An origins story for Occupy Wall Street

This comes from David Graeber, publishing at Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism.

It’s fascinating, not just as story, but as concept. Here’s a bit of the morphing moment (my emphasis on the conceptual part):

On August 2, I showed up at a 7 PM meeting at Bowling Green, that a Greek anarchist friend, who I’d met at a recent activist get together at 16 Beaver Street, had told me was meant to plan some kind of action on Wall Street in mid-September. At the time I was only vaguely aware of the background: that a month before, the Canadian magazine Adbusters had put out the call to “Occupy Wall Street”, but had really just floated the idea on the internet, along with some very compelling graphics, to see if it would take hold; that a local anti-budget cut coalition top-heavy with NGOs, unions, and socialist groups had tried to take possession of the process and called for a “General Assembly” at Bowling Green. The title proved extremely misleading. When I arrived, I found the event had been effectively taken over by a veteran protest group called the Worker’s World Party, most famous for having patched together ANSWER one of the two great anti-war coalitions, back in 2003. They had already set up their banners, megaphones, and were making speeches—after which, someone explained, they were planning on leading the 80-odd assembled people in a march past the Stock Exchange itself.

The usual reaction to this sort of thing is a kind of cynical, bitter resignation. “I wish they at least wouldn’t advertise a ‘General Assembly’ if they’re not actually going to hold one.” Actually, I think I actually said that, or something slightly less polite, to one of the organizers, a disturbingly large man, who immediately remarked, “well, fine. Why don’t you leave?”

But as I paced about the Green, I noticed something. To adopt activist parlance: this wasn’t really a crowds of verticals—that is, the sort of people whose idea of political action is to march around with signs under the control of one or another top-down protest movement. They were mostly pretty obviously horizontals: people more sympathetic with anarchist principles of organization, non-hierarchical forms of direct democracy, and direct action. I quickly spotted at least one Wobbly, a young Korean activist I remembered from some Food Not Bomb event, some college students wearing Zapatista paraphernalia, a Spanish couple who’d been involved with the indignados in Madrid… I found my Greek friends, an American I knew from street battles in Quebec during the Summit of the Americas in 2001, now turned labor organizer in Manhattan, a Japanese activist intellectual I’d known for years… My Greek friend looked at me and I looked at her and we both instantly realized the other was thinking the same thing: “Why are we so complacent? Why is it that every time we see something like this happening, we just mutter things and go home?” – though I think the way we put it was more like, “You know something? F— this sh–. They advertised a general assembly. Let’s hold one.”

So we gathered up a few obvious horizontals and formed a circle …. almost everyone abandoned the rally and come over to our side.

And they’re off. A real present-at-the-birth story, engaging and instructive.

Two notes:

■ David Graeber is this guy, an interesting fellow with an interesting history. His recent book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, is very well received.

■ When you go to OccupyWallStreet.org, you end up here. Adbusters and their role is mentioned in the first paragraph above. Here’s their main site; and here’s their magazine.

(Update: I’m reminded in the comments that the “official” Occupy website is www.OccupyWallSt.org.)

GP


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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