Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The eviction of Occupy Wall Street

On Tuesday, police in New York evicted the Occupy Wall Street movement from Zuccotti Park. This is one of a number of evictions of occupiers in recent days, including Oakland, Oregon and Vermont, with protesters vowing to return. It demonstrates just how put out by the occupations and associated actions the ruling class is, suggesting escalation as the only feasible way forward.

Campers were awoken by riot police at 1am on the day of the eviction. The official reason given was that "the continued occupation of Zuccotti Park poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard." However, it is quite clear from the outset that this is not the case. Indeed, that the city "had come under pressure from residents and businesses to shut down the camp" is the more probable reason, the emphasis being on businesses. This is no surprise given that, as one vendor put it, "we have to work, not do revolution." The threat to the established order will obviously raise the fears of those who profit from that order.

In the eviction, 70 people were arrested. Tents were torn down, the books of the People's Library were carted away in garbage trucks along with people's personal belongings, and the media were barred from the site so that the full details of the heavy-handedness employed by police couldn't get out. Except, obviously, on Twitter.

Since then, demonstrators have regrouped and returned to the park, though this time without tents in tow. In a clear example of being absolute dicks whilst attempting to look reasonable, the authorities have deemed that they can stay in the park 24 hours a day - but they can have no shelter and cannot lie down. However, the defiant movement has issued a press statement declaring that "you can't evict an idea whose time has come" as "his moment is nothing short of America rediscovering the strength we hold when we come together as citizens to take action to address crises that impact us all."

But where, practically, can the demonstrators go from here? There is little doubt that, as the symbolic heart of the Occupy movement, it is important that a New York camp be re-established. But to do so requires violating a court order and being prepared to combat the police. I would heartily recommend such a move, but whether it would happen is quite another thing. The more radical elements of OWS will have to argue vigorously for it.

But it is also clear that, if radical action is necessary, it should go beyond re-taking a symbolic encampment. If those on the ground do turn out willing to battle the police, the aim should be to cause as much disruption as possible. The Occupy Oakland General Strike is a key example here, but even managing to live up to the original threat of shutting down Wall Street would be an achievement. It would require both the resolve for direct action and the force of numbers. The latter is certainly possible, but due to the domination of much of the movement by liberals and some incredibly bad experiences with the police already, the former is not guaranteed.

If Occupy Wall Street is to recover, though, it needs to get more radical. Though anarchists have never been shy to point out the limitations or contradictions of the occupations, we have largely done so from a constructive and supportive position. As the state gets more aggressive with the movement, my position in this regard is that action has to become more radical, militant and disruptive. If it becomes less so, then the ruling class will have achieved their aim.