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?


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