In my last C4SS column, I argued that the real significance of Occupy Together is not its effectiveness in pressuring the 1%’s state to enact reforms, but rather in showing the 99% our own strength. We’re an entire society in ourselves, the producers, and we don’t need the 1% — it’s they who would starve without us.
Those involved in developing the building blocks of a counter-economy outside the corporate state — the free software movement, the crypto and digital currency movements, the micromanufacturing and permaculture movements — should engage in educational outreach on the possibilities for meeting our own needs without paying tribute to the 1%.
I’d like to expand on that. Dave Pollard of How to Save the World blog has written of “incapacitation — rendering the old order unable to function by sapping what it needs to survive.” (“All About Power and the Three Ways to Topple it,” February 18, 2005). As Matt Taibbi famously described Goldman-Sachs, the corporate system is “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
Far more important than anything Occupy Wall Street achieves as a pressure movement, is what it will achieve as an education movement, teaching people ways to sustain themselves through peaceful production, cooperation, sharing and trade with other producers — all outside the corporate system. Far more important than what the demonstrators brought with them to Zuccotti Park will be what they take back home with them — a toolkit for fighting the system from where they live. Or as I put it in my previous column, “a general strike producing for ourselves.”
So the real significance of OWS is not as a political movement to pressure anyone else to do anything, but that itself is the nucleus of a new society — or as Venessa Miemis recently described it, “the emergence of a living systems organization” (Emergent by Design, October 27).
There are heartening indications that OWS is making just such a transition. It shows signs of turning into a teach-in on a scale that would put the Berkeley effort of forty years earlier to shame. Michel Bauwens of the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives gave a talk on p2p at Zuccotti Park on November 1, discussing among other things commons-based peer production as “a new way of producing value.” Juliet Schor is scheduled to speak November 4 on the ideas in her book “Plentitude.”
What next? Perhaps a talk by Tom Greco on local currency systems, informing people of the potential to use credit-clearing networks to create liquidity for the exchange of services and skills between people who have no conventional money. Perhaps a talk by Marcin Jakubowski of Open Source Ecology on the potential for replacing million-dollar mass-production factories with garage shops with a few thousand dollars in homebrew digital machine tools. Perhaps a permaculturist. The possibilities are endless. Every subsistence need that can be met by self-provisioning in the informal and household economy, or through peaceful sharing and exchange with our peers, deprives the vampire squid of so much blood.
Perhaps almost as important is the effect of the Occupy movement in creating stress fractures within the establishment. There are now now national movements — Occupy Police, Occupy Army, etc. — of military veterans and police officers organizing in support of the Occupy movement, vowing to protect it from attack, and refusing to obey orders to repress it. There have already been sporadic boycotts by NYPD officers staying home from work in support of the 99%, and a mass refusal by Albany police and state troopers to enforce Cuomo’s curfew order against the 700 demonstrators in Albany.
Although the evidence is mostly anecdotal and we don’t have much in the way of hard numbers, it’s still heartening. The ruling class is as prone to boiled-frog syndrome as the rest of us. They will always hesitate to resort to full-blown martial law, so long as there remains any room for hope that things aren’t really as bad for they as they seem, because they know it’s the kind of thing there’s no taking back — if it goes badly, it will result in their being dragged in chains before revolutionary courts. Franco’s troops, in the parts of Spain where his coup failed, were burned alive in their barracks by workers’ militia. And by the time the ruling class finally decides there’s no choice but full-scale repression, it will probably be too late for them. By that time, there will be innumerable defections by police and troops refusing to obey orders, like the Winter Palace Guards in Petrograd. By that time, turncoat elements of the ruling class will be scrambling over each other to cut a separate deal with the winning side.
And this development also falls under the heading of DIY tools for sustainability, since — much like the self-organized efforts on Tahrir Square — it illustrates our ability to maintain the security of our lives and possessions through voluntary cooperation, outside the state’s security apparatus.
Finally, Occupy has indicated its intent to spark a permanent, nationwide squatter movement by the homeless. On the evening on the November 2 General Strike some members of Occupy Oakland moved into a vacant office building bordering Oscar Grant Plaza. They intend to use it as a space for workshops and classes, a library, and a dormitory for those with health conditions. The larger goal is to set an example for Occupy movements in other cities. Better yet, it will set an example for millions of homeless who sleep in the cold, as bank-owned residential and commercial real estate sits vacant.
This is a winning proposition. The homeless really have nothing to lose. They’ll be sheltered for as long as they’re able to retain occupancy, and if they’re eventually evicted they’re no worse off than before. Meanwhile, the longer they remain in possession the greater the demonstration effect on others to take courage and do likewise; and the more likely other forms of resistance, like defaulting mortgage-payers retaining occupancy and challenging the legality of the bank’s paper, are to emerge. As a coordinated large-scale swarming movement of millions of people, perhaps in alliance with efforts like Homes Not Jails, it will create positive network effects by raising the political costs to the state of evicting squatters. Every attempted eviction will be streamed online, further hurt the state’s image, and further undermine the morale of its functionaries. In a growing number of localities, local governments will have the sense to realize that, while the homeless and the vacant houses will still be around five years from now, the banks that hold the paper on those houses almost certainly won’t be. The “authorities” will be forced under pressure of necessity — just as they did in post-collapse Russia as described by Dmitry Orlov — to accommodate themselves to the existence of quasi-legal tent cities, favelas, and squatters in vacant tenements and office buildings.
As Cat Stevens sang:
I’ve been smiling lately, thinking of the good things to come.
And I believe it could be, something good has begun.