Sunday, February 26, 2012

Occupy: A conversation

Jess: This is a talk about Occupy Wall Street and about violence and what it is and what it isn't. For this piece, it's me and Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz and C.I. of The Common Ills and of this site. Occupy Wall Street is considered a movement by some, by others not so much. OWS started in NYC and then spread across the country. With winter and winter's cold, the encampments in various cities might have taken a break or become smaller. Instead, mayors began cracking down on the encampments and that actually resulted in even more press coverage for OWS. This is supposed to be a regrouping period for those who have been participating. Into this calm or calmer period, Chris Hedges tossed "The Cancer in Occupy" earlier this month. He argues that there's a violent thread in Occupy that could overtake the movement and that it must be denounced.

Elaine: We're not going to pick on Chris Hedges. We disagree with him on this. We understand that he's writing out of concern.

C.I.: And what he sees and what, for example, Michael S. Smith sees are different things. Not just because they're different people -- all witnesses to the same event will have variations in their testimony, even under oath -- but because they're exposed to different things. Michael Smith hasn't advocated for violence, but I mention him because he's also very passionate about Occupy.

Elaine: And both of them can be very protective. We actually think that's been the worst thing for Occupy -- all this 'protection.' These are adults, treat them like adults. You need more than a slogan. You need some actual demands. If you don't have any demands just say you're camping out. It is honestly embarrassing that they've been petted and stroked and brushed for weeks and months instead of people insisting that they either come up with a set of demands or go away.


Jess: At this site, we have offered strong critiques of Occupy and one of the strongest is the piece Ava and C.I. wrote entitled "TV: Scandals and bumper stickers" from November 20, 2011. But there is a sense among many that you just can't criticize. It's highly paternalistic and condescending. The participants are supposedly trying to start a movement. I think they need criticism. Michael Smith is someone who has come off, to me, as wanting to give the movement a big old hug. And there's probably a place for that. But he's one of three hosts, of the weekly radio program, Law & Disorder Radio and I wish that if the ground he's staking out is hugs and encouragement, one of the other hosts would've staked out other ground.

C.I.: To be fair, one of the most balanced reports -- in MSM or 'independent' media -- was done by Heidi Boghosian and Geoff Brady for Law & Disorder. They went to the NYC Occupy and presented a wide variety of voices -- supporters, detractors, observers and participants. No one has matched their report. It stands as the finest one on the movement. But I do understand what you mean. And we are in agreement that you don't treat a movement like a small child. Though we are aware the left seems to be on infantalizing kick of late.

Elaine: Such as the 2008 presidential campaign. No hard questions for Barack, we must embrace without question. B.s. When we surrender our critical faculties, we surrender our abilities to reason and think. I don't and will never endorse that.

Jess: Agreed. Now let's talk about violence. The first definition that pops up online when you search "violence" is Wikipedia's definition: "Behavior involving physical force intend to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something."

Elaine: And, in that definition the "something" is generally seen as animals. It's not seen as inanimate objects. The FBI, for example, has a long history of attempting to equate property damage with violence. They've used it most recently with regards to the so-called "eco-terrorists." I don't agree that violence is something done to property. I agree that it can be illegal. But I don't agree that that's "violence." Now I saw an online discussion and possibly among the highly uneducated, that's an acceptable definition. But for those who have any education in the field or any expertise, no it's not violence. If you burn my home down, you've hurt me -- I have feelings. My shelter was an inanimate object. It is not a victim of violence, domestic or otherwise. Now if your my lover and you beat me, I am a victim of violence. If you also beat my cat, my cat is a victim of violence. If you punch a hole in my wall, my wall is not a victim of violence. You did, however, do property damage.

C.I.: Of course I agree with Elaine.

Jess: Let me note the roots of this piece go to a pitch that you both have made for a feature at Third for at least two weeks prior. When there wasn't time for it last week, the two of you wrote a draft yourself last week, e-mailing back and forth. And Elaine showed it around -- as C.I. explained Friday morning and Elaine explained Friday night -- for feedback and to be sure especially that they were clear on the violence aspect, clear on their meaning, and one of the ones Elaine e-mailed it to was a speechwriter for a politician who stole the key phrase for a speech. At which point, C.I. wanted nothing to do with that piece. Nor did Elaine. So it ran at neither site. I did ask to read it and I'm bringing up topics they wrote about in this discussion. The online discussion Elaine was just referring to is a rather pompous discussion. It's one that makes many mistakes for people who claim to know what they're talking about.

C.I.: Right. Do they know a damn thing about anything? They're acting as though every movement was made up of people who alla greed to sit there and do nothing. That's not even what Ghandi was about. I don't know where they get their history but it's not from the real world. Take Toledo April 1934. What happens there. Labor's had enough, they take on the armed henchmen and the strike breakers and do so with bricks in hand. Even with the National Guard shooting at them, they didn't back down, they didn't issue a cry for good vibrations all around. They continued fighting and they won. Women led the strike in Boston in 1919, shutting down most of the northeast telephone service when the New England Telephone Company refused to pay a living wage to female telephone operators. When male telephone operators walked out in a show of solidarity, college students were brought in as strike-breakers. Did the workers hand out roses and hugs to those strike-breakers? No, they beat them up. Violence in the US labor movement is generally aimed at workers but let's not pretend that all workers just smiled and said "Peace be with you" every day. That's not reality. Nor should it have been. You can find similar examples in the US student movement. April 23, 1968, one example, that's 19 days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated, by the way, Columbia University students demonstrate against racism at their own university and they end up holding a number of college officials hostage. Is that 'non-violent'? Again, that's reality, it happened. It's part of our history.

Elaine: The reality for the people writing the piece supposedly on violence? I was struck by what namby pamby lives they've lived. I'm a trust fund baby, I don't claim to be from the school of hard knocks. But I am damn well aware that many people do not grow up fortunate and I'm damn well aware that when you whine about someone throwing a brick through something in their neighborhood, you better check yourself because more than likely the brick throwing wasn't the first step. More than likely, the brick throwing was a response. And it is who gets to tell the stories, who the gate keepers allow, that get to determine what was the initiating action. Until you can deal with that reality, you'd do everyone a world of good by just writing about your own little world because you know nothing beyond it.

Jess: I'm reminded of the song by Jackson Browne, "Lives In The Balance," where he sings, "Or the people who finally can't take anymore so they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone."

Elaine: Right. At that online piece I'm referring to, there was talk about how, basically, 'those people' -- meaning Blacks -- had destroyed downtown DC with riots and the response was that no one wanted to do business there. Let's provide the context that wasn't provided there. This was part of a series of riots that went on across the country in 1968 after MLK was assassinate. In DC, that was five days of rioting. To try to pretend that was years and years of rioting is outrageous and so is it outrageous to claim that the riots are the reason downtown DC was destroyed and remained that way for decades. Watts didn't disappear, Baltimore didn't disappear. I'm aware it's a conservative talking point that those five days destroyed DC. I'm also aware it's a racist argument as well.

C.I.: And let's talk about initiating incidents. The DC riot started the evening of MLK's assassination. And as Elaine noted, they took place in other cities as well, over a hundred if I remember correctly. And it is a racist argument, as Elaine notes. And anyone putting it forward is either ignorant of the facts or racist. DC was leveled by those riots. But the section harmed considered "White" saw rebuilding and reinvestment. The section labeled "Black" didn't. And we've seen similar results in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. So stop pretending it was about violence. It was about race. Decisions were made based on race. And I think if you looked back at those who did riot, that in addition to the great loss of MLK, you'd find other harms that had been done to them. MLK was the tipping point to a long simmering outrage over social and economic injustice. That injustice was often papered over by the fact that DC had a sizeable upper class that was Black. But there was also a large underclass of African-Americans that didn't have any breaks, that didn't feel they had any future -- remember, these young people are the first to feel the economic downturn that would later characterize the 70s for so many White people -- and when someone like Dr. King is shot down, that becomes a last straw.

Elaine: And I'm bothered by that website supposedly addressing violence in a political movement using the DC riots as an example to begin with. The DC riots were not a part of the Civil Rights Movement or the Student movement or the women's liberation movement. As C.I. noted, you're talking about the first hit by the economic downturn and a group of them responding to MLK's assassination. I'm not seeing how that's a political movement or a political action. Again, it was awfully racist for the person who brought that point into the other site's conversation.

Jess: Okay, so we accept violence as something done to persons and animals. We note that destruction of property is a seperate offense in the law historically and that we don't include property as a victim of violence. So the big question is do you favor violence or not?

Elaine: We've covered this before in discussions of the Weather Underground. While they were active, we were doing peace actions, assisting war resisters, assisting in many things. The Weather Underground chose a path of direct confrontation. That was their choice. We did not go down that road. We didn't condemn them for their decisions. We didn't label their attacks on empty buildings and areas -- such as the Senate's women's room -- as violence but as political actions. They weren't the actions we were engaged in and we personally wouldn't be engaged in those actions for a number of reasons including our own attitude towards the death penalty. C.I.?

C.I.: Elaine, Rebecca and I were in college together. Long ago we were all in agreement about our opposition to the death penalty and we could never, on a jury, vote to convict anyone if the death penalty were the end result. Why? What if the person were innocent? Even on a jury, you don't know everything. By the same token, if tomorrow Elaine and I were outraged by the FDA over something and decided, "Let's bomb the FDA. We know it will be empty at whatever time." Well you're told it's empty but is it? Back then, our argument was, we're in the campus library all the time, at all hours, even when it's closed. When we're not supposed to be. So if someone took the attitude of, "The campus library is empty, let's bomb it to protest against the war," they could do that but likely end up killing us.

Elaine: So you never know. And that's why we didn't engage in tactics like that. We also understand that the Weather Underground -- and its supporters -- had the attitude that the government was declaring war on half the world including its own citizens and that the Weather Underground was delcaring its willingness to retaliate. There is some logic to that argument. Just as a sidenote, supposedly a judge was killed by Weather Underground actions. I never heard of that until 2008. When I heard of it, I made a point to call that out. That is violence. Now Bill Ayers will tell you repeatedly that Weather wasn't involved in that. He may be telling the truth. I don't know. I wasn't there. But I do know that the second I heard that someone had died from an action like that, I called it out. I've never called out the bombings that had no victims because no people were present.

C.I.: And since we're stuck on Weather right now, probably because it is apt. We were invited to participate in real time and we chose not to. Many of our friends chose to. But while we're on that topic, Bernardine Dohrn, even now she doesn't renounce violence and won't. She reserves the right. I don't know that Thomas Jefferson would look at any differently than she does. We live in a violent culture, many people choose to engage in violence, some as a reply or reaction to violence already aimed at them. I choose not as does Elaine. That's our choice based on our experiences, our beliefs and who we are. Others will have to make their choices. But we certainly don't condemn, for example, WTA protesters in Seattle who protested without breaking windows or those who chose to break windows. And we don't consider the window breakers to have done "violence." They did property damage. That's about it.

Jess: Chris Hedges thinks violence could take over Occupy.

Elaine: Thus far I'd argue the greatest to Occupy remains that they will be co-opted into a Barack Obama re-election campaign. I know the DC crowd thinks they own Occupy which is hilarious since it started in NYC and they're but an off-shoot. And I know the DC crowd thinks they ran off Van Jones and all the other sell-outs. But here's some reality for the DC crowd, outside of your own small circle, people aren't impressed with you. You should be protesting the White House every day. But you're too chicken s**t for that. What's worse, being co-opted or being silent? I'm not seeing a great deal of distance between them and Van Jones.

C.I.: And I agree with that completely. I also object to using -- misuing -- homeless people across the country. I've been at the DC Occupy, when it was active, for example, and encountered homeless people who were pretty much the only ones at the 'overnight' encampment. I didn't make it to the Denton, Texas campus Occupy but I am aware a homeless man died when the area was very cold and I am aware that a student with the leadership of that Occupy pompously told the media that if he died from the cold they felt very bad but she would feel differently if it turned out it was drugs because he had a drug habit. Little priss with a roof over your head, it's really not up to you to stand in judgment on a homeless person. And you were more than happy to use him -- knowing he had an addiction -- so that you could claim your occupy was 24 hours, non-stop, 7 days a week.

Jess: You've both visited a number of Occupy actions.

Elaine: I've visited Occupy NYC, I've visited Occupy Boston, I've visited Occupy Chicago and one more than I'm forgetting. Sorry. C.I.'s visited a ton of them, it would be easier for her to list the ones she hasn't visited.

C.I.: Well the one I would want to speak about is Oakland. Because it's been attacked by a number of prissy people. Do you live in Oakland? Then how can you stand in judgment? Most have never been there. I live in the San Francisco Bay area -- when I'm off the road -- and I know people involved in the Oakland action. It's 100% for real, there's no pretense or playing. And they get slammed like crazy by a bunch of White people who live in areas not remotely like Oakland, California. Violence in Occupy Oakland really stems from October 25th when the police came through shutting everything down. As I understand it, a group of Occupiers chose to defend the camp. I'm not seeing that as "We started violence!" They responded to riot gear garbed police coming in and smashing their camp. They defended it. I don't find that surprising or shocking. I'm not going to condemn them for it. Had I been present, having many years on me, I would have tried to make sure all resisting the raid knew, "They've got guns, you don't. This may not be the stand you want to take." I would have wanted to be sure they knew that. If they had said they were going to stay and they were going to actively resist, that would have been their decision. The people of Oakland made it clear they supported Occupy Oakland by turning out downtown and demanding the space be returned. This was a cross-section of people. The police chose to attack the people. What some little idiot thinks doesn't matter a damn bit to the people of Oakland. They were -- and this was much more than Occupy, this was the city's population in all ages, occupations, races -- marching and the police attacked them. This is where Scott Olsen gets injured and ends up hospitalized. That was the police's actions.

Jess: There was a death, Kayode Ola Foster died from gunshot wounds.

C.I.: Foster and the suspects were passer-throughs. They'd been a part of Occupy briefly and then dropped out. The shooting was not connected to Occupy, to Occupy actions nor did it take place at the Occupy site. A shooting in Oakland is not a rare thing. Meanwhile, whether it's the Newspaper Guild or the California Nursing Association, one thing has been consistent, condemning police actions against Occupy Oakland. Maybe Prissy White Blogger can consider that before she condemns Oakland again -- something she's done repeatedly. She's also, please note, the piece of trash that brought the DC riots into the discussion. Prissy White Blogger seems to have a real problem with people of color and forever leaps to the assumption that anything that goes wrong must be the fault of a person of color.

Jess: On your comment about "A shooting in Oakland is not a rare thing," I'm glad you mentioned that -- you two mention that in the piece you wrote as well -- because I have a link here to Oakland CrimTimeline. And, of course, what might be normal at a music conservatory in Ames, Iowa, isn't necessarily going to be the reality for everyone in the country. It's really amazing that some people expect the entire world to be photo copy of their own existence. Bascially, you two are in complete disagreement with Chris Hedges.

Elaine: Correct.

C.I.: But we understand where he's coming from. The same with Michael S. Smith. Our approach has not been to apologize for them or to offer excuses for them. Our approach has been to critique them as a movement or a would-be movement. There are many people with hopes around Occupy. Some of them are blogging about that now. That's not really helpful in our own opinion. Feel free to disagree.

Elaine: Right. I'm not giving out "A"s for effort. Sorry. You're going to have to work for the grade and there is more than enough immaturity on the left without us engaging in it by shutting down our critical abilities. And let me remind you that on this one, on C.I., those critical abilities, that's why the CIA tried to recruit her. Those are among her biggest strengths.

Jess: You can't see her, Elaine, but C.I.'s rolling her eyes. C.I. and I are at her home in California, Elaine's participating by phone. You've noted that at your own site but since you've brought this up, talk about that.

Elaine: Yeah. Okay, the Graduate Record Examination is the GRE. C.I. took it to get into grad school. Her results were off the charts. She scored in the top 4% in the country on analytical thinking and in the top 5% on critical thinking.

C.I.: And in the top 98% on math!

Elaine: I hear her laughing. No math, was never her strong skill. Unless it's cash. But uhm what happened? Oh yeah, her results were the talk of the campus. And one of our favorite professors asked her to meet someone and C.I. did because it was a favorite professor asking. That's when we all found out just how far into academia the CIA went.

Jess: And to be clear, C.I. turned it down. Highly offended by the offer and turned it down. So it's kind of funny that, online, you're now known as "C.I."

C.I.: That's for The "Common Ills." A phrase I grabbed from the late political scientist Judith N. Shklar. But anyway, I took that test without any sleep, I'd been up all night, I almost didn't show as a result and I just sped through it. I wouldn't put a lot of weight into standardized testing. I don't. I'm proud of my top 98% though a very good friend of mine tells me it gets higher and higher each decade. He swears that when he first met me, it was the top 88% of the country. Maybe so. I prefer to say the top 98%. And for those who are reading along and thinking, "Wow," which I would be, that means I actually scored in the bottom 2% on math. The top 98% is nothing to brag about and that's why I like to brag about it. Elaine, of course, is trained in analysis and that's her career and she has a wonderful manner and a great practice. She started doing pro bono work for veterans when the Iraq War started and some of the Afghanistan veterans were coming back. And she quickly ended up turning that into all pro bono. He entire practice for several years now has been nothing but veterans and all pro bono. She recognized the PTSD crisis when no one wanted to talk about it. She recognized the veterans health crisis when no one wanted to talk about it. She's a very smart and very loving person. And a forever friend.

Jess: That actually brings up the last question. I cover e-mails for this site and for The Common Ills and people seem scared that the two of you are mad at each other. I think that died down Friday night when Elaine did her post. But for most of Friday it was, "Is C.I. mad at Elaine? Is Elaine mad at C.I.?"

Elaine: That was true on my end as well. Sunny told me about all the e-mails that had come in. Which is why I included that in my post. We aren't mad at each other. I stated I was mad at myself for sharing with a friend who was a speech writer. Especially due to who he writes for. But, no, we're not mad at each other.

C.I.: No, we aren't mad at each other. Nor am I mad at you, Jess, for including the phrase that was stolen earlier in the conversation, yes, I did catch you working that in.

Jess: I thought you would. Okay. So consider this a rush transcript. Occupy Wall Street is a website where you can get more information on the various occupies. We'll continue to follow it and our role will continue to be that of the critic, of the skeptic. Our e-mail address at this site is, Consider this a rush transcript.
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