“Whatever happened to Occupy Wall Street?”
People ask me this sometimes when we get to talk about activism. Many of them hardly remember anything. They recall some images of folks camping out on the squares with cardboard slogans. “Wasn’t it the autumn fashion, the year before last?”
I guess it was.
“So what happened?”
For me, it used to be pretty difficult to answer that. Occupy must have ended somewhere along the way, but I can’t say exactly what happened.
Now I know.
Occupy Wall Street ended up under the Christmas tree.
“Give the gift of spiritual insurrection, posters and canvases now available, click here to purchase”
It’s kinda curious. And in some way, everything fits. Occupy Wall Street started off with a poster, and it ended with that very same poster. Under the Christmas tree.
Now get this. During the course of the French Revolution the representative body steadily decreased in size from an assembly to a directorate, to a triumvirate. Three consuls at the head of the Republic, and one of them made the rules.
Now imagine Occupy Wall Street. There is a small cabin in the woods, upstate New York. Inside, three conspirators are gathered around a laptop, writing a letter to Santa Claus. All three of them wear Santa’s red hat. Only one of them also wears a beard. He is the Leaderless Leader. On top of their wishlist, a flying reindeer sleigh. The three conspirators dream of flying around the world and scattering star dust over the roofs. Disney/Pixar wide screen 3D. Can you see it? Can you see the houses light up, the people taking the streets? It’s the 99%! They are rising up!
No. Different cabin. Same three conspirators. They have forked hooves and a tail, the Leaderless Leader also carries horns. There is a blue haired lawyer knocking on the door. He brings his client and a contract to sign. Three little souls in exchange for every dime that can be made out of the OWS brand.
No. Different cabin. Same three conspirators. They are dressed up in grand uniform. Marshals of the People’s Republic of the 99%. The Leaderless Leader wears a bicorne. They are behind a laptop, photoshopping themselves into the hall of presidents at Disneyworld, Florida.
The Leaderless Leader is the founder, theorist, and prophet of the movement. The commandments of activism that he has brought down from the mountain to the blog are, unfortunately, written in a neo-intellectualoid dialect that isn’t meant to be understood by the 99 percent, if at all. One day, during a university occupation, the Leaderless Leader had a vision of people bringing the occupation to the squares. Maybe he thought he was the first, maybe he had never heard of Tienanmen Square.
Three conspirators. Board members of the ‘Occupy Solidarity Network’, operating occupywallst.org, the biggest megaphone of the movement.
Occupywallst.org is not, and never has been, a tool of the New York City General Assembly, or of Occupy Wall Street or the Occupy Movement as a whole. It is run by a closed affinity group of self proclaimed radicals. As an anarchist collective, they used to refrain from signing their communications with names. Until recently, when the three conspirators dropped their masks and entered the limelight as ‘founders of the Occupy movement’.
The Leaderless Leader presents an interview with Adbuster’s Kalle Lasn and himself in the New Yorker as his credentials for being an Occupy founder.
Let’s go back to the French Revolution for a sec. History as a tragedy and as a farce. When Napoleon and the other two consuls grabbed power on 18 Brumaire 1799, the revolution still held sway over France and beyond her borders. When the three OSN conspirators staged their coup, Occupy Wall Street didn’t occupy a damn thing.
Were they really serious? Did they just want to make fools out of themselves? Did they really think it wouldn’t cause a stir among those people who still feel a certain link with Occupy Wall Street? Maybe they really didn’t. And indeed, on the site there is a queer absence of negative reactions to the poster sale.
A tiny minority appropriating something that belonged to all of us, in order to sell it off. Wasn’t that what made people Occupy Wall Street in the first place? There’s irony here. Read ‘Occupy Irony’, the reaction by the people from ows.net.
It gets more hilarious. The Leaderless Leader is a former editor of Adbusters. As such, he participated in the launch of the original call to occupy Wall Street. Adbusters also created the famous poster. Over a week ago, the Leaderless Leader hacked into the Adbusters Twitter account, to protest against whatever personal resentment separated him from the magazine, and to sell their own poster.
Maybe people are underestimating him. Maybe it was all meant to be a brilliant joke, Andy Kaufman style. A spoof of the spoofers. The renegate prophet hitting Adbusters in the face with their own poster and making a buck out of it. Thus, OWS entered popculture, it consumed its 15 minutes of fame, and now it’s over. Buy the poster. Also available at Wallmart. Hang it on the wall as a memorial to what has been. Tell your grandchildren about it.
No, I fear this whole farce was serious. And even that I can understand. I have played revolution as well the last few years, whenever it was appropriate. It’s a fun game, it’s addictive, you can get carried away by it. You may start to think that what you’re doing is really important. Well, it isn’t. Nobody can predict the moment of revolution. Nobody can ‘make it happen’. Every once in a while there’s a revolutionary moment. Just like that. It won’t last long, maybe a few weeks, at most a couple of months. Then there’s pressure from the outside, struggle from the inside. The harmony breaks down, the bubble bursts, and the rest is vanity.
Vanity, my dear comrades. Give me a pulpit, give me a wooden country church, give me a gospel choir singing ‘Hallelujah!’, and I will preach! Yes I will. Sing it again. Hallelujah!
No really. I have a feeling Santa isn’t coming to town this Christmas. He’ll skip another year. Nobody will notice. Hardly anyone would even recognize Santa, without that silly beard, the red coat, the reindeer/sleigh accessories. The fact of the matter is that Santa comes to town whenever he pleases, and that’s rarely at Christmas.
I met him a couple of times, old Santa. Mostly in summer and spring. This year I saw him pouring coffee and tea for the people at Gezi Park. I have also seen him dance this year, linking together Turks and Kurds, and gay and straight and left and right and everything in between. Santa is jolly and kind. He is also a brave man. I saw him again, in clouds of gas, patiently delivering relief to people’s eyes with a spray of antidote. The last time I saw him, he was sitting in the sun, on guard of a barricade.
Outside pressure. Inside struggle. Vanity. Santa went back to the North Pole.
Will Santa still make it to town? Will the revolution be back next year? Will you give the gift of spiritual insurrection?
Posters and canvasas now available. Hallelujah! Order today, and have yourself a Merry Christmas, ho ho ho!
Tuscany, December 21
A quick update on Italy. The Pitchforks were much hyped, but fizzled fast. During the first few days, populist leaders tried to hop on the train. Beppe Grillo, the comedian opposition leader even called for a coup d’etat by the armed forces. Old lion Berlusconi was set to meet representatives of the pitchfork mob, but backed down just in time.
The uprising against a vote of confidence for the government was to be a pitchfork ‘march on rome’. The historical echo of Mussolini’s takeover of power in 1922 was one of the many issues that divided the spirits. Identity crisis hit fast. A photo in the papers of a presumed pitchfork leader driving off in a second hand Jaguar only helped to aggravate the crisis. Some people went to Rome anyway, not for a march, but for a sit-in. It was a major flop.
“Sure they have all reasons of the world to protest, but come on, I have to go to work, pick up the kids, do groceries, etc.” (Woman at a pitchfork roadblock).
Tuscany, December 10.
This time it took me by surprise. While all eyes are on the ‘eurorevolution’ in Ukraine, yesterday Italy was swept by a sudden outburst of civil unrest. The so-called ‘pitchfork’ movement brought people to the streets all over the country. There were heavy clashes with police in Turin.
So what is this movement? Who is behind it? What do they want? It’s hard to tell, because it seems to be very heterogeneous.
The movement was started by Sicilian farmers two years ago, it gained support by truck drivers, and lately by the impoverished middle class. In general, there is a growing feeling of discontent with the government, with austerity measures, with high taxes, the euro, and with unfair competition from chain stores and cheap Chinese products. Yesterday, many small shop owners closed in solidarity with the protest. Others who didn’t adhere were picketed and forced to close.
There doesn’t seem to be a clear leadership or any plans. A major impulse of the street protest comes from the far right and from neofascist groups. At the same time there was also an unlikely presence of fringes from the extreme left. I have never seen anything like that before, here in Italy.
Motorways were blocked by truckers all througout the country. Railway traffic was disrupted by protesters in Turin and Genoa. In Turin, clashes with police occurred in the central Piazza del Castello as demonstrators tried to storm the regional government building. Police responded with charges and tear gas. From the side of the protesters, the resistance was spearheaded by football supporters from Juventus and Torino. Again, an unlikely brotherhood.
In the early afternoon, something curious happened. After the clashes, demonstrators in Turin challenged the police officers to take off their helmets and lay down their shields. ‘You are underpaid. You are with us!’ someone shouted through a megaphone.
The commander in the field was the first to comply. After that, the others followed suit. The crowd reacted with a wave of cheers. A similar gesture of solidarity from the side of police occurred in Genoa and Bolzano. Spontaneous acts of fraternization with police were recorded in other parts of the country as well.
Today, peaceful actions and road blocks of the Pitchfork movement continue. Some protesters have already threatened that all hell will break loose if the grand coalition of Enrico Letta will survive tomorrow’s vote of confidence.
Kiev is really hot right now. You all know the story. Putin wants Ukraine to stay in the Russian orbit, and with who knows which promises or threats he has forced the Ukrainian government to renounce association with the EU.
Hundreds of thousands are on the street every day in Kiev. Millions all over the country. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s mostly the nationalists who are demonstrating, and for a revolutionary it doesn’t make sense to support nationalists anywhere. It must be exciting all the same. Pictures are coming in of protesters trying to break through a line of riot police with a bulldozer. Battles are raging every day. Demonstrators keep rebuilding their camp. They vow to continue until the government resigns.
I know, maybe I should be there. I should be on that bulldozer. Yet for now I’m in Tuscany, caught up in a swamp of distractions. But don’t worry, I’ll be back.
There are also things going on in Mexico, Thailand and Egypt. Respectively a protest against energy privatization, a bourgeois revolt and a student demo in Tahrir against a ban on unauthorized protests.
For the time being I will publish another letter from my friend in Bulgaria, about the events in Sofia over the course of the past few weeks.
“I am wondering how I can summarize the whole situation… It is not like Turkey. Not yet. This story with the riot police is actually ridiculous. Yes, there is a protest every single day, no matter if there are 30 or 3000 people, as the number varies each day, we are not skipping a day. A lot of people came out on the street on 10 November, because it is the anniversary of the big protests of 10.11.1990 when we took the regime down (or at least we thought so :)) the next few days were also quite intense and the politicians feared that the situation from 24 years ago would repeat itself, so they mobilized all the police in Sofia and a few other big cities. There were some clashes between police and people, but not too bad, even though that was the idea of this whole circus. What is ridiculous about it is that at some point there were more policemen then protesters on the square, pushing people away, threatening instead of protecting the citizens (what is their actual duty). So the reaction of the students was to come out on the square in the next few days and play “terrorists” with cardboard weapons and gas masks in order to deride the reactions of the police and the Parliament, who treated us as violent criminals the previous days for no reasons. There are different actions every day apart from the regular protest, unfortunately not enough people are participating.”