Coming War on Occupy Movement

Coming War on Occupy MovementNovember 17, 2011 As I begin to write this, Occupy Oakland circulates in a by-now familiar pattern: forced from the camp at the break of day, the occupiers reconvened as they have done before on the steps of the Public Library. Later, they will attempt to close a repeating circuit that stretches a short six blocks along 14th Street between City Hall and the Library.This circuit, moreover, is one which draws its familiarity not only from recent weeks, but also from the early moments of what is a single cycle of struggle spanning years: it was down 14th Street that Oakland Police pursued us during the first rebellion, on January 7th of 2009, that greeted the murder of Oscar Grant. And it was in front of the same Public Library that I crouched behind a bush as an armored personnel carrier sped past, only to sprint off as heavily-clad militarized police-troops dismounted to chase myself and others on foot.It has become all too apparent that the Occupy Movement is under attack, and that even my title is wholly insufficient: this war is not “coming,” this war has already begun.Breaching the Limits of ToleranceWriting from the perspective of a previous cycle of struggle, the radical Frankfurt School theorist Herbert Marcuse described the phenomenon of “repressive tolerance,” in which an ostensibly liberating concept and practice becomes distorted to suit the powerful and legitimate the status quo. According to the political theorist Wendy Brown, the discourse of tolerance serves to mark the powerful as normal while discrediting the “unruly” as somehow “deviant,” and thereby “legitimates the most illiberal actions of the state.” In other words, the repression that comes is not a distinct and corrupted form of tolerance, as for Marcuse, but instead embedded within the idea itself.This lesson is of paramount importance to the Occupy Movement, but so is its opposite: even the most repressive of tolerance has its limits in the push-and-pull of forces vying for control, and Marcuse’s arguable pessimism on this point must be countered with the optimism of transgressing those limits.This war began as most do, in the realm of hegemonic struggle where small shifts signal coming offensives. But walking the fine line of counterintelligence and counterinsurgency, the forces conspiring against the Occupy Movement have been anything but subtle. In a crude and thinly-veiled information war, lies are tossed about like the seeds they are, and the media duly parrots line put forth by police and city alike. This “chatter” (to turn the language of the counterinsurgents against them) begins to spread surreptitiously: that Occupy is unsanitary, now dangerously so, now downright violent.By the time San Francisco Chronicle was citing “anonymous police sources” about the conditions of the camp (bearing in mind that the police were not even allowed into the camp), it was clear to many that a raid was imminent. For the second raid this morning, the warning was even clearer: another anonymous leak to the Chronicle, and a leaked email to parents at a local school about an “overwhelming use of force.”The script is strikingly similar across the map, from Oakland to Portland, Atlanta to Philly: a Democratic mayor plays nice, claiming to represent “the 99%” and to support the Occupation’s crusade against big business. But at some point, as the chatter increases, the occupation goes badly wrong, becoming unacceptable and violent, unrecognizable to the Middle America for which it claims to speak. A murder, a suicide, a rape, and an overdose suddenly brim with political opportunity. With the stage set, all that remains is for the guardians of good order to step in to defend the common good.The Students Step into the FrayThe Bay Area Occupy Movement received an unexpected shot in the arm last Wednesday when students protesting the creeping increase in fees in the UC system pitched a small number of tents on the grassy area in front of Sproul Hall. If Oakland Mayor Jean Quan drastically miscalculated when she unleashed the police in late October, the response by UCPD to this seemingly minor disturbance strays into the realm of the Epic Fail. Deploying overwhelming force, UCPD could be seen on video beating and spearing students with their batons, punching some in the face, and even dragging English Professor Celeste Langan down by her hair. Langan would later write about her experience, and another English Professor, Geoffrey O’Brien, was also injured by police on the day.Such repressive tactics and blatant disconnect between the second-rate cops of the UCPD and the student body are nothing new. Amid the student upsurge of 2009, the UCPD came under heavy scrutiny for its handling of a wave of building occupations, and at least one lawsuit from a friend of mine whose fingers had been purposely broken by a sadistic officer outside the Wheeler Hall occupation. At the height of the repressive wave, I myself was one of many featured on the UCPD website in an openly McCarthyite attempt to foster a snitch culture on campus (website visitors were encouraged to send tips that would aid in identifying the dangerous student organizers). The website was eventually removed through legal action                                                                                                                                                     continued