Occupy Wall Street under occupation

Hundreds of police entered Zuccotti Park in New York around 1 AM and began clearing out Occupy Wall Street protesters, claiming the area would be “cleaned and restored” before anyone would be allowed back in. The NY Times says:

The protesters, about 200 of whom have been staying in the park overnight, resisted with chants of “Whose park? Our park!” as officers began moving in and tearing down tents. The protesters rallied around an area known as the kitchen, near the middle of the park and began building barricades with tables and pieces of scrap wood.

Over the next two hours, dozens of protesters left the park, while a core group of about 100 dug in around the food area. Many locked arms and defied police orders to leave. By 3 a.m., dozens of helmet-clad officers, watched over by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, closed in on the remaining protesters. They pulled them out one protester at a time and handcuffed them. Most were walked out without incident. The officers had gathered between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges earlier and rode in vans to the one-square-block park. They entered shortly about 1 a.m.

As they did, dozens of protesters linked arms and shouted “No retreat, no surrender,” “This is our home” and “Barricade!” A number of other arrests were reported just outside the park, but details were not immediately available.

The mayor’s office sent out a message on Twitter at 1:19 a.m. saying: “Occupants of Zuccotti should temporarily leave and remove tents and tarps. Protesters can return after the park is cleared.” Fliers handed out by the police at the private park on behalf of the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties, and the city, spelled out the same message.

And this sounds like a motive:

The police move came as organizers put out word on their Web site that they planned to “shut down Wall Street” with a demonstration on Thursday to commemorate the completion of two months of the beginning of the encampment, which has spurred similar demonstrations across the country.

Wall Street under occupation

At this juncture in the long decline and fall of my country’s empire, I honestly can’ t muster too much fervor for the idea of Americans “occupying” anything, American soil included.   After all, the territory on which Wall Street stands was extorted long ago from the Amerindians for a million zillionth of its worth; the only decent end of an occupation would be to give it back to them, so that they can build a real casino there instead of the costume-party ones that masquerade as brokerages and banks.

Still, an occupation of sorts is happening. There don’t seem to be any self-styled human rights activists there to lecture about economic and social rights; instead, there are radicals talking about redistributing wealth, on the whole a more useful project. This is the kind of thing that should have happened three years ago. But better late than never. And more power to them — if they want power.

The free-wheeling anarchy of the thing has its ups and downs.  Pham Binh reports on a decision-making process that seems designed to prevent decisions:

What emerged from the discussion was that there is no consensus that demands are even necessary. Quite a few protesters argued along the lines that this movement or process of dialogue is the demand/goal and that therefore demands are not necessary; one said our demand to the world should [be] that they “join us.” Two older people, one in his sixties, the other in his thirties, spoke out for having clear, specific demands as being a very necessary step to creating a sustainable protest, much less a movement … One woman argued against having demands on the grounds that the media wanted us to do exactly that, that it would be a way for them to put us in a nice neat little confining box the better to ignore us.

At this point, the Leninist in me wants to seize a battleship, sail down the river, and fire on the Winter Palace.  Justin Elliott reports on the same thing:

There should be no sense of urgency about setting concrete political goals, [one protester] argued. “We really have all the time in the world if people keep coming out here,” he said.

You can contend, and probably correctly, how the essence of a spontaneous popular movement is that it comes without a prefab direction.  But that’s only to say that its strategy and tactics are up for grabs — that they’ll develop as it moves along.  It doesn’t imply that a movement can exist without a goal. People mobilize because they want something, and making their action politically meaningful means giving voice to what they want.

The working-class Parisian women who marched on Versailles in 1789 didn’t know what they were going to do once they got there, but they knew what they wanted: bread. “We’ll take the baker and the baker’s wife,” they shouted — that is, the King and Queen. There are plenty of evil things in the world these days, many of them clustered in the immediate vicinity of Wall Street. The present an almost endless roster of changes one can demand. They are not going to be altered by setting up an alternative space to the existing society; they are going to shift when someone presses hard on the levers of power.  Come on. Demand something.