such that, in the end, they barely resemble the initial demand. This is the old “sausage-making” legislative model of social change, and it is incomplete. Us community organizers understand that social change comes about as a building and leveraging of power against power — “political jiu-jutsu” as the nonviolence writer and scholar Gene Sharp calls it.

(3) http://www.theawl.com/2011/10/the-livestream-ended-how-i-got-off-my-computer-and-into-the-streets-at-occupy-oakland — a beautiful article, and here’s the takeaway quote:

Never in my life did I imagine I’d be sitting with a group of adults seriously debating policy as if our decision made a difference.

(4) My roommate (who, seriously, knows these sorts of things) says that academia has been using the term “multiplicity” to mean the same thing since forever. I hear “multiplicity” and think of the Michael Keaton movie from the ’90s, even though I never actually saw that movie. Complex unity is a stronger phrase anyway. Let’s all use that from now on, ok?

On trying to balance a job and an occupation

October 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have to leave soon if I’m going to make it to the general assembly before the march today, but I’ve been trying to get this out for days now, so let’s see if this will take.

Jay said, “Also you’re not obligated to jump in every time white kids want to camp on things. Kay?”

And she’s so damn right. We’ve been in this situation before with Tent University Santa Cruz: a bunch of first-time organizers throw together something huge, and it improbably gets a ton of attention and police blowback. More experienced organizers who were not involved (though, in Occupy SB, unlike Tent U, I would probably want to be) are put in an uncomfortable position — for the sake of solidarity and the well-being of the radical community, feeling forced to assume a great deal of personal investment and risk to support something we believe in, yet feeling shut out from being able to contribute the organizing skills and knowledge we know can make it successful.

Here’s what I wrote about Tent U when it happened:

I have incredibly mixed feelings about Tent U. As a free speech issue and a medium for alternative education I support it entirely. As a coherent forum for activism, I think it’s, so far, a failure. It’s a catalyst, but not a movement. What really gets my ire (besides the fucking riot cops) is the negative reaction so many people have towards it and the people who were battered monday evening. …

I just wish Tent U was better organized, I wish other orgs were more involved in its inception. I wish it were better publicized. I wish it were somehow possible to know which workshops were going on at what time, and I wish it had better cooperation with the existing activism on campus — whose platforms they are incorporating into their own — in order to create a unified and powerful front not as a symbol or a statement for change, but for a movement to enact these changes.

Although, in most ways, Tent University Santa Cruz was way better organized. They had a media strategy, they had nonviolent tactics trainings, they had workshops, they had something resembling a plan or at least wanted to. OSB? Ouch.

Occupy SB feels like it has legs though, if for no other reason than Occupying is what people are doing and talking at the moment. If this is a movement, I want to be part. I need to be part. And if I have to attend rallies and bail my girlfriend out of jail on my lunch break, and drive a hundred miles at 8 PM on what should be a relaxing night with my girlfriend to do spur-of-the-moment legal observation for an action at which people are planning to get arrested with no media strategy, no tactics, no legal observation… it’s enough to make a grown organizer cry.

And as a result, nothing like this happened at Occupy SB:

Maybe that’s a good thing? Who knows. I’m leaving now to try and catch the general assembly before the march. Maybe, hopefully, I can work with these people in the future.

I will say this: Some of these folks are going to have to drop the “I’m a white dude and I have a lot to say so I’m going to say it all the fucking time” act. Seriously fucking annoying.

Lompoc Record letter to the editor

August 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

yeah, that's Mariah on the far right -- she's so cute!

Thank you for your article in the Sunday edition, “Protesters Mark Anniversary of Hiroshima Bombing”. However, the last sentence could leave the mistaken, though popular, impression that dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki hastened the end of what would otherwise have been a protracted campaign against Japan. Historical evidence, including the diary of President Truman, shows that Japan offered to surrender even before the US employed weapons of mass destruction on their civilians.

In other news, I got hired to work for a mental health residency in Santa Maria. While waiting for that to start, I’ve been playing lots of Forge and became fascinated today with RMS.

And now, kung fu movies.

meme sub delta

July 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last night there was another missile launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 5 miles from my house, testing an ICBM (minus the payload) and dropping it on Kwajalein Atoll — a small islet in the Marshall Islands, home of the irradiated legacy of the Bravo test, now owned by the Bechtel company. There was also a protest against this missile launch. A friend, mentor, and brilliant researcher by the name of Andy Lichterman has done some fantastic work talking about these delivery systems, and why opposition to them is so important, and yet I didn’t go to the protest this time, as I have in the past. Not out of apathy, but out of questions of efficacy.

I’m twenty-five years old and I’ve been an activist since I was fifteen. In that time I’ve tried to affect social change in approximately seven hundred and fifty two bajillion ways for every cause under the sun and a few that exist only at night time, and in the process of reflection, I’ve become haunted by the question of efficacy. Some actions, like kicking military recruiters off of my university campus, really seemed to work. It’s not the militancy that makes things happen — less active means, like supporting Mariah’s work with the Catholic Worker house or having a conversation about everything with my cousin Matthew as he begins to question his socialization and the world, gives me the same feeling of efficacy. A protest nobody sees in front of an air force base in the middle of nowhere at midnight, when all you’re doing is standing around listening to a couple speakers, sending out a press release, and going home — what the hell does that do?

If a meme is the elemental unit of culture and we’re looking for social change, I’m wondering out loud here if we can come up with an essential unit of social change. Call it meme sub delta, if you want to be a nerd about it (and I do). I don’t know how useful terminology like this would be, since I can’t think of any clear way to measure social change. Do you measure only the extent to which something lasts (after a food not bombs serving, hungry people are less hungry until they become hungry again) or does the degree count as well (by performing a gender-queer identity, you are attacking conceptions of gender itself while the mainstream focus is merely on acceptance of sexual preference)? Does meme sub delta not count if your action has already been coopted into the mainstream spectacle?

It seems to be a giant bundle of uselessness, but I’m going to keep playing with it anyway. I’ll have a recurring theme here, posts tagged with “meme sub delta”, detailing little bits of culture I think are in need of fixing, and arcs in the cultural narrative that might be able to fix them.

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