Dispatches from #OccupySF [Updated 12/4/11]


Davi Barker will be sharing his thoughts and experiences from #OccupySF. We invite readers to share their own experiences from similar #Occupy movements across the country.

12/2/2011

It’s time to acknowledge that the Occupy movement began as an anarchist movement. Adbusters, the magazine that started the ball rolling, describes itself as “anti-consumerist,” but it’s arguably anarchist, or at least heavily influenced by anarchists.

The hand signals now commonplace at Occupy originated with the Direct Action Network, a confederation of anarchist groups formed to coordinate WTO protests in 1999. And the whole concept of the consensus process used at the general assemblies comes straight out of anarchist organizing manuals.

Mainstream commentators are baffled, because they are trying to define how this horizontal, leaderless movement intends to influence top-down, authoritarian politics. They don’t realize that the movement was designed from its outset to replace mainstream politics with a horizontal, leaderless society — building a new society in the shell of the old, as the saying goes.

There are no demands, because the movement is the demand.

Most of the occupiers probably don’t even know this, but it was those familiar with anarchist thought who picked up on these themes and became the early adopters of the movement. Anarchists still represent a minority, but they hold many key organizing positions.

Admittedly, most of them are social anarchists, not market anarchists; but I’m still hoping that the movement expands into a full-blown autonomous anarchocommunist experiment, because nothing spoils someone on communism quite like actually trying it. (Or I could be proven wrong. Either outcome would be excellent.)

I do have one piece of advice. It strikes me as strange that the “social-justice” crowd focuses on legislativeprocesses like democracy, when justice comes from ajudicial process. The movement needs to develop a judicial branch for dispute resolution. I suggest that the Occupy movement look to the existing anarchist judicial method in Somalia, which anthropologist Michael van Notten calls “kritarchy.” It could easily be adopted with or without approval from the general assemblies.

Kritarchy is a judicial process in which justice (“krito” in Greek), rather than written law, is the ruling principle. A kritarchy does not form a court of law. It forms a court of justice, which is completely compatible with the horizontal, leaderless nature of the Occupy movement.

There are two types of justice, commonly symbolized as the sword and scales. The sword connotes punitive justice, which assigns punishment for breaking written laws. The scales connote restorative justice, which holds that a person is liable for the damages they cause another person. Kritarchy is only concerned with restorative justice, not punitive justice.

Until someone claims to have suffered an injustice, all behavior is permissible. Disputes are mediated by judges, but it’s important to understand that judges do not enjoy any special status. They serve only at the request of the disputants. Anyone in the community may serve as a judge, or request a judiciary be formed, so a court of justice is truly a people’s court.

A simple kritarchy involves just three people: two disputants and any third person they approach to help them resolve the injustice. The judge investigates the conflict and attempts to discover the justice between them — to balance the scales. This could be as simple as mediation or as complex as weighing evidence and witness testimony.

The judge decides a case based on the normative customs of the community and the reason and conscience of the disputants. This judicial model is elegantly suited for the Occupy movement, because it’s not based on written law, and it can accommodate a wide diversity of philosophies.

The seeds of a simple kritarchy are already developing in the movement. Normative customs emerge out of people’s natural respectful conduct without any written law or central coercive authority; and there are already individuals in the movement developing a reputation for diffusing conflicts. They are commonly being called “peacekeepers.”

Peacekeepers are already engaged in the first phase of the judicial process in a kritarchy, which van Notten calls “segmental opposition.” Whenever there is a physical altercation between two individuals, those around them move in to establish a stalemate so that the dispute must be settled with words instead of fists. All that would need to change to make this a simple kritarchy is to transition from having proactive peacekeepers who break up fights to having proactive disputants who seek out peacekeepers to act as judges.

A recent conflict that occurred at OccupySF (San Francisco) could easily have been resolved by a simple kritarchy. Someone left his guitar in the common area while he went to the restroom. While he was gone, another Occupant used it without permission and accidentally broke one of the tuning pegs. This erupted into shouting. Segmental opposition prevented a physical fight, but justice was never satisfied.

A court of justice might have decided that the guitar player was liable to replace the broken part, or that the guitar owner was negligent in leaving the guitar in the common area. But either way, the discussion would happen in public, which facilitates the development of normative customs.

Hopefully the disputants honor the decision of the court, but if they refuse, they do so with their own names and reputations on the line.

Enforcement of a verdict requires a more complex level of kritarchy, and it would likely require the participation of the general assemblies. Somali society is organized into extended clans, called xolos, each composed of many subclans, called jilibs. Somali clans are unified by family ties, but they could be replaced by self-selecting groups based on common philosophies or goals. The regional occupations, for instance, could replace extended clans: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Denver, Occupy Phoenix, and so on. And the autonomous groups within each occupation could replace subclans.

Clans serve two basic functions for the judicial process. First, judges emerge from the confidence of subclans. So if a dispute occurs between individuals in different subgroups, they may select a judge from each subgroup to decide the case. Second, clans maintain communal funds that members voluntarily contribute to. This fund serves many purposes. Among them, it operates as a social insurance for every member against liability. If a person owes restitution that they cannot or will not pay, the responsibility falls on the subgroup to cover the liability with the communal fund.

This ensures that victims can always be made whole, and also incentivizes clans and subclans to enforce verdicts on their own members, because they are ultimately liable for the damages. The regional occupations already have substantial communal funds of donations that could easily serve this purpose.

A conflict at Occupy Oakland can help illustrate how a complex kritarchy operates. During one of the marches, the windows of Tully’s Coffee were broken. This was particularly egregious because the owner of Tully’s Coffee had been a substantial supporter of the occupation. The cafe is adjacent to Oscar Grant Plaza, and the owner had allowed activists to use her restrooms and Wifi Internet, and she had made donations of food and money.

The specific activists who broke her windows are unknown because they cover their faces with bandannas, but the subgroup is known and had a regular tent site. In a kritarchy, the owner of Tully’s Coffee could serve a claim of injustice against the offending subgroup. A judge representing Tully’s Coffee would approach a known judge inside the subgroup and request a Court of Justice be convened, and the two judges would attempt to find agreement over the liability.

If the individuals who broke the windows will not take responsibility, the damages can be paid by the subgroup collectively. Holding them accountable for their actions would incentivize them to be more judicious with their tactics in the future.

But imagine that an agreement could not be reached. In that case, a third judge would be approached from the extended clan, meaning the general assembly of Occupy Oakland. If this third judge awards damages and neither the individuals nor the subgroup will abide by the verdict, the restitution would come out of the occupation’s general fund.

First and foremost, this prevents the movement from losing the support of its productive members because of the injustices of its destructive members; but also, by placing the burden of injustice on the general fund you express clearly that the movement will not tolerate injustice internally, and you cause a huge hit to the reputation of those activists who refuse to balance the scales.

If the price of injustice becomes too great, and reputations become too poor, an individual may be cast out of a subgroup, or a subgroup may be cast out of the occupation to preserve justice. Social ostracism is sufficient to enforce the vast majority of verdicts in Somalia, and it would likely be the only mechanism available to the Occupy movement. (Also, in a kritarchy, an outcast no longer enjoys the protection of any court of justice until they offer restitution.)

Developing a judicial branch of the movement also has exciting and powerful long-term potential. If a simple kritarchy can become a normative custom and a complex kritarchy can become as firmly established as the general assemblies are, then we will be able to begin developing a real alternative to the state monopoly of the courts.

11/1/2011

Police Crackdown accomplishes nothing.
Reports are saying that the State of California spent roughly 1 million dollars on the police crackdown on Occupy Oakland last Tuesday. The turns out the bill falls on the State and not the City because the action was a coordinated effort by at least 12 different agencies. Hundreds of officers from almost every Bay Area city raided the camp, destroyed tents and equipment, arrested nearly 100 Occupants, barricaded the Plaza and disbursed the crowd with tear gas, flash bombs, percussion grenades and rubber bullets. Breaking up the encampment was literally a 24-hour long confrontation. And yet a day later… nothing has changed.
The Police left Plaza unguarded, protected by nothing but a chain link fence. The Occupants tore then down in less than an hour and immediately retook the Plaza. Within a day all new tents were back up. The Kitchen was serving food, and donations were rolling in to rebuild the Logistics Tent, Communications Center and Library. They even got the city of Oakland to return all their seized medical supplies by threatening to directly occupy the Mayor’s office.
This leaves me wondering… how is this ever going to end? The State can’t blow a million dollars a day just to keep people out of the Plaza. But every time they take action against the Occupation it only grows in number. It’s hard to imagine that the Occupation will go on forever, but they have no demands to satisfy. The Occupation is not demanding political change, or endorsing candidates, or proposing reforms. Every demand they’ve made of the city has been in order to make the encampment more perminant. They want tents. They want generators. They want portable toilets. Before the raid they were even building semi-perminant structures out of wood. This is not going away anytime soon, and I don’t really see what options the city has.
General Strike!
I am becoming very uncomfortable with the direction Occupy Oakland is going. The first General Assembly after Tuesday’s raid was the largest yet. It was easily over a thousand people. But the first order of business was to announce that the consensus process was changing. Now, first off, it troubles me that this was “announced” and not “proposed.” This supposedly leaderless movement now clearly has a small inner circle of secret chiefs. They facilitate all of the Assemblies. They lead all the marches. And they hold all the megaphones. If you pay attention you’ll realize immediately that they are the same group of people, but their names are not publicly known, and their agenda has not been discussed. After we were instructed what the new process was, the next order of business was the most ground breaking proposal yet made at Occupy Oakland. They proposed a general strike.
Now, when I hear “general strike” I imagine workers refusing to work. But that’s not what they mean. There may be some Unions on board, but for most part what’s being discussed is demanding that all banks and all corporations in Oakland shut down on November 2nd and if they don’t that they should march on them and shut them down. The immediate question that came to mind for me was, “what does ‘all corporations’ mean?” Burger King is corporation. Many sole proprietorships are corporations. Even the City of Oakland itself is technically incorporated. After the proposal was made they opened the floor to clarifying questions. Normally anyone in the crowd could claim the people’s mike and speak from where they sat, but under the new “modified” process people lined up on the stage while one of the secret chiefs heard and answered their question over the megaphone and another walked up and down the line determining which questions were in and which were out.
The first question came from an elderly gentlemen who basically asked my question. He pointed out that Kaiser was a corporation and asked if they intended to shut down the hospital. The answer he received gave me more cause for pause. He was told that strategic questions were to complex to discuss in such a large group, but if he had strategic concerns he should come to the general strike planning meeting the next day at noon. There are too problems with this answer. First, strategic planning meetings are now being scheduled in the middle of the day while the majority of the Occupants are at work. This means that the more radical unemployed Marxist anarchist crowd is wielding undue influence. But it also means that they scheduled a strategic planning meeting for the general strike before the proposal even passed. This does not bode well.
Over the next few days there was virtually no discussion of strategy on the facebook page or main website. Many people had similar questions as me and the elderly gentleman. Which corporations are we targeting? But no answers were given. So I did some research. I discovered that there were four military contractors in Oakland, two of which were right next to the Plaza, and two of which were right next to Bank of America. I used Google Maps to put together a march route through all five locations and I received alot of positive feedback on the idea in all forums. Then suddenly the secret chiefs announced the target. The general strike will be shutting down the Port of Oakland with the help of the Longshoreman’s Union.
I don’t understand the purpose of this action if there are no demands. It is only a show of meaningless power in my estimation. But worse than that, it is clear that this so-called leaderless movement in fact has leaders who are not identifying themselves.

10/26/2011

#OccupyEnglish
There’s an old Chinese proverb which states the the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their True name. If such a teaching exists in the Islamic tradition I would be grateful to find it. One of the strengths of the Occupy Movement I have seen is their willingness to call things by their True names. The first time the police took someone from OccupySF into custody they did not say he was “arrested.” They said he was “kidnapped.” They did not say that police “confiscated” their tents or “seized” their food and medical supplies. They said their equipment and stuff was “stolen.” They do not say that their camp was “dismantled.” They say they were “attached” and the camp was “destroyed.” They do not call the statements from the city “notices,” but “threats.” They are not, “requests,” but “demands.” And even though the media is still searching for a preferred term (“protester” “camper” “demonstrator”) those in the Movement call themselves “Occupiers” or sometimes, “Occupants.”
If you go to Jerusalem you may inadvertently start an argument simply by using the wrong vocabulary. Do you say “Al-Aqsa” or do you say “The Temple Mount.” You cannot even discuss the place without taking a side with your language. If the Occupy Movement continues with this trend they will accomplish a similar effect. Simply with their choice of vocabulary they project an entire payload of moral and political positions. Adopt a different vocabulary and you may inadvertently adopt the apposing side.
I have precious little time before I get back out there, so I’m going to let images do the talking for me. After the pre-dawn raid of OccupyOakland yesterday the displaced Occupants performed an impromptu march through downtown Oakland and eventually returning to the Plaza where they faced off with officers from between 12 and 17 different departments. I have the good fortune to know Faeza Moghul and Tom Vee, both exceptional independent photographers and videographers in Oakland. Much of what follows was captured by them. I will try to approximate chronological order.

Oakland Occupants meet at the Main Library at 4pm to protest the pre-dawn raid of the encampment. What was just a hundred, becomes thousands as they march in an effort to reclaim the plaza but are met with police in riot gear & are diverted to side streets.

This young woman was targeted, pulled in & slammed onto the ground by two huge police officers after protesting the arrest of another Occupant.

At some point a group of Occupants covered police in paint. I didn’t witness this, but here is Tom’s raw footage.

At least two helicopters with spotlights and one low flying CHP helicopter followed the Occupants through Oakland. After being diverted into side streets by police the march returned briefly to Snow Park, which was a backup location and ultimately decided to take their stand at the Plaza, which was blocked by multiple levels of metal barricades, and multiple lines of riot police. Every side entrance was also barricaded and guarded by riot police standing shoulder to shoulder in two rows at least. It was the most well protected empty field I’ve ever seen. Occupants immediately grabbed hold of the first line of barricades and dragged them into the street (knocking me over by the way). And police began repeating over the loud speaker, “This is the Oakland Police Department. This has been declared an illegal assembly. Immediately Leave now! If you do not you are subject to removal by whatever force necessary which may result in serious injury.”

A lone Navy Veteran stood toe-to-toe with the police line waving the flag of Veterans for Peace.

After everyone refused to leave the intersection of 14th and Broadway, in front of the Plaza, police began firing tear gas, flash bombs, and percussion grenades into the crowd.

The crowd disbursed, if only temporarily. Tear gas is nasty! It’s like rubbing a first full of wasabi in your eyes. And the Occupants in wheelchairs got it much worse than me. But the last to leave was that lone Navy Veteran who stood right in front and then walked through the tear gas calmly, seemingly unaffected. They must have special training. It looked like a scene out of an action film.

The protest was scattered at that point. Divided groups walking back and forth between the Plaza and Snow Park. Scattered reports of more tea gas and flash bang grenades throughout the night. Small patrols of riot police stationed on almost every side street. At one point formations of riot cops were clearing streets block by block.

Ultimately everyone ended up at the Plaza. At some point someone threw a bottle at the cops and the crowd began chanting “Don’t throw shit!” The person was eventually identified and scolded by other Occupants.

I have to say something about this. There’s one perspective out there that force should be met with force. I have no moral objection to this, although I think it’s stupid tactically. But when you have a crowd that has an overwhelming consensus that they are non-violent and non-retaliatory, and that’s a central part of their message and strategy, if you provoke the beast and then disappear into the crowd you are a coward. You endanger the lives and bodily integrity of others when you should be taking responsibility for your own risk taking. The police response to such actions is completely predictable, and when you take such an action in a crowd you are exploiting the bodies of those bystanders as human shields knowing full well that one of them is more likely to suffer the wrath of the beast than you. If you want to be a tough guy, and throw stuff at police, do it like they do did in Tahrir Square. Stand by yourself in the middle of the street. Don’t use our bodies as a shield without our permission. Maybe we can organize a time for trigger-happy cops and bottle-throwing “anarchists” to fight without endangering the rest of us. You probably have more in common than you think.

Around midnight all the black clad riot police were relieved by new grey units who assumed the front line. They had no badges or patches, just “Sheriff” across the front. They had thicker armor and no shields. Just batons and zip ties. I figured new units meant new strategy and decided it was time to leave.

In closing all I can say is I’m optimistic. If they have to call in goons from 12 different departments just to control one Plaza in Oakland that means they’re probably spread pretty thin as it is. Imagine if two Bay Area cities marched on the same day? It’d be over.

That’s all for now. I’m headed back out there. But if you’d like to contribute a verse to this powerful play you can call Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and let her know how you feel. 510-238-3141

10/25/2011

Breaking: Riot Police Destroy Occupy Encampment and Tear Gas Media

Chris Rock once said, “That tiger didn’t go crazy. That tiger went tiger!” Well this morning the Oakland Police department went State. 500 paid thugs (i.e. officers and sheriff’s deputies) from over 12 agencies assisted the OPD in a pre-dawn raid of OccupyOakland, evicting campers from the newly named Oscar Grant Plaza in front of Oakland city hall. Riot police clad in gas masks used rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, flash grenades, tear gas canisters and an LRAD sonic cannon against non-violent peaceful protesters. Mass Arrests are being reported, and although the police reported that there were no injuries, live-twitter accounts disagree. City Officials have advised downtown business to remain closed until further notice.

The Occupiers were not unprepared for this eventuality and have activated an “emergency reconvergence plan” beginning with an emergency assembly today at 4pm at Oakland Public Library on 14th and Madison. I’ll be there, and I’ll keep you updated.

One of the first eyewitness accounts is coming from Kevin Army, a journalist with Salon.com. He reports that when the police lined up before the raid he attempted to capture video of their helmet numbers when officer #570 shouted and rammed into him, pushing him to the ground. He was told by a commanding officer to stand in a designated area with the mainstream media trucks and other independent media. After the police had herded all the media together, Kevin reports that they were shot with tea gas, disbursed and not allowed to return to cover the raid. He believed this was intentional.

Here’s his video:

OccupyOakland had been dubbed a “demilitarized zone.” While OccupySF has faced raids and police brutality from it’s inception, the City of Oakland had been exceptionally welcoming of the encampment. They were permitted to set up over 150 tents. The encampment had portable toilets and garbage service. They had both a first-aid and childcare tent. They even hosted live music and screened films with a projector on a theater sized screen. Although there were isolated reports of fights, drug use, and sexual harassment… such is Oakland… and the encampments General Assemblies were already organizing autonomous solutions to these problems. A leaderless patrol of 10 to 20 Occupiers originally formed to run 24-hour “cop watch” for the encampment were working to diffuse fights, discourage hard drug use, and protect women and queer Occupiers from sexual harassment. OccupyOakland had become more than an organized protest. It was an experiment in self-governance, addressing many of the systemic problems the City of Oakland is not addressing. For nearly two weeks not a single person went hungry in Oakland, and many of the cities homeless population reported a sense of safety in the encampment not felt anywhere else in the city.

Friday afternoon the city posted eviction notices saying that those who stayed would be subject to arrest because, “neither the demonstrators nor the City could maintain safe or sanitary conditions.” Karen Boyd, a spokesbureaucrat for the mayor, told the Oakland Tribune that, “the protesters had shown themselves incapable of self-governance.” But that’s patently false. All the city’s complaints were already being spontaneously handled by the Occupiers. The purpose of this raid, in my opinion, was precisely because they were showing that they were capable of self-governance, and both Police and City Officials are terrified that you’ll realize we don’t need them. Occupiers had no intention of leaving, deciding at the next General Assembly to defend the encampment. Several hundred Occupiers worked to block off the entrances to the plaza using dumpsters, wooden pallets, and even police-style metal barricades in the hours before the raid.

Around 3:00 AM reports circulated amongst the campers that 10 to 20 police cars were patrolling the streets around the plaza. At least two helicopters lit up the plaza from above. Police action began around 4:40 AM when hundreds of officers from multiple Bay Area cities surrounded the encampment. About 170 Occupiers remained on site when officers ordered them to disburse over loud speakers. The Occupiers locked arms and shouted as police moved in. The invaders fired tear gas and beanbag rounds at the non-violent protesters and ultimately arrested 75 for “misdemeanor illegal lodging.” Police ripped apart the tents and threw them in the street. According to authorities the plaza was “contained” around 5:30 AM.

PHOTOS
Truly horrific photos of OccupyOakland police raid

The Occupy Oakland account live tweeted the raid:

The Occupiers fully intend to retake the Plaza insisting that they are neither defeated nor discouraged. They expect this aggression from the city to fire people up even more and to translate into a new protesters.

10/21/2011

Occupy Property Rights

One night I stayed up until fajr talking with a young Marxist. We distilled all our political and economic disagreements down to one philosophical split that we couldn’t resolve. I believe in property and he doesn’t.

I generally take something like the Lockean view. In John Locke’s Second Treatise he argues that the individual ownership of property derives from the mixing of labor with nature to produce goods. The Marxist argued that because goods were originally part of the commons to claim individual ownership in anything was to steal from everyone else, echoing that famous social anarchist cry, “property is theft.” So, according to the Marxist all goods must always be owned in common. From my perspective, owning the fruits of my labor is akin to owning my labor, which is akin to owning my body, which is akin to slavery.

We discussed a number of thought experiments to see if we could parse out the disagreement. But this flustered the Marxist who then protested that hypothetical scenarios are irrelevant because there is no justly acquired property anywhere. All land has been stolen and all goods are made with exploited labor. So we dropped the hypothetical scenarios.

The ironic thing about the Occupiers that preach against the concept of ownership is that they all behave as if they believe in ownership. They get upset when their things go missing. They ask permission to use other people’s things, and they return things when they are finished. They don’t steal from individuals. But during the discussion I realized that I had never read an Islamic theory of property. I know that there must be property rights in Islam because theft is prohibited, but it would be handy not to have to rely on Locke.

10/18/2011
The Occupation Could Go On Forever

It didn’t take more than two nights at OccupySF to realize that the core group of Occupiers were deeply committed young anarcho-communists, even more so at Occupy Oakland. In fact the magazine that started this whole Occupy Movement, AdBusters, is arguably an anarcho-communist rag. Now, I have a lot of love in my heart for these kids because to a some degree this is my background and I understand that they are coming from a well meaning place. We used to call it “gutter punk.” I’m not sure if that’s a pejorative term now. If so I apologize. I certainly don’t mean it that way. They homeless young adults who are voluntarily unemployed as an act of rebellion against capitalism. Dyed hair, dreadlocks, facial piercings and tattoos are all common. Alhamdulillah, I was never that deeply committed.

What’s interesting about that to me is that it potentially means the Occupation could go on for a long long time. They are accustomed to life on the streets. During the day the Occupation swells to over triple the population and more mainstream political perspectives prevail, but at night the crowd goes home and it’s the anarchists that hold the ground, run the general assemblies and decide how to spend the donations. Why would they ever leave? This is the lifestyle they have chosen.

10/17/2011
I was asked whether or not faith plays a role in my participation in the Occupy Movement, and it does to the extent that faith plays a role in every part of my life. The Quran reads:

“O you who believe, be persistent in standing up for justice.” (4:135)

So, I think it’s incumbent upon us to occasionally get out from behind our computer monitors and take action.

More precisely the Federal Reserve has been the central focus of my political activism since 2007. In my analysis monetary policy is the root cause of much of the injustice in American society. If the government didn’t have limitless credit from the Federal Reserve unpopular wars would not be possible because they would have to tax the people directly which would cause an explosion in anti war protests. Instead they can fund war by recklessly printing money, causing inflation and recession. But how many people understand that the recession is a war tax? Increasing the money supply hurts the poor most of all, because it erodes the people’s wages. We tend to blame businesses for raising their prices, but in reality is the value of the dollar that is declining, and Wall Street doesn’t keep their savings in dollars. They keep it in commodities.

The fact is that US dollars are not stores of wealth, they are instruments of debt. The Federal Reserve, which is a cartel of private banks, creates money and lends it to the Federal Government with interest. That means, by design, there is not enough money in existence to pay off the debt. As Muslims we should all be acutely sensitive to the dangers of interest. There is a Hadith from the Prophet (saw) which reads:

“There will come a time when you will not be able to find a single person who will not be consuming riba. And if anyone claims that he is not consuming riba then surely the dust of riba will reach him.” (Abu-Dawood)

My feeling is that this system of fractional reserve lending is that dust, because even if you never take a loan and never pay a cent of interest, you are still losing purchasing power through inflation which is an effect of interest rates set by the Federal Reserve.

10/10/2011

By far the most fascinating and innovative aspect of the Occupy Movement has been the social structure being developed. Obviously I can only speak about what I have directly witnessed at OccupySF, but I’ve been told these strategies are similar throughout the movement, including a strong consensus against the establishment of any leader or hierarchy.Everyday there is a General Assembly in which proposals and announcements can be made by all participants. On Thursday, after the raid, the General Assembly was so large that it had to be moved to the Ferry Building where guest speakers from the ACLU and NLG offered legal assistance such as Know Your Rights workshops, direct action training, tactical discussions, legal observer training and cop watch training. These meetings are not being organized by a majority-rules democratic process, instead they’ve developed a number of tools for crowd sourcing decision making by consensus.

General Assemblies are moderated by a volunteer, but all participants have the power of veto. They have also developed a language of hand signals that allow the crowd to express their support or disapproval of the speakers message. Forming an “X” above your head signals disapproval, while dazzling your fingers above your head signals applause without the disruptive sound. If a decision ever must be made by an up or down vote a thumbs up or down is sufficient but the decision is not made by the majority. Instead every individual has the power to block the decision. If it’s all thumbs up they call it a consensus. But if someone blocks they are given the floor to express their objection until a consensus can be reached.

Obviously this process can be messy and time consuming. Cigarettes have posed a unique controversy to the process because the culture in San Francisco is very anti cigarette, but the street anarchist crowd doesn’t really care about city ordinances. So there is a strong desire by some to ban smoking in the camp, but no consensus can be reached. After a few minor confrontations it seems as though this has already been resolved by polite requests and respectful distances. No hard fast rules were necessary. New customs were sufficient.Many of the innovations have also been a response to police aggression.

They had been using a gas powered electric generator to power the communications center. This was used to charge laptops and phones as well as power the live feed equipment. During the raid Police seized the generator, and then forbid them to use the replacement generator that was donated siting both noise and health concerns over the exhaust. Activists responded by constructing a bicycle powered electric generator hooked up to a series of car batteries, hooked up to a plug strip. They invite people to “donate their rage” channeling their frustration into pedaling the bike, which in turn charges the batteries and provides the camp with electricity. In fact it’s only because of this innovation that I’m able to make this post.

Police said at one point that the campers couldn’t use amplified sound, although they still use megaphones during active protests and marches. But the rest of the time they use something they’ve developed called, “The People’s Mic.” Anyone in the camp may call out, “Mic Check!” and all campers within ear shot echo back “Mic Check!” Once the speaker has the attention of the camp they begin to make their announcement in small segments allowing the crowd to echo their statement in unison, in effect amplifying the sound without any amplification device.

Before the raid the camp had appointed a “police liaison” to carry messages back and forth with the police department. After the raid their was so much animosity toward the police, and so much backtalk to the police liaison that it was decided that having a police liaison was too similar to a leader and they demanded that the police address the group as everyone else addresses the group, by using the People’s Mic, which happened yesterday.

So strong is the rejection of leadership and hierarchy, at least in this crowd, that there is a general rejection of codifying the message of the group into a list of demands. This is thought to be exclusionary and limiting of the diversity of the movement. In fact, yesterday a couple arrived in the middle of the day, rolled out a big piece of butcher paper and began hand writing the proposed list of demands from Occupy Wallstreet that has gotten so much attention recently. There was immediate backlash from the campers insisting that this couple had no right to speak on behalf of the community, that there was no consensus on this list of demands in OccupySF and that the original list was the work of one person on a forum, not even the consensus of Occupy Wallstreet. In the end the couple posted the list among all the other signs, but not permitted to claim that it represented the consensus of the group, and many other campers posted amendments along side the list expressing their respectful disagreement.

Whatever this thing is developing into, it is unlike anything we’ve seen.

10/9/2011

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Ben Bernanke commented on the Occupy Movement saying, “They blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess, and they’re dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington. And at some level, I can’t blame them.” But they can certainly blame him. On the streets of San Francisco protesters are calling out Ben Bernanke by name demanding that he be prosecuted and imprisoned for what they say amounts to treason and crimes against humanity.

I just got back from three days and two nights sleeping on the streets with OccupySF, which is the San Francisco manifestation of the Occupy Movement. What began on September 17th with six people people set up in front of the Federal Reserve peaked Friday night when 800 protesters completely blocked off Market Street. We’ll get to that, but I want to do this in chronological order, because there’s a lot to cover.

By Wednesday night OccupySF consisted of approximately 200 protesters who built a tent city on the grounds of the Federal Reserve Building. The encampment included a working kitchen with propane powered stove, a communications center with power generator, and an infirmary. All supplies from food to medical supplies had been donated by their supporters. Although they had previously been told the tents would be permitted, Wednesday night they received orders from the SFPD that they would need to be taken down. The campers complied with these orders.

At 2:00 am Thursday morning 80 officers wearing riot helmets and carrying batons raided the encampment anyway. Police formed a perimeter separating the protesters from their supplies as the Department of Public Works seized nine truckloads of tents, communications equipment, medical supplies, food and other donations.

About fifty protesters responded with peaceful civil disobedience, standing in front of the trucks, and forming a human chain to impede them from stealing their supplies. Police responded by cracking skulls, which protesters say was excessive force. You be the judge. The first blow from the police occurs one minute in.

Only one arrest was made, but at least three protesters sustained injuries including a 17 year old girl who was punched and thrown to the ground simply for standing too close. One officer reportedly told another activist, “I can’t wait to beat your face in.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) are now both involved to help OccupySF explore their legal options. Many are arguing that the raid on the encampment, and the demands themselves were not in accordance with law. The police have since erected a metal barricade blocking off the Federal Reserve grounds and have officers on guard around the clock until further notice. OccupySF has pledged to hold the occupation on the wide sidewalk in front of the Federal Reserve, but it’s just sleeping bags for now.

OccupySF issued the following statement Thursday morning after the raid:

Last night the SFPD issued us an unsigned, undated notice that declared we had to pack up our tents without giving us a timeline or else we would risk arrest. They said that we could remain occupying if we pulled down our tents and complied with their other demands. We complied with their demands by taking down our tents and beginning to clear-out the rest of our infrastructure that was allegedly in violation of City and/or State laws. We made a call to action. Our numbers doubled within half an hour. Yet still, the police, wearing helmets and carrying batons, formed a perimeter around our goods and prevented us from saving anything while they supervised Public Works employees as they stole everything. The police stole food, water, shelter, and other necessities of life from the 99% at Occupy SF.

After the ACLU and NLG involvement police received orders from above to respect the peaceful protesters. The camp was informed that they would not be permitted to build any tent structures or cook any food, but would be permitted to occupy the space.

There’s a lot more to cover, but I’m headed back out there and might not find a wifi connection again for while.

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7 Comments

  1. fishfry says:

    Small quibble … following Sept 17, a handful of brave occupiers camped at 555 California Street. They didn’t move to 101 Market till a week or so later.

  2. LMN says:

    “So, according to the Marxist all goods must always be owned in common. From my perspective, owning the fruits of my labor is akin to owning my labor, which is akin to owning my body, which is akin to slavery… I realized that I had never read an Islamic theory of property. I know that there must be property rights in Islam because theft is prohibited, but it would be handy not to have to rely on Locke.”

    I wish you could’ve fleshed out your thoughts in these sentences more. I’m not sure I’m convinced you can compare the common ownership Marxists argue for to that of slavery; that’s quite an unsubstantiated leap.

    I think, though, that the occupy protests are making a lot of Muslims – at least me – wonder what Islam’s stance is when it comes to not just property rights, but the capitalism vs socialism debate as a whole. I really hope that you, or another contributor to this site, can write a piece fleshing our your thoughts on these particular questions more. Thanks for a wonderful post!

    • Zayd Yahya says:

      Books can and have been written on this issue….but as a socialist who converted to Islam, I would say that there is common ground on social justice issues. Differences arise, however, when means and goals are discussed. For example – the socialist agitates for the establishment of a “classless society” where “everything belongs to everyone” and the government redistributes assets. By comparison, Islam recognizes that there will always exist rich and poor and instead levies a MORAL obligation on the wealthy to help those in need. And this gets to the crux of the issue – Islam is pro-Morality while Marxism is a moral void. IMO, #Occupy needs to exchange its “tax the rich” placards for “tax the BANKS”…

    • Young Sheikh Mujahid says:

      ASA,
      This was a pretty good article. I didn’t know the Occupy Movements were functioning in that manner. But sis, to answer your query, there are some resources concering property in Islam. Check out Mohammad Hisham Kamali’s book, “The Right to Life, Security, Privacy and Ownership in Islam.”
      http://www.islamicbookstore.com/b10003.html

    • Davi says:

      Sure I can clarify.
      Let’s say I grow tomatoes. From a Lockean view I have mixed the land with my labor to produce a valuable good which would not have existed if had not contributed my labor. I own that labor, as a function of owning my body. There is a theological hair to split here for Muslims, where we might say that Allah owns my body, but I am clearly the vicegerent of my body and all else follows the same.

      So, the reason, the incentive I have to transform soil into a valuable good is that I expect to benefit from it, either by feeding myself, feeding my family, feeding my neighbor in charity, or selling the goods in the market.

      In my view, because I am the owner/vicegerent of my body and my labor I am accountable for my actions. If I engage in destructive behavior I am responsible for compensating the victim of my actions. If I engage in constructive behavior I am responsible for the goods that I produce. So the responsibility falls on me to allocate the tomatoes. How much to my family? How much to my neighbor? How much to the market? For Muslims Allah gives guidance in this decision, but the responsibility still falls on me to follow that guidance.

      If you arrive at my farm and claim responsibility for allocating the tomatoes, even though we have no contract, and you have provided no labor, you are de facto claiming to be the owner/vicegerent of my actions. You are going back in time and saying, “No, you did not labor in soil so that you may benefit. You labored in the soil so that I may benefit.”

      You are claiming that I labor for you against my will.

  3. Tom says:

    LMN: One central figure in the Occupy Movement is David Graeber, who has recently published a book called “Debt: The First 5000 Years”. It is a brilliant history of the social institution of debt, and it includes what I think is probably the most informative and compelling analysis of the Islamic economic tradition. Capitalism has a peculiarly European origin, based in the marriage of war and commerce, and so the socialist solution (also European in origin) is like it’s mirror image. Trade in the Islamic world was certainly market-based, in fact, much of contemporary “free market” doctrine is stolen from Islamic sources, and perverted by its decontextualization (Graeber presents several examples of this). Without a basis in Islam, which obviates the development of capitalism by various means (such as the abolition of usury), market commerce, and those participating in it, can not prosper without the exploitation that is inherent to capitalism (something that Marxian economic theory has demonstrated). Islam prevents the evil of capitalism, and permits all the good.

    I think the author of this article would also appreciate the book, as the chapter on Islam explores specifically the credit system that developed, which extended credit based not (solely) on profiteering, but on honor and reputation, to the mutual benefit between all parties. This too was taken by Europeans and corrupted (or perhaps simply mismanaged), leading to the development of financially-driven capitalist empires.

  4. River says:

    Salam brother Davi, I appreciate your clarity in using Locke’s moral theories, it makes sense. I also do not agree with the anarchists running a muck at times. I do however disagree about adbusters magazine, which has generated much discussion on points that are not available else where whether u agree or not with some of their political statements. I think this magazine is a great step towards decentralizing private ownership by the 1% and giving it back to the 99.

    Keep up the good work ak. We all love u for it.

    Faisal

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