My View

Professor Puka analyzes Occupy movement

To the Editor:

For those of you who have never visited the Occupy-ers at Zuccotti Park, or have not visited lately, here’s a flash—it is now a paramilitary encampment, and it has been since the riot-police raid that cleared the tents. Police officers outnumber protesters at least ten to one. On Occupy’s “Day of Action,” many of us marched, completely cocooned in a “police escort.” We might as well have marched around inside a police station. Afterwards, it took me quite a while just to weave through the layers of police to reach barricades preventing entrance. After elbowing my way along the barricades, a small opening finally appeared, filled with loitering police—quite a trek to simply enter that small alleyway of a “park.” Within 20 seconds of finally entering, I witnessed a police riot close up—not the first or the last to occur in the hours I was there. The media calls these “scuffles with police,” meaning seven to ten policemen attack an unarmed college student with clubs and drag him out with blood covering his face. The Occupy contribution to the scuffle is chanting, “Peacefully, peacefully” to their own ranks along with “The whole world is watching,” which it, surprisingly, is.

I’ve seen this confrontational dynamic before at social actions where violent crime-fighters are trucked in to manhandle nonviolent activists. The main difference at Zuccotti, when compared to, say, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Boston at the G-8 and G-20 summits, is that no demonstrators are accused of burning cars and looting stores. In any organization that anyone can freely join by just saying it is so, there will eventually be violence, racist and anti-Semitic comments, and extremism of any stripe. The original Tea Party rallies had it. Religious movements have also had it over the centuries. Anyone can call themselves a Christian, Muslim, or Occupy-er and then misrepresent the group. Over time it gets worse; try to find a Christian who follows the gospels or a modern day conservative who adheres to conservative principles.

Regrettably, Occupy’s current police focus distracts from the its cause, which has nothing to do with police. The Occupy message has always been clear and simple. To wit: A tiny elite should not be able to exert economic and political control over everyone else. Gross social injustice cannot be tolerated. This includes the reckless and harmful use of market freedoms to harm social members, putting people out of work, taking their homes, robbing a generation—your generation—of opportunities promised by free marketers, especially when they fight regulation or seek subsidies.

Hats off to Occupy for sticking to its undeniable anti-injustice in the face of relentless pressure to voice demands. Narrowing its “agenda” would only split the 99 percent and alienate huge chunks, shifting responsibility to itself for (remedying) the irresponsible and negligent policies of others. True, having a political agenda would make Occupy more politically effective, but Occupy is a social movement not a political one.

Actually, Occupy has an even deeper than social movement—a spiritual and transcendent one that can be found at the following site: It is difficult to see how even Fox Nation could fail to embrace this message and purpose even if radical individualism is its creed. American conservatism would have to turn anti-Christian, for example, to do so.

A second regrettable Zuccotti reality is the revelation that even local government, managed by politically liberal officials, turns vilely authoritarian when challenged. No surprise to anti-authoritarians across the world or at RPI. Indeed, this is why the popular anarchist symbol is an A within an O (not a circle) symbolizing “Anarchy is Order.” The slogan continues, “… and Government is Chaos.” Chaos is the police’s contribution to Occupy’s day of action, which was non-violent otherwise. I asked those police officers (trying to push me back with batons to clear an 100-feet wide path to drag one student out), “Who exactly are you protecting here? From what danger? And who are you serving?” His reply was, “Stop waving your hand in my face,” which was his sense of my holding an umbrella in the rain apparently. But a more non-hallucinating answer is more obvious, as witnessed in the labor movement, through the depression farm and home foreclosures and unemployment crises—not the 99 percent, not the public will, not even themselves as a central part of the 99 percent.

Occupy makes no pretense of having the solutions to systemic social injustice. That’s why the national government and economy makes the big bucks, isn’t it? The solutions needed, developed by large think tanks of every stripe, have long been known. The problem is a lack of political interest and will to follow the social will on the matter in all its diversity—to follow the social will in the face of one percent interests, lobbies, and political action committees. Occupy takes on the humbler task of merely noting out loud that the socio-economy that the government and economic powers upholds as free, just, and democratic is radically unjust, systematically oppressive, and anti-democratic. This seems an ample role to play. Where there is far less government and only local government, Occupy anarchism would do more.

P.S.: As an educational aside, why Occupy is anarchist might be explained. Occupy is non-authoritarian, of course. But it also arose spontaneously from common discontents across many sectors of non-civil society. It did not organize via a hierarchy, but by a horizontal structure with rotating facilitative leadership. Planning and decision making are accomplished by consensus more than undemocratic, majority rule. (And everyone knows consensus won’t work, anymore than leaderlessness will or anarchism itself.) Strategizing was not pre-set but continually evolves with experience and the mutual education of participants. Official institutions of coercion or en-force-ment were not set up, appealed to, or called in to take over organizational functions nor were informal rules and processes invoked to bend group members’ wills to an official line. This is an anarchist process to a T.

Unlike the Tea Party, which began anarchistically in many ways, Occupy is not ideologically focused—right, left, or center. In fact, it is not political at all, especially not statist, constitutionalist, or federalist, supporting political centralization, the use of law (threat and coercion) either for social order or for legislating ideology and morality. Occupy is not for citizenship over social membership, for the U.S. over American society and social will. And Occupy apparently is not financed (owned) by shadow one-percenters who set the agenda behind the scenes.

If current conservatives, especially Fox Nation, took the principles of their own tradition seriously, they would greet Occupy with warm embrace, whether its park-squad on Wall Street were a bevy of dirty-bum hippie parasites or not. (The Sons of Liberty who performed the Boston Tea Party were a drunken rabble of terrorists after all.) They would fight for such a radical revolution in social justice that it would put Occupy and even the American Revolution to shame.

Bill Puka

Professor of Cognitive Science