I had already been thinking that the incidents of police violence at UC Davis and UC Berkeley (whose chancellor is no less a creep than Katehi at Davis) seemed to be following a pattern.
Now Allison Kilkenny at In These Times reports that mayors at eighteen cities where Occupy groups have camped took part in a conference call “to share information and advice on how various cities were handling the demonstrations” (so said Mayor Sam Adams of Portland). Rick Ellis, a journalist in Minneapolis, spoke with an official from the Justice Department:
The official, who spoke on background to me late Monday evening, said that while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement. According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.
Naomi Wolf offers an explanation for the Federal government’s involvement. I’m not entirely persuaded by the details. It seems to me that in any case the story above is “explosive” enough. If Obama’s DHS has a plan to suppress the Occupy protests by force, then I think he has broken faith entirely with the people who came out in such numbers to support him in 2008.
Addendum: In response to a FOIA request from Truthout, the FBI denied that it had any documents pertaining to Occupy Wall Street. For what it’s worth, the FBI has also denied involvement with local police in “addressing” Occupy Wall Street camps: “these reports are false. At no time has the FBI engaged with local police in this capacity”.
Joshua Holland at Alternet denies that there is any evidence for a federally ordered crackdown, while at the same time granting that there was “cooperation”. He talked to an official in the mayor’s office in Oakland, who, not surprisingly, downplayed the significance of the conference calls. There was, however, an independent avenue of coordination through the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) (see Shawn Gaynor, “The cop group coordinating the Occupy crackdowns”, SFBG 18 Nov).
One may well want to draw a moral distinction between the White House’s urging or demanding that Occupy sites be cleared and its merely acquiescing in their (politically convenient) removal. For the record, their position is this: “[…] obviously every municipality has to make its own decisions about how to handle these issues, and we would hope and want, as these decisions are made, that it balances between a long tradition of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech in this country and obviously of demonstrating and protesting, and also the very important need to maintain law and order and health and safety standards, which was obviously a concern in this case”.
I think Holland is correct in holding that the immediate violations of civil liberties and the violence perpetrated by the police, rather than speculations about forces behind the scenes, provide ample motive for political action. (Thanks to GPTLA in comments for the links leading to the Alternet story.)
This shows something very important, I think. One of the things most objectionable to the powers-that-be in the Occupy movement is communizing the biological necessities of life, because that attacks the privatization of the material means to support life, and thus threatens one of their most powerful anxiety-producing tactics by bringing the homeless into the commune. So giving away food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and even toilets, must be crushed. Even giving away the chance for shared joy -- come share this space and dance -- that cannot be tolerated.
Dave Zirin unearths a connection between UC Davis Chancellor Katehi and Penn State ex-President Spanier via the "securitization" of FBI and University relations:
The names Spanier and Katehi are now synonymous with the worst abuses of institutional power. But their connection didn’t begin there. In 2010, Spanier chose Katehi to join an elite team of 20 college Presidents on what’s called the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, which “promotes discussion and outreach between research universities and the FBI."
Spanier said upon the group’s founding in 2005, “The National Security Higher Education Advisory Board promises to help universities and government work toward a balanced and rational approach that will allow scientific research and education to progress and our nation to remain safe.” He also said that the partnership could help provide “internships” to faculty and students interested in “National Security issues.”
Read the whole thing. Then go read this on Katehi's role in ending University asylum rules in Greece that restricted the ability of police to enter university campuses. These became inconvenient when facing anti-austerity protests. Luckily enough for Katehi, she had her own police force, who didn't need no stinkin' badges.
[UPDATE: 5:30 pm CST, 23 Nov: A new draft is available here.]
The following is a draft of a resolution I will introduce to my Faculty Senate early next month. Please attach comments below, or email them to me here. Please feel free to adopt this draft and send it to your own Faculty Senate. [comment in brackets represent additions to the original; strike through comments are suggested deletions from the original].
Whereas the theory and practice of nonviolent civil disobedience is one of the great moral achievements of the past 200 years,
Whereas its theory was developed by some of our greatest thinkers, from Thoreau to Tolstoy to Gandhi to King,
Whereas its practice was used by hundreds of thousands of brave but otherwise ordinary people during our history,
Whereas in particular the use of nonviolent civil disobedience was an essential part of the movements for women’s suffrage and for African-American civil rights which have that changed the structure of American society forever,
We want to update readers on developments at McGill since our last post.
We have a clearer, but not yet complete picture of the chain of events that led to the riot police using pepper spray, truncheons, and tear gas to clear students from the square in front of the James Administration Building on Thursday, November 10. We know that campus security officers – who have no policing powers – manhandled several of the 14 students who occupied the office of Heather Munroe-Blum, and that it was the communication of this mistreatment via cell phone that swelled the crowd of students who gathered in front of the building (and occupied one of the lower floors). We also know that it was security who initially called police.
What remains opaque is the decision to clear the student gathering. We do not know whether the Montreal police officers who were inside James ordered the crowd cleared on their own, or whether they consulted with McGill security or administration. Nonetheless, we know that after approximately twenty bicycle police arrived to disperse the crowd, and the crowd did not budge, at least one officer used pepper spray on the front ranks of the students. This is the same pattern we have seen play out so often of late: a large group of nonviolent protesters, or a few among them, refuse to obey a police order to disperse, and the first police recourse is to inflict pain in order to gain compliance.
There will be an official investigation, of course. It will be an internal investigation headed by the Dean of the Law Faculty. It will assign no blame. It will be a mix of fact-finding and suggestions to prevent a recurrence. We can hope that it will teach us more about what happened. We cannot hope, however, that it will shed any light on the meaning of what has happened. We would like to focus on this latter task.
"people should be assisted when they are afraid. Because I believe that in showing compassion we embrace a nonviolent way of life that emanates to those whom we refuse to see as enemies and in turn leads to the change that we all seek."
Kristin Stoneking explains why. Rev. Stoneking is the Campus Minister at UC Davis.
Please email Matthew Smith at Yale's Philosophy Department if you wish to co-sign his excellent Open Letter. He is looking for a publication venue. His email: email@example.com. A link to the letter is here. You may wish to email the link to the letter to your university adminstrators. Our thanks should go to Smith for his leadership here.
We therefore call on chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges throughout the United States to declare publicly that their campuses are Safe Protest Zones, where nonviolent, public political dissent and protest will be protected by university police and will never be attacked by the university police.
We call on these chancellors and presidents to commit publicly to making their campuses safe locations for peaceful public assembly.
We call on these chancellors and presidents to institute immediately policies that reflect these commitments, and to instruct their police and security forces that they must abide by these policies.
Nathan Brown provides harrowing descriptions of the outrageous actions in the form of an Open Letter. The UC system is engaged in a frontal assault on academic freedom using police brutality as their preferred tactic.
Please read the letter and then contact Chancellor Katehi. My message was simple: "Your actions are despicable. If you were capable of shame you would have resigned by now."
Contact California Governor Brown here. Contact the UC Davis police at 1-530-752-1727. Excerpts from Brown's Open Letter:
Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi
Today [Friday, 18 Nov] you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday.... These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons, hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.
Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.
This is the single best thing I have read so far on the political economy of higher education. Brown's comments are clear, incisive, and compelling. He begins:
I’m an English professor, and as some of you know, English professors spend a lot of our time talking about how to construct a “thesis” and how to defend it through argument. So today I’m going to model this way of thinking and writing by using it to discuss the university struggle. My remarks will consist of five theses, and I will defend these by presenting arguments.
Tuition increases are the problem, not the solution.
Police brutality is an administrative tool to enforce tuition increases.
What we are struggling against is not the California legislature, but the upper administration of the UC system.
The university is the real world.
We are winning.
Please read the whole thing. It will be the best ten minutes of your political / intellectual / professional day. Some excerpts below the fold:
Amendment 1 (Ratified 12/15/1791):
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The great blogger, Aaron Bady at zunguzungu, analyzes a particularly loathsome piece of Newspeak by Cal Berkeley admins. The rest of the post is superb, moving from personal experience to historical context to rhetorical analysis. This part of the analysis is particularly incisive. The first graf is from the admins; the rest is Bady.
It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience. By contrast, some of the protesters chose to be arrested peacefully; they were told to leave their tents, informed that they would be arrested if they did not, and indicated their intention to be arrested. They did not resist arrest or try physically to obstruct the police officers’ efforts to remove the tent. These protesters were acting in the tradition of peaceful civil disobedience, and we honor them.
What he describes — occupying space in a way that nonviolently prevents the police from doing what they want — is actually the very definition of “non-violent civil disobedience.” On the one hand, it is utterly non-violent: linking arms and holding on to each other as the police try to knock you apart is not “violent” but is precisely the opposite. It is the endurance of violence. And second, it is civil disobedience, again, precisely by definition. They were disobeying civil authorities, obeying the authority of their own consciences and solidarity instead.
It's been dumping snow here in NYC all day, high winds and 3 inches of slush on the ground. With the NYPD and FDNY confiscating six generators on Friday and this unprecedented October snow, those occupying Liberty Plaza in downtown NYC are in need of emergency supplies crucial for cold weather survival (and occupation).
We've made a lot of headway on getting winter gear here in the last 48 hrs but definitely need more. Please help by purchasing or donating supplies directly. Winter gear and other necessities can be dropped off in person, delivered, or shipped.
Funny how things come and go, but then come back again. Totally by chance, I’ve been listening to a good old 1980s classic over the last couple of days, ‘Shout to the Top’ by Style Council. The lyrics are about the grim situation in the UK in the early 80s, with Thatcher dismantling many of the pillars which kept the working class just about above water (closing the mines in particular). And then it suddenly dawned on me that, mutatis mutandis, the song could just as well be an anthem for the Occupy movements around the world:
When you're knocked on your back - an' your life's a flop and when you're down on the bottom there's nothing else but to shout to the top - shout!
This is a simple, powerful talk by Judith Butler at OWS, calling upon the classic "very well then, we demand the impossible" trope, and ending with the wonderful line, "we're standing here together, making democracy, enacting the phrase, 'We the People'."
And here's the text of a longer talk by Butler in Venice about constituting political space while acknowledging the material precarity of bodies, developed alongside a critical analysis of Arendt's notion of a political "space of appearance." The overall aim is set forth here, I believe:
a different social ontology would have to start from the presumption that there is a shared condition of precarity that situates our political lives.
A brief excerpt from the beginning of the talk sets out some of the main lines of thought:
assembly and speech reconfigure the materiality of public space, and produce, or reproduce, the public character of that material environment. And when crowds move outside the square, to the side street or the back alley, to the neighborhoods where streets are not yet paved, then something more happens. At such a moment, politics is no longer defined as the exclusive business of public sphere distinct from a private one, but it crosses that line again and again, bringing attention to the way that politics is already in the home, or on the street, or in the neighborhood, or indeed in those virtual spaces that are unbound by the architecture of the public square....
But in the case of public assemblies, we see quite clearly not only that there is a struggle over what will be public space, but a struggle as well over those basic ways in which we are, as bodies, supported in the world – a struggle against disenfranchisement, effacement, and abandonment.
I'd like to add something here about the way the human microphone works, quite literally, to amplify the constitution of political space by assembled bodies. The human microphone offers an entry into examining political affect in the enacting of the phrase "We the People" at OWS. It shows us how direct democracy is enacted by producing an intermodal resonance among the semantic, pragmatic, and affective dimensions of collective action.
As my Times colleague Catherine Rampell noted a few days ago, in 1981, the average salary in the securities industry in New York City was twice the average in other private sector jobs. At last count, in 2010, it was 5.5 times as much. (In case you want to gnash your teeth, the average is now $361,330.)
The really depressing thing is that this stuff isn't really that hard to fix. (1) Reintroduce progressive taxation ((a) fix the tax rate on derivatives, inheritances, and capital gains so that they are taxed the same as labor, (b) lift the cap on the amount of income that goes to "payroll taxes," and (c) raise the top marginal rates at least to what they were during Reagan's time), (2) raise the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit and then index them to inflation, (3) put people back to work by fixing the United States' dwindling infrastructure, paid for with the new taxes, and (4) reinstate the anti-usury laws, which until the last twenty years or so guaranteed that in the United States manufacturing was more profitable than financial mismanagement.
The really depressing thing is that none of these proposals should be in the least bit controversial to anyone who cares the least bit about the common good, but most of our politicians are too deluded and depraved to admit as much.
Deleuze and Guattari say in A Thousand Plateaus: "Ideology is a most execrable concept concealing all of the effectively operating social machines." I take that to mean that we have to thematize political affect to understand "effectively operating social machines." From this perspective, the real "German Ideology" is that ideas are where it's at, rather than affect. It's political affect that "makes men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation."
Why won't "ideology" cut it? It doesn't work because it conceives of the problem in terms of "false consciousness," where that means "wrong ideas," and where "ideas" are individual and personal mental states whose semantic content has an existential posit as its core, with emotional content founded on that core, so that the same object could receive different emotional content if you were in a different mood. (There are lots of ways of thinking about cognition and emotion, without even bringing in the relations of this "analytic" vocabulary with that of the Husserlian noesis / noema scheme. Still, I hope this will suffice just to get some traction on the problem.)
Thus to take up the great poster, "Shit is fucked up and bullshit," the core act posits the existence of shit, and then we express our emotional state by predicating "fucked up and bullshit" of it, whereas we could have predicated "great and wonderful" if we were in a different mood.
But that is "execrable" for Deleuze and Guattari, because it's far too cognitivist and subjectivist.