"Occupy Together, The Division of a Community"

The author, Glenn Spagnuolo, is the cofounder of the Recreate 68 Alliance, a member of the Transform Columbus and All Nations Alliances and a long time social justice activist from Denver, Colorado


“Occupy Together, The Division of a Community”

Writing a critique of the Occupy Together movement has been a difficult task for a radical that continues to work for, and appreciate, a full uprising of the people against an unjust government. Since the beginning, many of us have been watching closely the developments from the “occupation of Wall Street” struggling with our own inner conflict of action or inaction in the face of a movement that is beginning to capture the public’s imagination. I write this from Denver, Colorado with my experience based in the solidarity actions of Occupy Denver in mind and influence of thought.


As radicals, we have been urged to join this movement and put aside our differences for the sake of community solidarity and unity. We have been chastised when we question the goals, strategies, and hierarchal nature of this emerging movement and have been urged to accept the positions stated by the leaders of this “leaderless” movement because, as we have been told, “inaction is just not acceptable because there is too much to lose at the present moment”. This urgency may sound familiar to many of us as it accompanied the election of Barack Obama, which some of us refused, rightfully so, to be a party to. Not to steal a line, but in regards to the actions of Recreate 68 and Unconventional Action during the DNC in 2008, history has absolved us. The left has blindly been supporting the Wall Street action without a critical assessment of it. As radicals, we have an obligation to think critically and question the underlying ideology and lack of historical approach utilized by groups that wrap themselves in such nationalistic, patriotic hyperbole as what we have witnessed to date.


As it stands at the moment, this movement appears to be nothing more than white middle class liberals upset at the current stage of capitalism which appears unfair to them, because for once their pocket books are the ones being affected. The inherent greed embodied in a capitalist system that has been exploiting people of color and has been built upon the genocide of this nation’s original Indigenous inhabitants since its inception, has been nothing more than an academic exercise in justice for many whites because they actively or passively benefit from the arrangement. This populace rage has been simmering only since white community members have become bankrupt or evicted from their homes or have seen a marketed decrease in their unearned wealth and class disparity. Prior to this point, while many of us were engaged in resistance to this unjust system, the occupiers were content to sip four dollar lattes and pick out furniture from their IKEA catalog that showed their cultural diversity. In the words of Cornell West, “it’s only a problem when white America becomes ‘niggerized’”. When it was people of color being evicted or exploited or Indigenous peoples being forcefully removed from their traditional homelands, it was not an issue on most of the occupier’s radar. The simple concept of “taking America back” is an insult to oppressed communities. “Taking it back” to when, when capitalism did not affect, but rather benefited, the white liberal middle class?


First let us address the lack of historical understanding and inappropriate language utilized by this group, then we shall address some remaining issues of non-violence and a diversity of tactics. To begin with the obvious, the use of the term “Occupy Wall Street” or closer to home, “Occupy Denver” needs to be addressed. “Occupy”…“Take America back”…for whom are they taking it back? “Return America back to a just system”…a return…to what, the glory days of capitalism when whites benefitted and remained unaffected by a systems oppressive nature? The land that both the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Denver groups claim as theirs has never been theirs or American land, it has been illegally occupied lands of the Lenape or Cheyenne or other Indigenous nations that lived in the area. The Wall Street protesters are playing hacky sack in the same spot that their ancestors had played similar games, with the exception that they literally kicked around the severed heads of native peoples for sport. In Denver, they camp on the same land that the Colorado 3rd Cavalry marched triumphantly with severed body parts dangling from their saddles and hats as trophies from the Sand Creek Massacre. The point being, that the lands the “occupy” group has been on have been illegally occupied for centuries by their ancestors and their ilk from which they have inherently benefitted. It is the loss of this very benefit that is causing the anger towards Wall Street. If they intend to take back America for the Indigenous communities and address the illegal colonization of the native land they camp on, I would not be so concerned, but the “occupy” folks media statements have been clear and articulate their position that they are not anti-American nor anti-capitalist and ergo not anti-colonial in their struggle.


Other language utilized by this movement that is causing many of us unrest is the use of such terms as “Days of Rage” or “revolution”. This only adds to their less than historical understanding of the politics of change necessary for a true revolution to take place in this country. It is insulting to our comrades that have engaged in direct militant confrontation with the United States government before us, and paved the road for many current radicals of today, for the “occupiers” to utilize language coined by their struggle. The Weather Underground and SDS members from the 1960’s and 70’s must be fuming, or in some cases, rolling in their graves, to see “Days of Rage” used to promote a permitted march and political actions coordinated to reduce any and all conflict with law enforcement. For some of the younger activists that may not be aware of why I may say this, the real “Days of Rage” was an action that took place in Chicago that was intended to increase the militancy of the movement. It was an unpermitted event, as they believed you should not ask permission to resist your oppressor, and it was intended and did create physical confrontations with the police in an attempt to strengthen the movements’ militant resolve through direct experience.


Additionally, saying you are not anti-American or anti-capitalism yet you are revolutionary is confusing at best and a lie at worst. Believing that capitalism can be reformed is typical of a protected class of individuals. Capitalism cannot, I repeat, cannot be reformed. The system is inherently oppressive and is built upon the exploitation of natural resources, personal wealth accumulation, and individual greed. If you support these principles and are not anti-capitalists, than do not call yourselves revolutionaries. Capitalism and American hegemony are ideals that radicals with a complete understanding of these ideologies’ real world implications should not be willing to compromise with nor accept.


The last issue to address is this ideological commitment to what has been proclaimed Gandhian non-violence. I thank the gods above that the British forces and the home-rule Indian authorities did not posses flimsy orange netting or Gandhi may never have made it to the shore to pick up a handful of salt. The ideology of Gandhi’s non-violent resistance has been raped by the American pacifist. It has been perverted to the point that it has come to mean compliance with authorities and avoidance of conflict when necessary. Additionally, the paralyzing pathology of pacifism practiced by a select few has been forced upon everyone else with a complete disregard to a diversity of tactics and opinions. It has gotten to the point that aggressive language and violation of unjust laws has been deemed to be violent or out-of-line with the pacifist mantra being espoused by this leaderless movement. Gandhi understood a diversity of tactics and his methods were only effective due to the militant guerrilla forces at work in India at the same moment in history along with Britain suffering financial hardship due to the violence of World War II. Gandhi also understood that not everyone was capable of being in the same non-violent state of mind at the same time, but this did not mean that they could not fight effectively in solidarity against the forces of oppression. As a matter of fact, he addressed this very issue when he stated, “Injustice must be resisted. No doubt the non-violent way is always the best, but where that does not come naturally the violent way is both necessary and honorable. Inaction here is rank cowardice and unmanly. It must be shunned at all cost.”


Locally, “occupy” organizers have even gone so far as obtaining permits and issuing marching orders that are veiled threats that law violators will be turned over to the police. Poor Gandhi, his message for his followers has been lost. He would never agree to such a position if he was alive today. He was clear about such topics and stated as much when he wrote, “A satyagrahi will not report a criminal to the police. He will not try to ride two horses at a time, to pretend to follow the law of satyagraha while at the same time seeking police aid. He must forswear the latter in order to follow the former…A reformer cannot afford to be an informer”. Keep this in mind Denver next time you obtain a permit, get a police escort for your march, and high five the officers for a good day of staged resistance. It is unethical to cherry pick parts of an ideology to support your cowardice to engage your opposition in a meaningful manner.


A short digression is necessary here for a moment. Many in the “Occupy Denver” movement have been upset with the use of the term pigs for the police and insist that they are our brothers in the struggle and are part of the 99%. Denver has been one of the most oppressive and violent police departments in the nation. They certainly were not acting in a brotherly manner towards Marvin Booker, a homeless preacher, whom they beat to death, or towards the numerous other victims of their police brutality. These officers were not drafted into the police department; they eagerly sought the job of an over-seer for the state. They chose to step over the line and join your opposition as their first line of defense. I have yet to see one officer quit his or her job and show up at the barricades in Denver and doubt highly I ever will. The sooner liberals stop being corralled like helpless animals by flimsy netting and crying like they were just shot or beat when pepper sprayed and realize that the police are not your friend, the better for us all. Many of us have been aware of the oppressive role of the police for a long time. Our brothers and sisters in communities of color, indigenous communities, or GLBT communities have experienced police brutality, murderous behavior, and out-right lies that have resulted in their deaths or incarceration since this country’s founding and many of us that have been on the front lines of this struggle, prior to the great white awakening, have our physical scars as well.


I have no problem with non-violent resistance. I have a big problem with the use of pacifism to avoid direct symbolic confrontation. Even the 700 person arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge was shameful. The Brooklyn Bridge, the big icon of cooperate greed (read sarcasm here). Many exclaimed they were forced onto the bridge. Why allow State authorities to force you anywhere without direct non-violent confrontation? Thousands were in the march. Gandhi was clear that non-violence was useless if not put to use in direct confrontation with the violence of the state. A good organizer should have chosen when and where this confrontation should have taken place. If those involved are serious about “revolution” and non-violent resistance, they should have considered marching their thousands to the stock exchange or other symbols of finance and forced the police to behave in a violent manner to unveil the oppressiveness of the state. What better symbolic image than the police using force to protect the stock exchange from the American public. Gandhi, as some in this so called movement have claimed, did not “just sit in the streets non-violently and win a country.”


When Occupy Denver’s non-violence becomes truly committed to a principled revolutionary change, then and only then should it be applauded. If this occurs, maybe some of the radicals may even consider joining you. Take heed the words of a true revolutionary pacifist from the past, David Dillenger, “I think there is a fraternity, a solidarity of people who are serious about revolutionary change and serious about human beings and transcends differences in tactics and strategy and methodology. As a pacifist and as one who believes profoundly in non-violent methods, I still feel a great solidarity with someone like Che Guevara. The greatest problem about non-violence, perhaps, is that most of us non-violent American activists have not been truly serious as violent revolutionaries have been.” So please think about that the next time you strap on your Che Guevara t-shirt and step up to the mic at your general assembly meeting to chastise a so-called anarchist for being too militant.


One last word needs to be said as to the democratic practices of this movement. “This is what democracy looks like” has been a rallying cry from the “Occupy Together” group. The so-called general assembly meetings are supposed to be an example of democracy in action. The Denver crew says they use a “modified form of consensus where a majority rules”. This is not consensus, but regardless of that fact, when playing within the rules set forth by this leaderless movement, democratic principles are still not adhered to. Democracy can be an ugly thing, you can never be sure of its outcome. If the outcome is something you do not like, you have to live with it. This is what happens in a majority rules system as opposed to true consensus. When Denver accepted the principles of solidarity set forth in St. Paul during the Republican National Convention, much concern and work behind the scenes was engaged in to undue this democratic decision and “re-own” the movement. The national group or leaderless leaders even threatened to remove Denver from its list of solidarity locations if it adhered to this democratically made decision. One more death knell for democracy in America. So much potential, but yet, so many problems. This is why, as radicals that believe in participatory democracy, we are concerned.


In the end, should radicals that believe in decolonization and revolutionary change join this populace movement? I cannot say for you, but for me, I am sitting this one out. When a movement other than the Tea Party or the Occupy Wall Street movements, which are fueled by white rage, takes shape in this country, I am sure many of us will be willing and able to put our lives on the line, militantly or passively to make the changes necessary for a truly just society. Until then, I choose to sit back and enjoy the show.

I was the permit holder

I was the permit holder for the Oct 1 march and some of these comments are directed toward me exclusivly, if not knowingly, so I will respond directly (another group is also crafting a response).

Background: To the best of my knowledge, both the "US Day of Rage" and "Occupy Wall Street" ideas came to fruition during a firestorm of activity on Twitter inspired by Jeff Jarvis' use of the hashtag #fuckyouwashington. People from all walks of life, from all over the world, joined in expressing their anger, frustration, and outrage for every greivance imaginiable. The date was set, Sept 17. I waited from home to see what would happen in Denver.

Sept 17 came, and only a handful of people locally expressed interest online. Only two of us managed to meet in person that day. Together we set the date for Oct 1, for another city was also having a protest. We picked the Capitol, because it is easy to find and a natural location for people in this metropolitan area.

On Monday, Sept 19, I started the permit application process. I put the name "Denver Day of Rage" on the permit - simply because neither Occupy Denver or Occupy Together had been created yet (and I am not that creative). It was inspired by the original hashtag, at least for me. As to why I filed a permit, I wanted a public announcement (to reach a wide audience). Also, it was my hope the the press would engage (which they did). Furthermore, I wanted it to be clear this was about government/political greivances to this wider audience.

To be quite honest, I never expected this local effort to gain so much attention and to gain momentum so fast.

What you may not know about that Sept 29 Denver General Assembly meeting is this: young white women talked excessively of violence, using the word over and over again. I personally found it very alarming for many different reasons.

I would like to clearly state that I, in no way shape or form, implied retalitory agression toward anyone.

As a final note, I would like to share that I, too, am Native American but that I have not felt welcome in these indigenous communities which seem to shun "outsiders."

It is my hope that we can come together. I think I can speak for the group when I say, we are an open and receptive audience. Please also keep in mind that many of these events happened in the first week of our inception (we are now at week two). We are all babes in this process of direct group action.

Kindly, Molly

 

 

 

 

Fri 5pm

Is it possible for people to come by the occupation at 5pm on Friday and try to work this out?  Gen Assembly tonight agreed to set up a seperate meeting to try to work this out.

The way I keep approaching this issue is that we need to have an occupation where every member of the 99% can feel safe and welcome in joining us.  I think this contains the idea of a compromise that we can work out and satisfy everyone.

So, if its possible, can someone come by the occupation on Friday at 5pm to try to reach such a compromise?
 

I still think this is important.  Both in terms of trying to strengthen locally this movement that continues to grow across the country..  And, if we can learn how to solve this sort of issue that's been dividing activists in this city for years, I think all of our causes will be stronger for this.  Any dialog like the one proposed for Friday can help, if only for helping each side to hear and understand the other side.

And if we can agree to meet to try to work this out in person, I think it might help if both sides tried to cool down the internet rhetoric until we can talk face to face.

Peace

Orale, Glenn!

Compañero de lucha, it's been a long time since I've seen you in person, and it makes me very happy to read your thoughts, which very closely (though not completely) mirror my own.

I appreciate your words, "When Occupy Denver’s non-violence becomes truly committed to a principled revolutionary change, then and only then should it be applauded. If this occurs, maybe some of the radicals may even consider joining you." 

My question is, how will this group get there?  When will radical organizers (and I really mean organizers, not twitterers) who are indigenous, queer, immigrant and of color come and just own (decolonize, as it were?) the space and make it what we really want it to be? 

What will it take?  Adoption of St. Paul principles?  Something else?  I'm willing to spend a couple hours this Friday at 5pm to try to answer this question.  My (potentially naive) hope is that something concrete comes out of it, because otherwise it will be a damned shame.  But I'm at least willing to try.  Maybe I'll see you there. 

Is that Cointelpro prick still there!?

"Until then, I choose to sit back and enjoy the show."  That's doubtful, but hope you're so lucky, Denver.  Sorry you guys still have to deal with this gremlin.  Watch the documentary "Convention" about the 2008 DNC and you'll realize, though Spagz may be a fed, he's definately not a clever one, so the damage he tries to cause is easily avoided.

I love how he quotes Cornel West, considering brother West has been to and spoke out in support of Occupy Wall Street, as has Noam Chomsky.  He claims SDS and the Weather Underground would be fuming.  Odd claim since Tom Hayden (co-founder of SDS,) Bill Ayers, and Bernardine Dohrn (Weather Underground) have spoke in support.  Not to mention a number of the organizers who initiated this process are former members of new SDS.

Spagz may not be a fed.  Maybe he just has no concept of how to organize, or both.  Probably both.  At best he simply makes shit up.  No one from Occupy Wall Street has told Occupy Denver to do shit.  There hasn't even been contact.  The General Assembly in NYC has a few more important things to do than send down directives to the 150+ cities autonomously organizing their own GA's.

And on a final note. "Occupy Together" is a website.  A website with information about where occupations spring up.  It's ran by two students.  They're not telling anyone shit ethier.  Occupy Denver, don't worry you don't appeal to the Denver version of Brandon Darby.  Worry when you do.

Occupy Denver

I am not here to discuss Glenn Spagnuolo.  However, I have personally seen letters from Occupy Wall Street members to members of Occupy Denver used to enforce non-violence only fundamentalist arguments.  Those website are made by a few members and do not represent brick and mortor organizations, but people who own the Occupy Denver Twitter Account as well as the website have taken positions and deleted comments, blocked members, etc.  New SDS doesn't count for much, and speaking in support can be taken out of context and does not mean that they agree with the specific organizing strategies.

 

But as to the other commentators, it's hard for people to want to go to the Friday GA given everything.  People are threatened with being "Doxed" for not promoting strict non-violence-only-fundamentalism, when that is against the Occupy New York principle of pprivacy.  Furthermore, the idea that problems with internal security should be addressed to the police by identifying those who make you insecure is deeply troubling.  Firsltly, the police operate with violence and the threat of violence in almost everything they do.   To actively solicit their help is creating violence, and not only that, the violence that you create you are also outsourcing or otherwise making the police do your dirty work for you.  Secondly, it is totally against the concept of unity, solidarity, autonomy, self-empowerment, and totally destroys solidarity.

 

When GAs have multiple facilitators, rules are bent for some and not others, decisions are not abided by, past decisions are used to brow-beat current ones, interruption is common, and people are isolating and turning on each other, etc. we should question what good coming to them can accomplish.

occupy denver

Full disclosure. I am a co-founder of Recreate 68, a part of the Transform Columbus Day Alliance (and its offshoot the All Nations Alliance) since their inception, and a long time Denver organizer and activist involved in, among other things, work on police accountability. So I don’t think anyone should be surprised that I agree with what most of my brother Glenn says. I hate to discourage people who are becoming politically active for the first time, which seems to be the case for many of those in occupied Denver. But I too have seen the lack of respect at the GA’s for diversity of tactics, a lack of respect that has hampered organizing efforts way too often in the past. I too am disturbed by the evident ignorance on the part of those involved in OD of the long-standing efforts by many in this community to address issues of social and economic justice, and their failure to try to reach out to those—particularly indigenous communities, other communities of color, and unions—who have been at the forefront of those struggles and have been most severely impacted by the recession. Like the previous poster, I too have heard some disturbing things about the very undemocratic, and just plain unorganized, way the supposedly democratic GA’s have been run. As I say, I would and have always encouraged new people to get involved in the struggle. But they need to do so in a way that recognizes the issues Glenn raises, and that respects those who have been carrying on the struggle when it wasn’t so “trendy.” And I’m just not seeing that so far at Occupy Denver. 

Anonymously referring to

Anonymously referring to someone as cointelpro, and disparaging their organizing abilities without cause is a pretty despicable behavior. I don't agree with everything that Glenn has written, but i respect his views and i share some of his expressed concerns. I can't say the same for anyone who launches attacks from behind the veil of anonymity.

your movement

it's your movement richard.  trust whoever you want.  and the results will reflect it.

we'll continue doing what we're doing in manhattan.

I agree with @outrage_molly

But why is her account disabled?

disabled account

I am one of the editors of this site.  I could not determine how or why the account of @outrage_molly became disabled, nor could I find any reason why it should be.  So I have re-activated it.

Further Response

When I logged in, I received a message stating it was a one-time log-in set to expire on Oct 10.

Occupy Denver stands in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. With this being said, I will quote something from them that also addresses this issue.

"As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not
lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by
the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, formerly divided by the color of our skin, gender, sexual orientation,

religion, or lack thereof, political party and cultural background, we acknowledge
the reality: that there is only one race, the human race, and our survival requires the
cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption
of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their
brethren; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but
corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that
no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.

We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest
over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. {snip}

To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge
you to assert your power.


Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to
address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.


To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we
offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!"

A Message From Occupied Wall Street (Day Five)
Published 2011-09-22 07:51:42 UTC by OccupyWallSt

 

If you agree with this, we welcome your contribution and commitment.

 

Molly

thank you

I appreciate your positive and concilatory tone Molly.

samo samo

Glenn Spagnuolo, GLenn Morris, Ward CHurchill (the only one with any cajones) Richar Meyers and Tina Braxton.. My oh my the same old pacifist antagonist crew still whining and crying about non-violence and protesting.. Wake up people. We trained this generation to be desensitized to violence and we expect them to join  the whine  and the the gimmes and not persist Sorry not this time..