This article was originally published on UMFNYC.
When we took over the Vietnam Memorial on May 1, we were surrounded.
We were surrounded on all sides by the infrastructure of this world, all that sustains it beyond its expiration like a giant life support system: the buildings that house corporations, the surveillance cameras, the police, the hostile architecture of the park itself, and the highway behind us that carries the cargo –human and otherwise— from point A to point B. The police, to take but one example, were armed on that night not only with the weapons and brutality everyone gets all indignant about, but as importantly they were armed with an incredible amount of foresight, intelligence, preparation, and resources.
They were armed then with everything we lacked.
In the face of this: we were one thousand in a park. We sat and listened to the speeches of politicians from the City Council and the political parties that keep trudging along, rolling our eyes at their chatter. But when we looked around, we were excited by the sight of a huge assembly again, and we wanted to occupy the park. Everyone did. But the energy was sapped by the lackwits of the Occupy Wall Street leadership cadre who told us over and over again in some kind of neurotic tick that the park we had taken over would close by 10pm. 10pm is approaching, 10pm is when the park is closed, after 10pm we will no longer be here legally, now it’s 10pm and we are no longer legally allowed to be here, everyone should think really hard about what they want to do, everyone should assess their individual risk ability, and on and on until everyone was scared of staying.
So when the police moved in to close the park, we all melted away. Why? Because we lacked vision. We lacked the shared courage and the shared preparation to truly take up the war that is already underway. And this will never change until we begin to rival this world on the terrain of organization.
In the months of lead up to May 1, OWS built a stillborn political coalition, allying itself with the leaders of unions, who have been discredited now for nearly a century, and the leaders of immigrants’ rights groups, who represent only themselves. OWS leaders called these alliances their victory, their dividends, their investments, their reasons for buy-in, or any one of the other ridiculously mangled financial terms they use to describe their actions. But what they let slip away was everything that made Occupy different from past political movements. The context was lost: the physical spaces occupied for weeks on end, the sharing of food and shelter, the sociality where we found things in common, the daily conflicts with police and the representatives of the so-called 1%. This is the difference between the early days of Zuccotti and all the websites, meetings, promotions, and all the nothing that has followed in its wake. The OWS leaders cashed in their political chips for a seat at the bargaining table with a bunch of has-beens who haven’t had power for decades, so that they too could become has-beens far before their time was up. Everyone sensed the growing weakness and decided not to show up on May 1, and as some people said, the magic was lost. But in the end nothing died on that day except for OWS’s delusions of being the vanguard, so we need to remember that nothing really started on September 17 anyway, because it’s exactly as John Connor put it: “you and me, we’ve been at war since before either of us was even born.”
To really wage this war –to make a revolution— what we need to do is get organized. If this was the call from The Coming Insurrection, we aren’t shy of saying we have already taken it on as our own. We have done so for a very simple reason: the entire architecture of this world militates against us growing stronger. We have not been defeated at the level of state repression; instead our defeat is preemptively manifest in the very structures of this world, in those disparate and often contradictory mechanisms that govern and shape our lives. These apparatuses –from the internet and fast food restaurants to highways and prisons— don’t repress us or exploit our labor power. Their only real purpose is to manage ruptures with normality and prevent any other way of life from coming into being at all costs. They attempt this by extracting us from everything around us, breaking us down, reshaping us, stealing our time, putting us to work, and pushing us away from one another into an ever more isolated existence where we’re buried beneath our jobs, our worries, our debts, and our own sad bull shit. It’s at the level of our lives that these mechanisms operate –not in the White House or some corporate office where figureheads rule.
In the fall and winter so many of us felt this truth when we found communion in chaotic streets, occupied parks and buildings, and in the massive general assemblies that decided so little yet communicated so much. It wasn’t the goals, the facts and figures about inequality and debt, or anger at the Federal Reserve or Obama. It was the sharing of conflict and the building of power that transformed our lives and broke down barriers we didn’t even know were holding us back. We got organized, and we won some of those fights, but it wasn’t long before power adapted itself and we started losing ground again.
If there’s a key distinction to be made between what needs to be built and what already exists, it lies in the fact that organizationhas over the last hundred years been appropriated entirely by management, the fractious process by which whatever we do is separated from our lives. For too long this fact has remained unthought by those who would bring this world down. As a result, what we most require –the ability to be organized, to sustain ourselves, to become stronger—all of this is entirely monopolized by management. And any attempt to fight has ended up either mirroring management by spectacular display or by abstraction, thereby consigning itself to the shit history of defeat.
We don’t want to manage. We want to organize ourselves as a force to bring down an entire world. This is why we reject politics. For, while organization means we constitute ourselves as a force in the world, politics is nothing but our abstraction fromthe world. Everything we have known under the name of politics operates as a form of management: the Left, anarchism, or Marxism —it makes no difference. Not only will what they offer never be adequate to our dreams, they will always hold us captive and impotent by chaining us to an a priori blueprint in situations that have neither precedent nor determined course. Against this: what we do —talk together in a big group, occupy a park, attack the mall, make a banner, write a stupid text, cook food, blockade a highway or port— is never separate from what we are, from our lives. And a posteriori: what we do is never separate from the situation.
So organization, not management. This is what great revolutionary movements have always had, binding their attack with their capacity, their world with their strength. When John Brown led the raid on Harper’s Ferry, he was hoping to create an insurgent commune in the mountains of Appalachia that would live off the land and serve as a base of power in a war on slavery. When the Apache went to war, they didn’t just bring weapons; they brought horses, medicine, blood ties, and gods. The workers who took over Seattle in the general strike of 1919 organized collective canteens, health clinics, defense squads, presses, and huge public gatherings. The Black Panthers started with guns but just as quickly, and more importantly, armed themselves with free breakfast programs, schools, and publications. And when Zuccotti and Oscar Grant Plaza were occupied, they wove together a subversion of social life with blockades, communal kitchens, and assemblies, forging a new American constitution: the 99%. What each of these built, however fleetingly, was a force –an organized power— and the possibility of a new reality.
What this world has at its disposal is everything we don’t have. These things we have to appropriate, subvert, or retool for our own purposes. The problems of money, time, and staying sane have to be solved, overcome, or circumvented together; no isolated individual or aggregate of individuals can properly confront them on their own. These problems can’t be taken on in their isolation because they bring up further questions like the ability to heal ourselves, think straight, fight, communicate, and grow and acquire food. We need physical spaces like buildings, farms, parks and land where things can happen, where we can build together, where we can put life in common, and as importantly, where we get in touch with things we never knew we lost. Stolen, squatted, rented, paid-for, occupied, or owned: the form is not what’s important nor do we privilege any kind of act over another.
So if we have a workshop it’s so we can learn to weld, preserve food, coordinate communications, and plan. If we shut down a bridge, it’s to block the economy, open up spaces of discord, and hone our skills in the street. If we have a farm, it’s to feed our friends and us, supply our collective kitchen, save seeds, and grow our territory. If we scramble apparatuses, it’s so we can generalize insubordination as well as to survive a little more easily. Everything we do, from starting a social club for some extra cash and sociality to taking over a small town in an important region is within a wider trajectory, a line of growing power. In the end, control’s grip will be broken as much through destructive force as constructive secession.
We don’t say we need to start organizing because so many of us are already getting organized. This is a call, though, to do so intelligently, deliberately, and devastatingly. We’re going to have to build the house we’re going to live in, the abode for the coming to presence of being as one of our forefathers said. Or to put it another way, if what we’re fighting is a world, we have to bring together everything necessary to create other worlds. This is a call to friends we know and friends we have yet to meet. To the freaks and rank and filers, the hackers and green thumbs, the rednecks and thugs. Let’s build the only force adequate to the task at hand —the bringing down of an entire order. Let’s do it with a patience and intensity stronger than any army.