Update 1/25/14: This is a long read: Shorter bullet point version
Many of the punditry class have been declaring the Occupy Wall Street movement dead for some time now; some as early as December 2011. There’s a wide-ranging agreement nowadays among activists who supported the movement for months or even years that now in late 2013, we should finally pronounce “Occupy is dead” and move on with other projects. I feel that if you are going to declare something dead, fine, but don’t move on until a complete and thorough autopsy is done and a coroner’s report achieves a general consensus on the cause of Occupy’s death. Any such report on OWS would be incomplete without understanding the implications of three recently revealed facts in the past month (October 2013), and how they relate to each other and to the demise of a mass movement:
1. It was confirmed that the NYPD sent in a long-term undercover cop to infiltrate OWS’s meetings, General Assemblies, and even private birthday parties of activists (he was recently exposed as an undercover in part of the biker gang rampage through NYC);
2. Many unions supported OWS in the first couple of months, but kept repeating the talking point that “The cops are part of the 99%” much to the dismay of Occupiers who were facing daily brutal (and illegal) intimidation tactics of repression by Law Enforcement agencies across the country: this crystallized with the SEIU via social media recently outright proclaiming that police are “Beloved Heroes”- brazenly ignoring centuries of labor struggle history where police were violent strikebreakers;
3. Lt Pike, the UCPD cop who was responsible for pepper-spraying peaceful sitting students at Occupy UC Davis in Nov 2011, the most infamous act of police brutality in all of Occupy (with literally tens of thousands of examples), not only did not get arrested for his illegal action, but got over $100,000 while on paid suspension, and now two years later was rewarded $38,000 in Workers Comp; for emotional harm he allegedly received for sociopathically torturing students.
These three revelations of the past month are more than nominally connected, but are in fact the woefully unreported bridge of causation which was the downfall of a massive nationwide attempt at direct democracy and social justice. The state employing such infiltration against the Left that was seen with COINTELPRO didn’t end in the 70s, “Dirty Tricks” and “ratfucking” campaigns to sabotage and discredit activism didn’t end with Tricky Dick Nixon. This again was done by the forces of the State combined with the supposed allies in the Left, the DNC, the big Labor Unions, colluding to disrupt, infiltrate and betray Occupy Wall Street with counter movements such as the 99% Spring nationally, and regionally with a movement called Occupy Education to ratfuck student movements in the University of California: specifically Occupy Cal at UC Berkeley where the Graduate School Union, the UAW, sent infiltrators to disrupt direct democracy and vote down anti-UCPD resolutions.
Why weren’t there any large, mass mobilizations of students to protest Lt Pike, the UCPD, and the UC Davis Administration soon after the notorious pepper-spray incident? This was a situation that people from all walks of American life thought was despicable, and merited immediate justice against the illegally acting officers. Like the occurrence that happened just nine days earlier when UCPD at Occupy Cal at UC Berkeley mechanically marched forward on lines of students linking arms and mercilessly beat them with batons, Nov 18th 2011 was another instance of police brutality that was near universally condemned. When “hippies” or “anarchists” of the Occupy Movement got similar treatments in the streets all over the country in weeks prior, people could lazily fall back on their bigotry and prejudice with “They were probably agitating the cops, they got what they deserved” sentiments. But like during the Civil Rights movement, White “Middle” America wasn’t really viscerally involved until mostly affluent white students got beat by the police as well: That called for action! The number one nationally syndicated progressive radio show in the country dedicated an hour for people to call in and give a 30 second testimony of what they’d say if they could talk to Lt. Pike: All were outraged, but most callers started with “You have the right to remain silent…”. So why weren’t there a series of sustained protests to arrest Lt Pike for his illegal actions in a similar vein of the Oscar Grant protests (without which Officer Mehserle wouldn’t have even been arrested, much less convicted and sentenced to prison)? There is a broader answer to this: if you followed Occupy Wall Street nationally and internationally around October to December 2011 you would be overwhelmed with the abundance of happenings. Every day there were marches, resolutions passed at GAs, sit-ins at banks, direct actions, camp raids, solidarity marches, Live Streamers to watch, Live Tweeters to follow: an information overload. A huge incident could happen and be forgotten with a week or even hours. For instance, how many people reading this know that someone threw a petrol bomb at the sleeping encampment of Occupy Maine? If it had exploded a few feet in any other direction, there would have been fatalities; yet as a story, it was DOA in the maelstrom of other Occupy events. So there was this laissez faire sense of “Oh well, someone else will take care of this Lt Pike fiasco, I have my own events locally I’ll pay attention to” regarding the situation at Occupy UC Davis. But more specifically: infiltrators, ratfuckers and Agent Moderators sabotaged the populist call for justice against Lt Pike.
It is almost never reported that when the students at Occupy UC Davis were pepperspayed while sitting down with their arms linked on Nov 18th 2011, they were defending their camp that they had set up in solidarity with the student protesters at Occupy Cal at UC Berkeley who were beaten with batons for peacefully defending their tents in a similar fashion a little over a week earlier on Nov 9th. (Lest we forget, then Chancellor Birgeneau of UCB infamously said linking arms was “not-non-violent) Up to that point, I was active with Occupy Oakland, but after seeing the brutality of the UCPD, I decided to devote my activist energies to Occupy Cal starting by witnessing the 2nd round of baton beatings that night, and showing up to the next day’s GA to start planning for a response to the previous night’s now internationally notorious brutality. The first Occupy Cal GA had less than auspicious beginnings…
If I were ever to write a book about Occupy Cal, I would call it: “How a Movement of Thousands Became a Movement of Dozens in Under Two Weeks”. UC Berkeley has a historical role as the forefront of student activism in the 60s with the Free Speech Movement and Anti-War protests, and two years prior to Occupy Wall St, UCB again led the way with radical direct actions aimed against privatization and tuition hikes under the banner “Occupy Everything”. Student activists around the country looked to UC Berkeley to be the Standard Bearer and leader of the incarnation of the Occupy Wall Street movement on campuses. If the State was going to send infiltrators and undercovers to any college Occupy movement, UC Berkeley would be the first place to focus that kind of energy. It would be silly to think the State could effectively send in Agent Provocateurs to encourage violent actions to a mostly affluent campus population; instead they infiltrated with “Agent Moderators” (a term I coined) whose role it is to pretend to be friendly to the movement yet guide the progression away from radical direct actions (like building occupations and other winnable, movement building strategies) and instead moderate them to “sensible” tactics that stall and blunt progression (like a letter writing campaign, or collecting signatures for a ballot reform). Indeed, it was revealed a year later in internal UC documents released as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the UC & UCPD regarding the Occupy Cal beatings that the Administration’s key tactic in slowing student activism involved “Sending them on the slow train to Sacramento” IE take the emphasis of protests away from campus locally and turn it into ballot reformism at the State Capitol.
So on Nov 10th, the first GA after the beatings the night before, many students and community members who had no particular political axe to grind showed up because they knew they witnessed a grave injustice, and the time called for their personal participation to do their part to correct this travesty. A lot of them showed up for action and there was a buzz of excitement amongst the over one thousand gathered in the minutes preceding the formal start of the GA: Was there going to be a march? Were tents going to go back up? Was there going to be an occupation of a building in retaliation? Little did they know that they were less than cordially invited to a series of nightly long drawn out meetings, lasting an average time of over 4 hours, that excruciatingly went nowhere slowly in the chilly November evenings, on the cold hard concrete steps of Sproul Plaza.
Incredibly, one of the first actions proposed by a Facilitator at the GA was to get the audience to hold up their hands and give the observing UCPD the peace sign. Most of the crowd complied with a little cheering. Angrily remembering the assault that many of these UCPD engaged in 24 hours before, from the crowd I shouted out: “Now everyone lower one finger!” There were raucous hoots and laughter as even more of the crowd gave the UCPD a huge middle finger salute. There was a hurried internal debate among the Original Facilitation Committee. Appallingly, the first vote proposed to the crowd gathered on the Mario Savio Steps, birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, was to ban the term “Fuck the Police!” at Occupy Cal. Thankfully, this was quickly quashed before it ever came to a vote, but it was a sign of things to come.
The Original Facilitation Committee (OFC) led this debacle night after night. While the Facilitation Committee of any Occupy General Assembly was supposed to be open to anyone, this cadre of around a dozen or so, mostly grad school students (importantly; the grad school union is, for some reason, the United Auto Workers or UAW) managed to stack the rotating cast of four or so Facilitators with at least a couple people from the UAW. And where the role of the Facilitator was supposed to not at all lead or dictate the flow of the GA, but mainly to make sure people speak one at a time; the OFC played fast and loose with this concept with every parliamentary procedure trick from Robert’s Rules of Order and many improvised on the spot. A simple question would become an onerous circular debate. Four hours is a long time to ask the hundreds gathered in close quarters to sit on the hard concrete steps and listen to lengthy debates that were 90% procedural back and forths between a dozen or so participants. There was still some endurance in the spirit of the crowd: “This is Democracy; it’s messy, it’s long; but respect the process.”
There was a lot of talking in circles for hours about, for instance, the topic of tents. “When do they go up again? Do they go up again? If they go up, how many are going to sleep in the tents? Will there be another raid? Should the encampment be “Student’s-Only?” Are tents even necessary? Who’s going to provide the tents? How are we going to raise money for tents? Wasn’t there that one guy that that person knows who said he might know someone who might be able to donate a couple tents? Point of Process: Shouldn’t we have to vote on tents? Point of Process: People who are going to bring tents should have the right to bring tents. Direct response: shouldn’t they get the consent of Occupy Cal? Clarification: People can do autonomous actions; they just wouldn’t be officially Occupy Cal endorsed.”And so on. Just imagine that, only spread out over 3-4 hours in the cold, with really uncomfortable seating. With a crowd of strangers. With bored cops looking on and filming 150 feet away.
By design of the OFC or not (and two years later, I have reason to believe the former) any votes of actual substance weren’t until near the end of the GA, and by that time the crowd of hundreds had been whittled down to less than fifty people present and voting. This was really important when Occupy Cal began voting on Demands; an idea I supported, for unlike other Occupies, there were campus-specific demands that could be achieved locally through direct action to pressure the university administration: far easier than direct actions with demands on Wall Street. Fifteen Demands were eventually voted in; ranging from calling for the resignations of various administrators responsible for the Nov 9th beating, anti-privatization resolutions, to rolling back tuition to its (oddly specific) 2009 levels. One Demand in particular was of primacy to me: “Hold the police accountable for their actions on Nov 9th“ I insisted was too vague; I wanted to outright call for the arrests of the UCPD who illegally beat students. Too often in my years of activism I had seen violent police officers being “held accountable” with paid suspensions, or in the then recent history of OWS, Anthony Bologna, the NYPD cop who maced protesters arbitrarily (and illegally) only lost ten vacation days as punishment. My re-wording vote was tabled by the OFC until near the end of the GA, hours later when less than 50 people voted on it. It had a super-majority in favor of it at over 66% approval, but the OFC, (again, made of mostly UAW members) swayed enough people into thinking calling for the same set of laws to govern civilians and police was “too radical” and it failed to meet the 80% modified-consensus mark.
A day like Nov 15th can do a lot to sooth raw feelings regarding the glaringly awful ways the OFC was handling Occupy Cal, (with the nightly GA theater that saw us lose hundreds of participants never to return) and make you excited to be an activist again. While there wasn’t a “General Strike” or even a student strike, there were large rallies and marches throughout the day. Occupy Oakland marched four miles up to stand in solidarity with Occupy Cal, and that evening we had the largest single General Assembly of all of the Occupy Movement in the USA. Tents were set back up to huge cheers. Unfortunately even a high point like this was marred by a poison pill. The OFC (dubiously claiming authority from the GA) independently drafted an Open Letter to the UC Administration that basically turned the fifteen Demands into four talking points, with the threat of any direct action (via “student strikes”) if the points were not met to begin Feb 1st 2012, ten weeks away. This essentially turned Occupy Cal into a lame duck session for the remainder of the Fall Semester, so when the UCPD raided our re-established camp 2 days later, there were no protocols in place to defend it, or even mount any kind of protest (two people and a cat voluntarily got arrested).
Which brings us to Occupy UC Davis and the pepperspraying incident: The day Occupy Cal had its second encampment raided, students at UC Davis established their first encampment on campus in solidarity with Occupy Cal and in that spirit they joined the Occupy Movement. The following afternoon on Nov 18th their camp was raided and Lt Pike’s infamous torture of peaceful students with chemical warfare occurred and was almost instantly globally notorious. “Surely this!” I thought as I drafted a resolution in support of Occupy UC Davis, who were made to suffer for supporting us, and make it an official Demand to call for the arrest of Lt Pike. I knew the history of the Humboldt county anti-clear-cutting protesters who were tortured with pepperspray in the late 90s, and the result of their settlement clearly defined legal and illegal usages of that chemical agent for California law enforcement officers: What Lt Pike did was clearly illegal, and therefore, he should go to jail!
At the next GA my proposal was tabled by the OFC, but I didn’t mind as much at the time, for there was (finally) a lot of internal rumblings within Occupy Cal that didn’t like the way the Original Facilitation Committee was running the show, therefore that GA was dedicated to severely limiting the role (and power) of the Facilitator. Not coincidentally, the OFC, now without the power to run the meetings and achieve the outcomes they (or their superiors in the UAW) desired, mostly stopped coming to Occupy Cal GAs and events after that. They did stick around to foul up one more call to action that GA: a proposal to have an all night event with music and dancing where the Occupy Cal encampment was formerly was voted down by the OFC super-minority, because, in their words, “Dance parties are too controversial.” So the anti-Pike Demand and “Solidarity with Occupy UC Davis” resolution with kept getting tabled until Finals started and Occupy Cal was effectively done for the semester with no quorum to speak of to endorse it. Justice against Lt Pike would have to wait until January at the earliest. (Long story short; UC Davis was following Occupy Cal’s lead, and had their own ratfucking problem)
The members of the OFC weren’t dormant during their time away from Occupy Cal in December 2011; they were busy forming Occupy Education, a pre-cursor to the 99% Spring, which was to be a coalition of colleges, universities and a few Californian local Unions (mainly, the ones who stopped supporting Occupy nationally when it became clear that OWS wasn’t going to endorse Barack Obama for President in the upcoming election, or the DNC members running for Congress). Occupy Education met weekly in the local UAW hall half a mile away from the UC Berkeley campus. It was another series of long four hour meetings, but with the added allure of being inside with heating and chairs. The OFC assured me that Occupy Education wouldn’t interfere with Occupy Cal’s goals, but would be a parallel movement that could draw in different crowds of people. This notion was quickly and rudely dispelled to me personally, when I tried to helpfully remind people that a lot of what was being covered in these marathons of boredom had already been gone over (and over…) and decided by Occupy Cal: I was dismissed by the group in front of around a hundred with retorts of “This isn’t Occupy Cal; we do things differently here!”
I stopped attending Occupy Education meetings at the UAW hall, and instead waited for Occupy Cal to restart with the Spring Semester. A bold direct action was voted on and unanimously endorsed: due to spurious budget cuts, the Anthropology Library at UC Berkeley (2nd best in its field in the country) was to lose a staff member and drastically cut the open hours of the library: Occupy Cal was going to Occupy the Anthropology Library until this was totally reversed. About 50 of us entered the Krober Hall with symbolic tents and we had the support of the faculty and staff. What was shocking was that (unofficially) we didn’t have the support of Occupy Education to keep a library open and staffed! A team of around fifteen people consisting of the OFC and other graduate student UAW members came into our Occupation-In-Progress and attempted to vote it down! (Their main reasoning: “You’ve already made your point and drawn attention to the issue, you don’t need to stay.) The UAW infiltrators lost their (sabotage) vote, and promptly left. Occupy Cal stayed in the Library over the weekend, and in 50 hours we won all of our demands: that Monday the Anthropology Library was open from 9-6 instead of 12-5 with a new staff member soon to be hired. Unfortunately, even after the victory there was little to no fanfare, no flyers proclaiming “Occupy Cal Creates Jobs!”
The following weekend was Occupy Oakland’s Move-In Day commonly referred to as J28. Scores of students from Occupy Cal showed up to support the direct action of taking over an abandoned convention center. Over twenty members of Occupy Cal were swept up in an illegal mass arrest of some 409 protesters. While many of us were in jail in Santa Rita Prison for 2-3 days in severely overcrowded cells, denied access to lawyers, phones, medication, and at times food and water; Occupy Education conducted business as usual. Between doing jail support and recovering from the trauma of the violence of the police state on J28, members of Occupy Cal reached out to Occupy Education and the Grad School Union for help; to contribute in providing rides to and from Santa Rita, to print flyers to educate the campus on the grave injustice that happened mere miles away from the UC Berkeley bubble, to even take a moment to make an announcement at their meeting (after all, there still was quite a cross-fertilization between the two “Occupies”, IE many students who participated in both; at that point things were not seen as adversarial). All support was denied, with many of the UAW taking the position of “How dare you ask us to interrupt OUR meetings for YOUR [emergency] cause?”
The tear gas eventually left our lungs, our wounds from baton blows healed (including one concussion to a petite female student) and the stink of prison was washed off, and Occupy Cal wanted to proceed with its idea of a Roaming Occupation; starting at again Sproul with tents and moving into other buildings on campus that faced budget cuts with localized demands to try and recreate our Anthropology Library occupation victory. But with the trauma of J28 still raw for many students, some began to go exclusively to the “safe” option of organizing with Occupy Education, who at that point had formalized the strategy of having a single “Day of Action for Education” rally at Sacramento on March 5th (no mention of a “slow train” yet). So when Occupy Cal set up tents on Sproul again on February 9th, it was done without the support of the UAW, who critically refused to show up or use their connections to UC faculty and staff to rally awareness. So instead of hundreds defending the encampment, there were only dozens of us.
By the time classes had finished, we had generated enough buzz with our presence on Sproul that Occupy Cal had its largest GA in months. It was previously announced that on the agenda of the evening was my two part proposal to show solidarity with Occupy UC Davis by also calling for the resignation of their Chancellor Katehi, and second, to make it an official Occupy Cal Demand to call for the arrest of Lt Pike. I saw some unusual faces in the crowd that evening: some Occupy Education/UAW grad students, who I hadn’t seen since November, others that hadn’t shown up to an Occupy Cal event since trying to vote down our Occupation-In-Progress at the Anthropology Library. When the time came to discuss the Lt Pike proposal in break out groups, UAW members indicated they were going to vote against it. When asked why, they said, “It would send the wrong message.” When asked to clarify, they simply repeated that calling for justice against Lt Pike, “would send the wrong message”. The measure failed with only 70% of the vote, the super-minority of the UAW infiltrators proved the difference in this sabotage; and as soon as the vote was defeated, they all got up and left the encampment in the middle of the GA.
Occupy Education’s March 5th 2012 “Day of Action” rally outside the Sacramento capitol was a complete and utter failure and a massive waste of the movement’s resources and money. It was a platform for various 99% Spring affiliated unions like the UAW and the SEIU to make boring speeches to a crowd of around 10,000 people, mostly students bussed in from all over the state for whom this was their first political event. While the students chanted, “No Cuts, No Fees! Education should be Free!” California Democrats like Gavin Newsom preached reformist platitudes like “reversing tuition back to the 2009 level” (again that oddly specific date/talking point proposed by the OFC/UAW back in November 2011).
With the endless speechifying over, hundreds lined up in single file to enter the State building and “Occupy the Capitol” with no real intention of Occupying it, in a pathetically ratfucked display of “protest theater”. Outside on capitol grounds away from the lines, one black protester was singled out and surrounded by cops and told to leave the public premises on the grounds that he didn’t have a permit for the sign he was carrying which read “Education Not Incarceration”. Apparently the “permit for having signs at the Capitol” expired earlier that hour, yet dozens of protesters in any direction were still holding signs: so yes, racial profiling was a factor. So dozens of us gathered around the cops, getting badge numbers and generally bearing witness when, without warning, a cop on a horse charged headlong into the crowd to disperse us. There was a family with children there, and I witnessed a little girl almost get trampled, the horse’s hooves within inches of crushing her skull. “THERE ARE CHILDREN!” I bellowed with rage at the uncaring cop. I continued to yell at the cop, when several SEIU reps flanked me, telling me to calm down as the horse continued to push the people and the family down the stairs of the Capitol plaza. The situation defused after the black protester left the Capitol grounds, and I surveyed the area to see, purely by chance, no one was injured. With my adrenaline still pumping, I then glared at the SEIU union reps and they subhumanly fed me the line I’ll never forget, considering the context: “They [the cops] are just doing their job. The police are the 99% too.”
The racial profiling and near murder of a little girl by cops were covered by some radio stations, but Occupy Education and the various Union reportbacks from March 5th (unsurprisingly) made no mention of it. The day ended with around 70 protesters inside the Capitol refusing to leave and their subsequent voluntary participation in their own civil disobedience arrest-theater. The 70 or so were released within hours with the help of the ACLU (oddly enough not the NLG, who did the legal work for nearly all the Occupy arrests). Thus ended Occupy Education. They lasted as an entity long enough to sabotage Occupy Cal, and pull off one rally. Occupy Cal tangibly did more with the mere hundreds of dollars in its budget than Occupy Education did with many thousands (IE, I doubt anyone can remember the Lt Governor’s speech on March 5th 2012, while today in 2013 the UCB Anthropology Library is still open with full hours and a full staff).
With no sustained protests against the UCPD and Lt Pike (again, using the Oscar Grant uprisings as a model), the Occupy UC Davis protesters were continually harassed by the police through the Spring Semester, while Lt Pike continued to be on paid suspension/vacation for 8 months at over $100,000. Any protest for justice against police brutality had effectively been marginalized by the State and their agencies, the DNC and their subservient unions, by pigeonholing any such protesters with such talking-points labeling them as “Other” with terminology like “Outside Agitators” or “Anarchists” or “The criminal gang known as Black Block [sic]”. Without the looming populist outrage against Lt Pike that existed internationally just months before focused into continual demonstrations, the ACLU was able to weasel their way into a cheap settlement with the UC Davis administration that held absolutely no one accountable. $1 million isn’t a lot after ACLU took their “legal fees” without doing their “job”, such as citing the Humboldt precedence, and the pepper-sprayed students received around only $30,000 each. Lt Pike wasn’t even fired (which is so often erroneously reported): his contract was up in the summer of 2012, and he simply wasn’t rehired. There is a HUGE difference. To rub salt in this festering wound of injustice, as previously stated, Lt Pike recently received $38,000 in workers’ comp: getting eight grand more than those grievously afflicted for his supposed “emotional harm” in torturing students.
Without learning the lessons of this story and acting on it, we are damning activists to more unaccountable police violence. Unions like the UAW are apparently hell bent on making sure people don’t learn this lesson, as they’ve scrubbed their entire involvement in the 99% Spring and Occupy Education off their website! (Only to be found by archivists) Other parallel examples of union duplicity continue to emerge: For example (and there are many examples), just this past summer 2013, remnants of Occupy Chicago with Union support gathered to protest the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC (IE lobbyists for plutocracy). Once the march was concluded, the Union rep thanked the cops as “brothers”, and stood aside when 5 minutes later the CPD charged in; attacking and arresting every non-union protestor they could swing a baton at.
If several of these cops went to jail for illegally beating protesters it would serve as a short-term solution for mass movements such as Occupy; which was torn apart due to so much continual DHS coordinated harassment and brutality at the hands of the police who knew they could get away with it. But if several, or dozens or hundreds of those illegally “I was just following orders” cops went to prison, that would stay the hand of thousands more cops who would think twice before illegally beating a protester. Without that constant threat of violence, a mass movement would be given just enough of a window where it could once again flourish. In the meantime, activists of all stripes on the Left must question their allegiances to Unions who continue to make official statements saying cops “are the 99% too” or they are “Beloved Heroes”. For any such alliance with people whose jobs and livelihoods depends on parroting Police State talking points that come down as marching orders from the top of the Plutocratic pyramid will only result in further betrayal and Movement failures.
Post Script: The timing of writing this article and a potential UAW 2865 strike looming is entirely coincidental.