(PART’s Perspective) Occupy: The Future by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror


A key part of the corporate media’s approach to sucking people into the swamp of the electoral charade, so as to regain the compliance, if not the consent, of the US populace, has been to write the premature obituary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. But as Mark Twain once said, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Not only is Occupy alive and kicking, and sinking roots, it is more necessary today than it was when it launched a year ago. Occupy has had some undeniable successes, most notably in thrusting the issue of economic inequality and the parasitic nature of the ruling 1% into the public discourse. But by almost every measure, the oppressive and exploitative social, economic and political conditions that gave birth to it are worse today than a year ago.

46.2 million people now live below the poverty line, the highest level in almost two decades, and more than on October 1, 2011. The share of Americans without health coverage fell slightly from 16.3 percent to 15.7%, but that’s still 48.6 million people. Just like in the former Soviet Union after privatization, life expectancy for poor people with less than a high school education has been falling in the U.S. Life expectancy for white women without a h.s. diploma dropped 5 years by 2008, the most recent figures in a current study. There’s no question that the ongoing economic crisis and growing inequality have lowered life expectancy still further. US women have dropped from 14th to 41st place internationally in expected life-span .

Median real household income fell 1.7% and income inequality rose in 2011. The Gini index, a measure of inequality, rose 1.6 percent from 2010 to 2011, the first time the Gini index has shown an annual increase since 1993. Real income of the highest 20% rose 1.6 percent, and the top 5 percent of earners saw their incomes increase 4.9 percent. At the same time, the middle-income “quintiles” fell between 1 percent and 1.9 percent each. This year, the incomes of the poorest have dropped significantly again, a loss of almost 20% cumulatively since the start of the Great Recession in 2007, down from a little under $15,000 a year to less than $12,000 per capita.

Global average sea level rose at an average rate of around 1.7 ± 0.3 mm per year from 1950 to 2009 and at a satellite-measured average rate of about 3.3 ± 0.4 mm per year from 1993 to 2009. Overall, land and sea temperatures were fairly level for the year (the 4th hottest on record), but that’s because of La Nina effects on the ocean. Land temperatures, particularly in North America, climbed dramatically. Arctic sea ice was reduced to a record low, and drought and record high temperatures have been unrelenting. Corn crops in the US have been decimated.

A new CSU tuition hike would require students to pay $58 million more next year. Total student debt in the U.S. now exceeds $1 trillion, and is climbing (see the Student Debt Clock for updating figures:

A flood of foreclosures in states that make it a judicial process swelled in the aftermath of the $25 billion foreclosure abuse settlement, signed off on in April by the Justice Dept. and state Attorneys General. It gave lenders a slap on the wrist by paying off cash-strapped state governments and a green light when pursuing foreclosures, allowing many banks to push more cases though the pipeline. Illinois, where foreclosures were up 42% year over year, and Florida, where there was a 16% annual increase in August, now claim the two highest foreclosure rates. They dethroned Arizona and California because their foreclosures shot up, not because AZ and CA have dropped much. In Illinois, one in every 298 properties has been hit with a foreclosure filing.

There are now about 24 vacant homes in the U.S. for every one of the estimated three-quarters of a million unhoused people. Of course, this doesn’t count the largest and fastest-growing public housing system in the country — prisons and jails. Over 2,300,000 people are incarcerated on any given day in the U.S. with an additional 5 million plus under some form of custodial supervision such as probation or parole.

Federal immigration authorities deported a record number of undocumented immigrants in fiscal year 2011, nearly 392,000 people. Another 429,000 people were detained by I.C.E., also an all-time high (not counted as incarcerated). The annual number of deportations doubled from the start of Bush’s first term to the end of Obama’s. The federal government is on track in 2012 to deport more parents of legal U.S. citizen children than were deported in the prior 10 years combined! Obama’s executive action for the “Dreamers,” youth brought to the US and raised here without papers, is really a “Delayed Departure” program, meaning people who come forward to participate are just dropped to a lower priority for deportation. Many have been separated from their parents, and all have been denied access to medical care.

More than 300 people have been killed by police in the U.S. in the first 9 months of the year. Annually, police report more than 400 “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement. As reported in the last issue of Turning the Tide in a study by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, looking at Black people alone, every 36 hours one is the target of an “extra-judicial” killing by law enforcement, private security, vigilantes or organized racists. In addition, internalized racism results in Blacks killing Blacks, Raza killing Raza, and some Black-Brown inter-communal violence.

A Black male youth in Harlem, NY who reaches the age of 15 has only a 37% chance of surviving to the age of 65. Death rates for Black people in the US from almost all causes exceed those of white people. Excess mortality rates for Black people compared to whites exceeds a factor of 4 in many poor communities. Yet full benefits under Social Security have been reduced until age 67, meaning that many Black males will never receive their earned benefits.

Political repression has worsened dramatically in the year since Occupy Wall Street and Occupy L.A. were launched. In addition to the massive coordinated police attacks on free-speech encampments, we saw the passage of the NDAA authorizing indefinite military detention without trial of even US citizens by the Pentagon. Obama claimed the authority to carry out killings of “targets,” including US citizens. The FBI continued a policy of entrapment of dissident Muslim youth. Grand jury witch-hunts and FBI fishing expeditions were directed against anti-war and solidarity activists, Occupiers, and earth and animal rights proponents in Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and the Pacific northwest.

Women’s reproductive health measures have been criminalized, and women subjected to intrusive examinations and restrictive requirements in seeking health care. Patriarchal attacks on women’s rights and bodies have become a norm of legislative politics.

Can we vote to change this? The electoral political system in the U.S. is totally dominated by corporate financing. Worse, it is inherently undemocratic because of Constitutional compromises dating back to slavery and the Founding Fathers’ fear of “faction” (unruly working classes and indigenous people fighting for their rights). The US electoral system is not only incapable of solving these problems, it is part of the problem. Elections in the US are not designed to give “the people” an opportunity make policy; they are designed as a massive spectacle to alienate people from our own power to make change, and to obtain our grudging consent for the rulers’ system and front-men. The choices we are presented are like the choice given to people on Death Row in Utah, between lethal injection or the firing squad.

All the social tinder that sparked Occupy is still around. Alienation from and mistrust of the corporate electoral process and both candidates of the duopoly is evident in every public opinion poll. The plurality of people who bother to register are “independents.” Only 5% of Republican voters, and 30% of Democratic voters, have “faith” that the government will do the right thing, whatever that is. So why does the resistance movement, at least in terms of massive participation, seem to have gone to a simmer from a boil? There are two answers to that question, and one has the potential to solve the problem posed by the other.

First, like every social movement for transformation in US history, Occupy has suffered from internal weaknesses and external attacks that have held it back. More specifically, as Occupy has been radicalized by its experiences, it has been marginalized and criminalized. Simultaneously it has experienced in-fighting and splits over how to move forward, as well as abandonment by fair-weather friends who thought the path would be easier, or who were looking for only limited concessions and clean-up by the system. Some early organizers, unable or unwilling to engage in self-critical reflection or to challenge their own privilege and identification with the system of the 1%, have dropped away. Others, disappointed that Occupy refused to follow the trajectory of the Tea Party and align itself with the Democrats as the Tea Party adhered to the Republicans, have pulled out resources. They are looking for “activists” willing to hold their nose, put their blinders back on, and donate or volunteer for Obama and the Dems.

But second, Occupy, which never fit into the norms of the media narrative, has also continued to grow and develop in its own way, under the radar. In particular, Occupy is sinking roots in communities and building alliances based on direct action and participatory, horizontal organizing with other radical elements. In Los Angeles, at least 3 of the “Four Winds” from the May 1 General Strike are still active. In the north, Occupy San Fernando Valley has spearheaded home defense occupations against foreclosures in the mainly Mexicano Van Nuys area, particularly at “Fort Hernandez,” a home threatened with foreclosure eviction by the LA Sheriffs acting for Bank of America. At this writing, they are facing repression by the LAPD and other city agencies prior to a scheduled Sheriffs’ raid.

The East Wind continues to work with the Brown Berets and other community groups in inner-city East L.A., focusing on the plague of police violence, among other issues. Occupy LA, which a year ago would not authorize a Committee Against Police Brutality, is now one of the main elements involved in building the October 22 Day of Action against police brutality. Occupy LA and Occupy OC have participated actively in opposing police murders and home foreclosures in Anaheim. The South Wind is working with the Black Riders Liberation Party, Occupy the Hood and Chuco’s Justice Center on a community health fair, HIV education and prevention project and the development of a People’s Clinic survival program.

Occupy L.A. continues its General Assemblies in Pershing Square, along with a weekly Freedom School. OLA is planning a one-year commemoration and rededication from Friday, Sept. 28 through Monday, October 1. The purpose is to bring people together, and then stay together to act on opposing the war in Afghanistan on October 6, opposing police brutality and political repression on October 22, and defending women and queers on Halloween in Hollywood on Oct. 31. Most of this is occurring out of sight of the corporate media, but all of this is part of remedying the isolation the media and the forces of repression are trying to impose on Occupy.

In this way, Occupy, its off-shoots and allies may be able to solve the conundrum of how to be both an authentically revolutionary and a mass movement at the same time.

This editorial appears in the current issue of “Turning the Tide: Journal of Anti-Racist Action, Research & Education,” Volume 25 Number 4, October-December 2012, marking the 25th year of publication and the 25th anniversary of ARA-LA/People Against Racist Terror (PART). The paper will be available on-line in PDF format at www.antiracist.org. Single copies are available from ARA, PO Box 1055, Culver City CA 90232, by emailing antiracistaction_la@yahoo.com, or calling 323-540-4272. 1500 copies of every issue are distributed to prisoners around CA and the US.