By Carol Harvey
November 1, 2011
On Oct. 16-17, SFPD conducted a brutal raid on the Occupy San Francisco encampment. Videographers recorded police stepping on backs, dragging protestors and striking them with batons. Before police dispersed, tents reappeared.
Undaunted, Occupy SF spawned more demonstrations and protests.
San Francisco occupiers joined the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality in a short Bayview march protesting unrelenting police assaults on residents, most notably the SFPD murder of Kenneth Harding on July 16.
On Monday, Oct. 24, a 200-strong Bay Area clergy tour wound through San Francisco’s Financial District.
On Wednesday, Oct. 26, Oakland and Atlanta police tried – and failed – to take down Oakland and Atlanta Occupy encampments. Riot police sat in buses waiting for Oakland protesters to join Occupy San Francisco from across the Bay.
While San Francisco occupiers practiced tactical passive resistance, five city supervisors and one state senator visited the Embarcadero in support. SFPD did not repeat the Oct. 16 assault that night.
During the Occupy Oakland raid, a police projectile fractured 24-year-old U.S. Marine Corporal Scott Olsen’s skull. This Iraq war veteran’s injury in an Oakland war zone propelled 1,000 outraged attendees at an Oscar Grant (Frank Ogawa) Plaza General Assembly to call a Nov. 2 General Strike to shut the city down.
On Oct. 28, filmmaker Michael Moore spoke at the resurrected tent city.
What forward-moving social urge gives these Occupy groups the amazing power to resurge against the military arm of corporate greed? Are they more vulnerable to dislodgment by the internal seeds of their own destruction than police or military assaults upon them?
It is becoming clear from Arab Spring nations like Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, where citizens will die to unseat corrupt totalitarian rule, that people globally no longer accept the authority of multi-national corporate-backed CEOs, kings, dictators, presidents, heads of state, governors, or even city mayors who allow – or send – militarized police to enforce their stranglehold on the 99 percent.
The sudden spontaneous emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its replication across the United States to San Francisco and back again across the globe carries echoes of the Arab Spring’s anti-authoritarianism and unyielding drive toward fundamental change – removal of the multinational corporate grip on governments and nation states.
The logical flaw
In his “Chaotic Ripple” blog post, “Occupy Wall Street, Swarm Behavior and Self-Organized Criticality,” Joe Brewer writes, “It is now the mainstream view that our (United States) government is fundamentally corrupted by corporate influence.”
He observes that “old models for building civilization have become obsolete.” Gen-Xers and Millennials are deploying technologies for mass mobilization to generate new, more functional models.
Brewer presents “swarming behavior” as a way to explain the sudden, unaccountable springing up of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Immediately following Occupy Wall Street’s Sept. 17 tents and “We are the 99 percent” signs opposing corporate greed and bank bailouts, its sister clone, the San Francisco encampment, followed swarm movement patterns, materializing at the 555 California Bank of America former headquarters, “The Wall Street of the West.” It moved to the Market Street sidewalk fronting the Federal Reserve Bank’s western facade and, finally, to Justin Herman Plaza on the Embarcadero.
“Observing what complexity researchers call self-organized criticality, Brewer explains, “We may be in the midst of an unprecedented pattern of self-organization that wasn’t possible before the internet.”
He asserts that the unfolding dynamic of self-organizing systems is the source of group intelligence. Structure and social order emerges through local conversations, “starting small-scale and spiraling upward” like “a flock of birds or school of fish.” It is a human swarm of individuals creating a group flow out of the delighted discovery of a mutual recognition and resonance between them of commonly-held feelings, ideas and beliefs.
He writes that “self-organized criticality” surfaces through the Occupy Wall Street – and, by extension, the Occupy San Francisco – movements by recognizing “no elevated leader,” bypassing “authorities with decision-making power in old institutions,” organizing locally “as fractal patterns of small groups setting plans through general assemblies,” orchestration of networks of groups through hub websites” like Occupy Together, “and “coordinated branding” through the meme-slogan, “We are the 99 percent.”
The archetype of swarming “self-organizing criticality” is sand slowly dropped into a pile which grows until rates of cascading avalanche slopes from top to bottom become “independent of the rate which the system is driven by dropping sand. This is the rate of a “self-organized critical slope.
“Rapidly changing social trends have passed a tipping point or paradigm shift indicating that the status quo is increasingly unstable and therefore unlikely to persist much longer.”
Growing global inequality; a shift from manufacturing to making money off of money; world-wide economic insecurity and unemployment since the 2008 financial meltdown; commonly accepted, but now nonviable life passages from childhood to college to career, homebuilding, then retirement; awareness of severity of environmental damage threatening the earth; rapid depletion of the earth’s raw materials; the plunge in public confidence in government, corporations and the banking system – these trends suggest “models for building civilization have become obsolete,” and we have passed a downward-dropping point on the slope where gun-toting cops cannot reverse the process.
Brewer asserts if imminent “monumental change” doesn’t transmute to “fundamental change,” it will gather momentum for future attempts “to be more bold and effective.”
If stepped-up militarized police raids fail to clean out Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland, will failure to meet its objective as an all-inclusive movement undermine Occupy San Francisco’s success?
Occupiers insist that the prime directives driving the movement include constructing solid new forms within the sand-avalanches of the crumbling social order based on shared equality, love over separation and an openhearted social contract guaranteeing everyone an equal voice.
But, if the movement’s core value is capital and money over human life, does a materialist fatal flaw lurk within the 1 percent vs. 99 percent equation ensuring certain failure?
America failed in its dream of true democratic equality, creating a derangement by basing its governmental system on a parallel logical fallacy – capitalist greed, violence, separation and the proliferation of imperialistic internal and external wars.
The racism flaw
Further, if Occupy SF is truly open-hearted, all-inclusive and all-embracing, why do so few Black and Brown faces Bayview Hunters Point, the Fillmore, Mission, Tenderloin and Bernal Heights join Occupy SF with other established, but still marginalized Asian, LGBTQ, disabled and age-based groups?
Proportional to San Francisco’s ethnically-cleansed diminishing Black population, Bayview occupiers are few. Like Chicago, San Francisco’s deepest poverty and highest foreclosure rates in Bayview Hunters Point mean almost 50 percent of families may lose their homes by late 2012. Survival trumps participation in Occupy movements.
Some say white privilege assumed by the exclusivity and ownership of the 1 percent to 99 percent capitalist equation keeps them away. Historical lack of trust toward Caucasians and white leftists is a stay-away order.
Knowing that the October 22nd rally, attended by Occupy SF, was organized by two predominately white organizations, Bayview residents’ participation dwindled. Activists reported no police brutality incidents, the kind Bayview residents experience daily, partly because SFPD anticipated the October 22nd Coalition would notify media, but someone “screwed up and didn’t.”
Respected Black activist Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin wrote Sunday, Oct. 23, on the Facebook page, “The Progressive Plantation: Racism Inside White Radical Social Change Movements,” “The anti-globalization movement, and even further back, Socialist and Communist parties have all succumbed to racism and white supremacy.”
Like Black activists before him, he asks. “Why should the OWS movement be different?”
“There is only one possible conclusion to be reached,” he writes. “We need a social revolution with Black and POC (people of color) leadership to destroy this system entirely and thoroughly, leaving no traces of racism or capitalism, rather than have the very classes and peoples who have historically oppressed us in charge of our fate. I do not believe or argue that white people are inherently evil; rather that if we do not organize for our own freedom, nobody else will (do it for us). The only question is how many white people will unite with us in genuine unity, mutual aid, and with the same fervor for total change?”
Some feel a successful healing of the ravages of deliberate capitalist-corporatist social engineering requires Caucasians humbly step back so peoples of color and their brothers and sisters currently enslaved on the prison-industrial plantation, exploited Latinos and immigrants, and colonized indigenous nations are finally free to step forward and unlock silenced voices.
Sincerely attentive occupiers can learn about true police brutality from Bayview residents like talented rapper DeBray Carpenter, aka Fly Benzo, who can speak to the constant police assaults and killings in the hood, the unprovoked Oscar Grant murder and the July 16, 2011, assassination of Kenneth Harding, shot in the back for avoiding a transit fare. Fly Benzo suffered three false arrests and SFPD beatings after courageously criticizing the SFPD.
They can learn about militarized police state toys – specialized weaponry, riot gear, stun and other guns, tanks that roll through Bayview – about police surveillance in a fascist regime heralded by the homeland security van at the Oct. 16 SFPD camp assault.
Some peoples of color believe only through the expression of their truths during a piercing class and race analysis can the social order re-organize along humane, human rights, leveled equality lines.
One brother occupier involved in the Bayview wants conversations where “Together, we get to the heart of it, to a place that is beyond uncomfortable, that is existentially painful” and finally address the elephant in the room.
The good news is that an occupier in a recent General Assembly meeting reported forming an exploitation working group.
POOR Magazine/Pobre Prenza is creating “Decolonizers’ Guide to a Humble Revolution,” a handbook for Occupations “to learn about working with all peoples, each other and all the other movements in need of their support and resources.”
The classist flaw
And what of unhoused people living on San Francisco streets who fall entirely out of the 1 percent/99 percent money-based equation? The Occupy movements are about who controls America’s wealth, excluding those who scrabble through garbage cans.
I have noticed that, though virtually half the original occupiers were homeless, like many unhoused folks, they do not own their commonality with street people. In human empathy dynamics, this distancing creates cracks and separations.
Contradicting this assumed entitlement, Janice, a lovely 20-something reading on her pallet on the Japantown bridge, smiled and said, “A friend went, and he was very well-treated.”
However, “I’m too concerned about where I’ll get food for me and my dog to go.”
Original occupier Xander, a medic-in-training, informed me medic teams have spread across the city outreaching to homeless people.
Occupier and Coalition on Homelessness organizer Bob Offer-Westort is working on non-punitive strategies by which those with mental illness can be understood and facilitated. He wants to start a mental health working group.
Nothing can stop a perfect swarm. Internal contradictions, however, can transmute it into a derangement bearing tragic unintended consequences.