O.W.S. through the lens of anarchy

BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  Police raids, mass arrests and protests defined the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street last Thursday, Nov. 17. While the loss of the encampment at Zuccotti Park following a Nov. 15 NYPD raid deprived the movement of its symbolic base, ongoing forces continue to guide supporters forward.

Self-described adherents are few within Occupy, but ideas born out of anarchist ideology exercise an influence far beyond their numbers within the movement. Group discussion, consensus decision-making and a common confidence in the success of a movement without leaders are what supporters say unifies them in a way that their wide range of political demands cannot.

Critics say the lack of specific demands hampers the effectiveness of the ongoing protests against corporate greed, government malfeasance, as well as a host of other issues. But occupiers say such diversity reflects a broad range of support for the movement unified by a common ideal.

Anarchy, a word with sinister implications to some, well defines the order, which prevailed over the park during the occupation and continues to guide the movement into its third month, experts said.

Though the occupation ended, the governing institutions of Occupy Wall Street remain the same. A General Assembly of activists meets daily making decisions for the movement based on consensus. Working groups meanwhile staffed by volunteers continue to do much of the grunt work.

While “anarchy” is often used to connote chaos, as a central idea driving the ongoing movement it embodies something quite opposite, according to CUNY Professor David O‘Brien, a Chinatown resident and supporter of the movement.

“We throw [anarchy] around as a curse word in this society,” said O’Brien. “This is an anarchist movement but it’s not an anarchy in the sense you know of glass breakers, bomb-throwers, berserk people who have no respect for society.”

The slogan “We are the 99 percent” helped transform Occupy Wall Street from a fringe protest to a populist movement. David Graeber, a prominent anarchist and earlier organizer of the movement, is credited with coining the phrase before leaving New York City shortly after the occupation began. He left in part because he did not wish to be elevated to a position unbecoming of what he hoped would become a leaderless movement, Graeber said in an email.

“I suggested it at the first Outreach meeting for O.W.S. on Aug. 4 and was the first to put it out as an idea on the O.W.S. listserv,” Graeber added.

Yet, some occupiers distance themselves from the political ideology and its supporters within the movement, saying anarchism puts too much emphasis on violent confrontation against opponents.

“A lot of it is fueled by anger and I don’t feel it’s a productive way to fix things,” said Dylan Vonloeben of Queens. “We are a little too entrenched in the system that we currently live in.”

Others such as Robert Fuller, 46, who joined the Nov. 17 demonstrations, said they know little more about the term beyond its association with “chaos”.

As defined by academics, the political philosophy envisions an egalitarian society where order is maintained through mutual aid and collective action as well as a lack of typical political institutions.

But there is some truth to conceptions of anarchists as purveyors of violence and disorder, though such characterizations lack context and historical insight, according to Columbia University Professor Stathis Gourgouris.

“True, anarchists have acted violently against the purveyors of law and order, because law and order is a misnomer for state power serving the interests of the rich and few. But it’s equally a misnomer for anarchism to mean disorder,” Gourgouris said in an email. “The anarchist government in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War period was remarkably organized and peaceful. Anarchism is all about government, but self-government by all involved, not government of the few over the many that’s safeguarded by law and enforced by the police.”

Anarchism has many variants including a “Black bloc” which University of Nottingham Professor Christopher Phelps added may be responsible for lingering associations between chaos and the ideology. “Ritualized window-breaking” is one example of the faction’s methods in demonstrations, according to Phelps.

Some demonstrators said anarchist influence on the movement stands in stark contrast to the level of organization on the ground during the recent raid of Zuccotti Park by the NYPD. Kaila Hale-Stern of Crown Heights, said confusion led to a scuffle between dozens of protesters and NYPD on Nov. 17 at the park. Lack of direction from law enforcement led to injuries, she claimed.

“If you want to talk about a stereotypical state of anarchy it’s where the police are getting their orders from,” said Hale-Stern. “Who is in charge because there (didn‘t) seem to be a consensus?”

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5 Responses to O.W.S. through the lens of anarchy

  1. There's one more item to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day : the fact that we have Barack Obama as President of the United States (and as a viable candidate for re-election…..as opposed to the sorry set of rivals on the other side). Thank you Mr. President : your heart, your values, your basic decency.. are all in the right place. But… your hands are tied. Unfortunately they were tied by us, the electorate…..by not providing you with a Congress that you can work with. Instead you have a donu2019t-tax-the-1% Congress that instead battles you at every turn, while the people suffer. u00a0God, they don't EVEN let you pass your own appointments. It's not Tea-publican gridlock- It's Tea-publican SABOTAGE. And then they try to pin the blame on Mr. Obama. These people have no shame…or else its been purchased by those who can afford to do so. Thankfully, Occupy Wall Street is part of an emerging grass-roots evolution that will help to both re-elect you Mr. President, and to give you a more progressive Congress. Therefore, on this Thanksgiving day, u00a0I am thankful and grateful that you are the President Mr. Obama! And I wish you well. You STILL give me hope.

  2. Pingback: Anarchy Remains Common Current In Occupy Wall Street « Perrierberet at Occupy Wall Street

  3. Anyone who thinks those involved in OWS are going to vote for Obama are deluded. While it is true we have a "don't-tax-the-1% Congress," Obama has upheld the status quo and the federal government has worked closely with states in giving advice on how to crackdown on protesters. Not to mention moving troops to Australia purely to intimidate China. He even publicly rebuked the head of the EPA's move to put restrictions on air pollution, saying it would have to be put off until 2013, curiously right after a new administration is elected. I don't understand his re-election strategy of alienating his fanbase, but even so, the OWS have no ally in him.

  4. Dr. Martin Luther King was also criticized for his use of civil disobedience.u00a0 Here are some editorials and comments from 50 years ago…that sound very much like the criticisms leveled against the OWS protestorsnnnJ. Edgar Hoover on the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.u00a0 June 1, 1967"Riotsn and anarchic demonstrations which leave devastation and ruin in their nwake place a tremendous burden onu00a0 law enforcement officers.nnAlready hampered by undermanned staffs, police authorities are forced ton marshal their strength in expected trouble spots and leave other nneighborhoods without proper police protection.In face, enforcement officers spend much of their time protecting and guarding marchers and petitioners.nnHowever police officials as well as the general public are becoming nweary of persons who, for self aggrandizement and monetary gain, exploitn noble causes and agitate peaceful groups into rioting mobsnExn Supreme Court Justice Charles Whittaker onu00a0 the civil rights ndemonstrations on the University of Berkeley campus April 12, 1968nn"Because of the public acclaim he (Dr. King) has receive and those aboutn him, millions have been led to believe that civil disobedience is nproper and correct.u00a0 The North, East and Far West taunted the South as nlocal laws were set aside with federal approval while King and his nstrange thousands of beatniks , loveru00a0 boys and rabble rousers blocked npublic highways with TV promoted marches.nnThese pious ministers from LA and Chicago who prayed with King at Selma nand followed his prancing steps down the asphalt backdrop to TV npopularity should have been home, teaching humility, meekness, regard nfor fellow man, respect for authority and all those graces that nencompass.u00a0 From the Top, Americans must be taught a respect for nauthority at every level, beginning around the kitchen table.nnAt present there is only arrogance for law enforcement in many areas as nthese underpaid officials face the threat of the sniper, the mob, the ndemonstrators and the nonviolent protestor in the hideous and misleadingn mask of civil rights."nnEditorial: Times Daily Aug 18, 1965The Rev. Martin Luthern King, Jr. blamed this summer's riots onu00a0 "the policymakers of white nsociety" Tuesday and called on urban Negroes to "adopt civil ndisobedience" on a massive scale.nn"To dislocate the functions of a city without destroying it can be more effective than a riot"u00a0 Mr. King said.Hen suggested mass sit-ins every week inside and at the gates of factories nand marches on Washington by thousands of unemployed youths.nnEditorial:The Southeast Missourian Aug 17.1966Dr. Martin nLuther King, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, has once again defied nauthority and said he will not recognize any injunction issue to halt ncivil rights demonstrations in ChicagonnA court order was issued Friday , restricting the scope of ndemonstrations in Chicago.u00a0 Dr. King has said he will ignore the court'sn directive and that "Sunday will be a big day in the city of Chicago"Kingn told 1,000 cheering civil rights proponents at a rally Thursday night nthat open occupancy marches would continue inu00a0 all white neighborhoods neven if the city obtained an injunction.nnThis is not a matter of civil rights.u00a0 It is a matter of civil ndisobedience and a flaunting of the laws under which this nation has nlived in safety and freedom since it's inception.Dr. King in recent nmonths has become more and more irresponsible.u00a0 His statements speak forn themselves.u00a0 He is spreading violence across the face of the countrynnPittsburgh Post Gazetteu00a0 Jan 38, 1966In telling reportersn that civil disobedience is a possibility Dr. King said individuals noften had to break a particular law to obey a higher moral law.nnnnnn

  5. Pingback: "Occupy Wall Street" media wrap-up #8 | blogwrangler.net

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