THE LIBERAL PHALLUSY (originally published: January 13th, 2012 here)
OLA has always been different from the other, similar sized Occupy movements across the world. Unlike OWS, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Portland or Occupy the London Stock Exchange, OLA is passive, reactive and defensive — where they are non-violent, pro-active and aggressive. These occupations took parks. They placed their bodies in a public space, and demanded to be heard simply by their very presence. They took what was theirs: public space – simply because it was the only way they could make their grievances with this bankrupt, deaf, unrepresentative system be known. OLA, in contrast, asked the City Council’s permission for that first Pershing Square march. They notified them if it was OK to put tents up on City Hall lawn. They dutifully decamped every evening at 10pm (well, most of them), and moved their tents to the sidewalk in recognition of, and adherence to, bizarre and unfair laws designed to accommodate the homeless population in LA who have been forced out of Skid Row by the gentrification of downtown Los Angeles and the Safer Cities Initiative. OLA cheered when City Council passed a resolution, and Eric Garcetti told them: “Stay as long as you need. We’re here to support you”. The “leaders” of OLA whimpered when Occupiers refused to move their tents to accommodate the Farmers – what a terrible PR move! – and the OLA Media Team went into apologetic overdrive to appease both the council and the Farmers, failing to recognize that the Occupiers had a right to stay in their encampment, and were being used as political pawns to besmirch the very act of free speech.
Whereas other Occupy movements have been strident, bold, aggressive, confrontational, active and always nonviolent in their practice of civil disobedience, OLA immediately established itself as a reformist movement which was willing to work within the established corrupt hierarchies of power that OWS opposed. OLA was, from day one, unwilling to embrace the radical potential which other Occupy movements had set as their agenda. Barring the underwhelming N17 action, which was the only vague indication that those who had seized power within this supposedly leaderless movement had any inkling of what ‘civil disobedience’ entailed, OLA remained, by and large, a dysfunctional amorphous mass recreating external hierarchies within the internal structures of the camp.
Within the movement, the seeds of radicalism were present within the impoverished, the dispossessed, the homeless and those of us who had seen what OWS had seen: that working within a corrupted system was ultimately futile, that disrupting the system was the only way to change it. But these seeds of ‘radicalism’ – as the LA reformists like to label those who advocate working outside the system – the seeds which had flowered into a global movement, failed to ever take hold in OLA while it existed as an encampment, mainly because of the strong, paternalistic, obstructive attitude of those controlling OLA through their stronghold on committees, and the secretive liaisons made “on their behalf” with corrupt authorities such as the police and City Council. These liaisons were initiated by a group of individuals led by the controversial and unpopular Mario Brito, a career Trade Unionist, who epitomizes the failings of the impotent Liberal Center / Left.
Mario’s desire to be “a leader”, despite the repeated requests to the contrary of the people of OLA movement, aptly demonstrate the Reformist-Liberal tendency towards paternalism: the “we know what’s best” attitude. The “You may not like it, but it’s good for you”, response of the current political system, which directly contravenes the fundamental ideal of the Occupy movement as outlined in The Principles of Solidarity: direct, transparent, participatory democracy. A movement where every voice is heard, acknowledged and involved in collective decision making. Nowhere was this seen more clearly than when Occupy LA found out, by a chance slip in an email on the listserve, that the City Liaisons committee, led by Mario Brito, Jim Lafferty, Marty Berg and Scott Schuster, had negotiated a deal with the City in exchange for relinquishing the City Hall encampment. The reaction of the movement was to roundly reject such ‘bribery’ – clearly indicating that the people of OLA want to work outside the system, and value civil disobedience as an effective method for enacting change. Using civil disobedience to negotiate for personal, material gain was – and still is – anathema to the movement, and yet the Reformist Liberals could not understand this.
The day after the N30 raid, a group of 500 occupiers marched from Pershing Square back to City Hall, now surrounded by large concrete barriers and a ten foot chain link fence. Finding the gate open, some occupiers poured in to reclaim public space in a symbolic act of defiance. Many had been radicalized by their first encounter with a police state. The oppression of the authorities, the mistreatment they had suffered from the LAPD during the raid, the unlawful arrests made, the hypocrisy of a council and Mayor that had at first welcomed them, then tried to bribe them away from public space and assist in turning them into a feeble Democratic party offshoot, a foundation controlled non-profit, that worked limply within the broken system – this was all too apparent to many who had previously welcome the cautious Reformist approach. As these newly-radicalized Occupiers pushed open the gates, which were not locked, several unknown strangers slammed these same gates back on their bodies, slashing open one woman’s hand and physically hurting them, in their efforts to oppose this act of spontaneous civil disobedience.
This coercive and violent resistance to Occupiers attempting to exercise their First Amendment rights, is not only eerily similar to the LAPD’s systems of oppression, but is symbolic of the mental coercion of the LA Liberals attempting to impede OLA’s progress as a movement attempting to work outside a broken system. Occupy movements across the world have reiterated that they work outside the system, in recognition that to work within it, would be to validate the corruption inherent in that system – to be complicit with it. As Boots Riley points out, “None of the major progressive changes that have come about in the last 100 years have come due to electing the right person into office.” The New Deal, the Civil Rights Act, Labor Laws, the weekend, the eight hour work day, Affirmative Action – these all came about because of strikes, civil unrest, shutdowns, civil disobedience, physical battles between the people and authorities, targeted militant actions. Working outside the system exerted unbearable pressure on politicians who had to cave and acknowledge the words of the people, words spoken through direct action. Votes are simply not enough.
When people ask: “Why do Occupiers oppose Liberals?” consider the acts of those working against Occupy LA, alongside the fundamental lack of impact Reformist Liberals, as a political party and a political ideology, have had on this country and this world. The right wing are too lunatic for us to waste our time on: fueled by righteous hatred and betrayal, they have been led astray by the Republican party into a frenzy of indiscriminate righteousness which is, in part, completely understandable. They have been betrayed by this country, by its leaders, and by worldwide political and economic systems which reinforce the corruption. Sadly, their ire has been misdirected away from the perpetrators, and manipulated into a mobilizing force for the Republican Party. One need only look at the very real, valid and sympathetic grievances of the Tea Party movement before it became co-opted by the Republicans to see this at play.
Liberals are an altogether more complex breed. Usually educated and able to comprehend and process complex arguments, they are predominantly concerned with losing what they possess. Reformist Liberals hence cling onto established systems of power, usually because those systems have afforded them a degree of respect or recognition: privilege. As Chris Hedges so aptly phrases it: “The liberal class wants to inhabit a political center to remain morally and politically disengaged…. If the liberal class concedes that power has been wrested from us it will be forced, if it wants to act, to build movements outside the political system. This would require the liberal class to demand acts of resistance, including civil disobedience, to attempt to salvage what is left of our anemic democratic state. But this type of political activity, as costly as it is difficult, is too unpalatable to a bankrupt liberal establishment that has sold its soul to corporate interests.”
Liberals advocate moderation and ‘niceness’ in all things, and avoid heated discussions, instead preferring to censor debates, with the excuse that they don’t want to offend. One need only look at the recent hysterical furor whipped up by the Reformist Liberal arm of OLA regarding a proposal to rewrite the Statement of Nonviolence, to see this in action within our very movement. The initial Statement of Nonviolence was written by a minority. There is confusion over whether it was consented upon at a General Assembly, as no records currently exist of this proposal. It simply appeared one day, and was amended and rewritten numerous times, without GA approval, by this same minority. When the people of OLA raised objections to the wording of a proposal they had not authored, these objections were classified as the work of a “dangerous political faction” (the wording is taken from an email authored by Scott Schuster) who advocated mass destruction and antisocial, violent behavior. The recipients of the email were urged to attend General Assembly, not to participate in discussion and to try and build consensus, but to “hard block” a proposal they had not even heard. The questions posed by the people – How can we be against property destruction, when we have engaged in it at both OLA and as a worldwide movement? How can we equate property destruction with the much greater crime of violence against humans? – were deliberately misinterpreted in order to suppress debate which might counter the intentions of the Reformist Liberals who have controlled the LA movement for so long.
What are the intentions of the Liberals? It is to capitalize on the Occupy movement in order to perpetuate their own privilege without sacrificing their ego-driven ethical codes, in the same manner as they have capitalized upon the commodification of “organic”, “eco” and “green”, of yoga, of spirituality, of third world countries — bleeding from the continued oppression, control and destruction of their political and economic structures by the West. The Liberals want to commodify Occupy with coffee cups (made in America), t-shirts (hemp), bumper stickers (recycled) and a Public Relations float in a family Rose Parade (sponsored by Wells Fargo) organized by a political party candidate with Union funding, who, again, does not work within the General Assembly. Liberals want to turn Occupy into another organization like moveon.org – an organization which they will lead, this time with a salary, title and 401k to compensate them for the tireless hours they put in to save the world. The Liberals want, merely, recognition of their martyrdom. They scoff at any idea they might be privileged. As Joan Didion writes in her most recent memoir, Blue Nights: “Privilege” is a judgment. “Privilege” is an opinion. “Privilege” is an accusation. “Privilege” remains an area to which – when I consider what came later – I will not easily cop.
The Liberal will not easily cop to the idea of privilege. Privilege: the unearned social power that comes along with skin color, nationality, access to education, family wealth, charisma, testosterone, healthcare, facial features, the body you genetically inherit. The Liberal “will not easily cop” to the fact that all these, and more, are in any way a deciding factor in who has a voice in this world, who is singled out for arrest and oppression, who gets an easier ride. Natural human suffering: heartbreak, loneliness, death, disease, financial loss – this is all evidence, to the Liberal, that man is equal, and if they are not, inherent inequality is evidence of an individual’s deficiency, and why they must be spoken for. Privilege is the motivating factor behind the Liberal desire for control of the Occupy movement. Fear is why they favor a moderate approach which is ultimately futile. To quote Chris Hedges again: “Wall Street’s looting of the Treasury, the curtailing of our civil liberties, the millions of fraudulent foreclosures, the long-term unemployment, the bankruptcies from medical bills, the endless wars in the Middle East and the amassing of trillions in debt that can never be repaid are pushing us toward a Hobbesian world of internal collapse. Being nice and moderate will not help.”
The Liberal class is a class based on fear: fear of what will happen should everyone really have a voice, fear of what might occur should they relinquish their leadership role, their position of privilege, their megaphone to the world. Fear of what they might be required to do, should they concede that the moderation they advocate has achieved nothing, and instead only aided the building of the imperialist monopoly of the Capitalist world state.
In Occupy LA, we are besieged by liberals who think the 99% means white and middle class. They want to concentrate on agendas which affect this class directly – corporate personhood, NDAA, tax, Federal Reserve, foreclosures, healthcare. The movement as a whole wants to work on these issues – but not exclusively, to the detriment of those who are worst off in our society, and have been for a far longer time than the middle classes who are only now starting to feel the same pinch that the poorest of our society have suffered for decades. Some Liberals want to go further, attaching the Occupy movement to a political candidate and / or party, failing to recognize that, as Obama has aptly demonstrated, issues are merely platforms for that party’s own insidious agenda: winning an election, being bought out by corporations. Once that election has been won, support is no longer needed. The Occupy movement would be discarded and ignored, having garnered support for yet another politician to renege upon his campaign promises, as Obama has done continually.
The Radicals fear is that once these predominantly middle-class issues are addressed, the issues affecting the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the alcoholic, the uninsured, the diseased, the African-American, the Hispanic – they will continue unchecked in a Capitalist society. The Liberal is still unconsciously set in the Milton Friedman / Reagonomics ‘trickle down’ mindset: once the middle classes are fed and prosperous, the poor will follow by default. Poverty and homelessness is thus a disease of the undeserving, in the Liberal’s mind. A Liberal hates to look at their own privilege – unearned social power, such as the color of one’s skin – because they hate the idea that everything they have in life, they did not earn through merit. They hate the idea that life can be more unfair to certain groups of people, than to themselves. They close down debates on issues like racism and property damage and the difference between pacifism and nonviolence, because they fear opinions that are different to their own. They fear disturbance, controversy and even simple discussion. This is apparent from continual attempts made at Los Angeles’ General Assemblies to have adult, rational discussions about contentious topics which are very real threats – such as cooptation, or adopting the same diversity of tactics advocated by the Black Panthers and the Civil Rights movement.
The Liberals have a paternalistic idea that they know best, and they must lead, because allowing others to self govern, or listening to suppressed voices and dissent, will give rise to chaos. The Liberals loathe the idea of autonomous action: that actions can occur without a General Assembly’s, or their own, sanction. Spontaneity terrifies them. On New Year’s Eve, the surprise taking of Zuccotti Park inspired the Radicals in OLA to arrange a solidarity march at midnight. The Liberals spent that evening tweeting their followers, warning them that this “was not a GA-approved action”, deterring people from joining in. ‘We do not advocate property destruction’ hit the Twitterverse before a single crazy Radical got within a mile of Solidarity Park’s fence: a fence which had been erected around public property after the eviction of OLA in order to keep Occupiers out. The Radicals had their solidarity march that evening: they took police tape and tied it outside police headquarters. Hardly subversive, nor violent, tactics.
With their iron grip on certain key elements of the OLA movement: the twitter feed, the website, Union contacts – the Liberal Reformists refuse to engage with the masses aside from remotely, and yet insist that they are able to represent voices they do not listen to nor engage with. Knowing that everything they do is with a motive to control or gain personal, material benefits (a recent OLA tweet was ‘I need a 4G mobile hotspot. Please email me money for donations’) they think everyone in the movement is like them, and thus regard them with suspicion. They hate the the Radicals, because they advocate leaderlessness without suggesting that natural leaders do not emerge. They do, but those leaders use their earned and unearned social power responsibly, to empower others who will then take their place, because the system is such that dependence on one person is abhorred and decried.
The Liberals could be radical, if they weren’t so afraid. One wonders how many more batons, tear gassing and rubber bullets will it take before they realize the futility of their agenda. Sadly, the Reformist Liberals of OLA shy away from the civil disobedience of the other Occupy movements, and ensure their commodified, digestible actions never put them at any real risk – and nor do they put them in any real position to effect change. Meanwhile, the Liberals continue to embrace fear and perpetuate it, in much the same way as Bush’s Post 9/11 America did – because fear, and the construction of an imaginary bogeyman, justifies the exertion of power and oppression.