Author: Smithers, Stuart
Date published: October 19, 2011
Mayor Bloomberg learned a lot over the last week. Reports swirled that he was going to evict Occupy Wall Street to "clean" Zuccotti Park on the morning of Friday, October 14, the day before the protest went international. Everybody pretty much recognized the threat was a ruse to close down the OWS movement in Manhattan before it actually became a movement, although the protesters seemed to welcome the fight. After all, OWS was ignored by media for its first two weeks, until the mayor and the NYPD made those first predictable blunders: the pepper-spray incidents and the Brooklyn Bridge debacle.
As for the "cleanup" of Zuccotti Park (another potential blunder), the NYPD commissioner announced that protesters wouldn't be allowed to bring sleeping bags or tents back into the park after the pressure washing had been completed. The OWS protesters scrubbed the park themselves and called for reinforcements the morning of the scheduled eviction, and they got them: Over a thousand people showed up before dawn, and the promised pressure washing was called off.
Slavoj Zizek, the superstar Marxist philosopher, made a visit to the park earlier in the week. Through the human microphone, he delivered his encouragement and the observation that the 99 percent wasn't destroying Wall Street, the system, or anything else-we were instead witnessing the capitalist system destroy itself. Zizek was in town for a coincidentally scheduled conference he was hosting at Cooper Union, sponsored by Verso Books, on the theme: "Communism, A New Beginning?" Zizek's entertaining presence commanded the conference, and speakers frequently included observations on the unexpected uprising of OWS.
The whole point of politics is to name the enemy. At several points during the conference, speakers turned their attention to media complaints that the movement had no goals or clear agenda. Susan Buck-Morss reminded the audience: "The tiger does not declare his tiger-tude; he simply pounces." The protesters are pouncing, without concern for the formalities of a manifesto or list of goals. In fact, she argued (as did Zizek and others) that the movement should continue to slow down and resist the demands to define themselves and their objectives. She maintained that to resist these demands is to resist the capitalist framework of time and the speeding up of time, to resist being named and dismissed. Every day that the event continues, with or without stated goals, proves that the world could be otherwise, that a new beginning is actually possible. We have been told so many times that the change we want is impossible, but OWS proves that it is possible.
The mayor and police assumed the OWS crowd would be a softtarget, but the resilience of the protesters and the botched attempts of the police have transformed the protesters into a more forceful, galvanized collective- a hard target from here on out, regardless of the winter weather. On the evening of Saturday, October 15, an estimated 20,000 people marched from the occupation to Times Square. Again, NYPD seemed to aggressively create conditions for containment and confrontation: At one point they brought in horses as an attempt to intimidate the crowd. And it worked to a point: People were terrified but couldn't move, while the horses seemed more humane than the cops, balking when they were spurred toward the crowd. Finally, when the cops were pushing barricades against the crowd, NYPD chief Joseph Esposito stepped in and told the visibly astonished police officers to back off. The crowd cheered Esposito and chanted: "The police are the 99 percent!" This may have been the most important and underreported turning point of the protest to date.