Bring Back the Encampments, #Occupy the Vote

by Pham Binh on November 14, 2012

First published by Occupy Wall Street.net

In the year since the evictions swept away our encampments, we’ve struggled might main just to survive. May Day’s general strike, the Chicago NATO protest, and #S17 were bright points in an otherwise dark sky, and our actions at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions did not even dent business as usual much less disrupt it. Attendance at General Assemblies (GAs), spokescouncils, and working groups has dwindled in New York City (NYC) and has ground to a halt in most places outside NYC.

We’ve learned the hard way over the past year that the encampments continue to be irreplaceable, as living spaces, as organizing hubs, and as rallying points to push back against the class war waged by the 1% against everyone who can’t afford a lobbyist. Without our encampments, we’ve been without much focus, coherence, or success in terms of inspiring and mobilizing the 99% to act up, speak out, march forward, or occupy much of anything beyond their couches.

Given this, I’d like to make two radical, counter-intuitive suggestions: 1) we go back to the encampments, not out of misguided nostalgia but out of hard-headed pragmatism and 2) the road back to the encampments is, paradoxically, through the unrepresentative, rigged, and corrupt circuses that pass for elections in America that necessitated encampments in the first place.

Before anyone objects, “we don’t want to legitimize the system” or “voting doesn’t change things, direct action does,” hear me out.

If we evict Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan by electing Scott Olsen in her place, would that not make a difference for direct action? When we set up encampments again, does anyone seriously believe that police commissioner Ray Kelly and the New York Police Department (NYPD) will get the exact same orders from the mayor’s office this time around if the mayor is Sergeant Shamar Thomas and not Michael Bloomberg?

Sergeant Shamar Thomas in action

The tactical experiments with general strikes, port blockades, roving pickets, organic gardens, co-ops, and guerilla theatre over the past year has proven that what the authorities fear most is people armed with a tent and a dream banding together to form a community without greed or hierarchy. Our post-eviction efforts to do just that at a Trinity Church lot in NYC and the Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland were unsuccessful because the cops were ready for us and we didn’t have the numbers to push them aside as our counterparts did in Tahrir Square. So the encampment tactic no longer has the element of surprise it did in fall of 2011 and we can’t get the 10,000-100,000 bodies necessary to peacefully push past police lines or nonviolently resist evictions.

That leaves us with one option we haven’t tried: infiltrating the power structure and disrupting business as usual from within it by evicting our evictors and electing occupiers to enable our encampments.

What might an occupy the vote effort look like? In NYC, the Green Party and Working Families Party could both put Shamar Thomas on their mayoral ballot line for the 2013 race (or some other courageous, respected occupier; Thomas probably won’t want to run since he’s not a power-hungry narcissistic egomaniac like most people who run for elected office). Going through the local Democratic primary is a fool’s errand, a way to keep us on the plantation. (Remember Howard Dean’s 2004 primary campaign to end the Iraq war? No one else does either.)

An Occupy Wall Street (OWS) mayoral campaign independent of the two-party state would focus our disparate organizing initiatives, give the unions Bloomberg has stepped on a better choice than the party of Rahm Emanuel, and serve as a way for people who wholeheartedly supported us but never made it to Zuccotti a way to register that support (we had majority support in a city of 8 million, so we’re talking about millions of voters, potentially). An OWS candidate’s visit with rent strikers in Sunset Park or picketing workers at Hot and Crusty would give these small struggles much-needed publicity from the local press. OWS campaigners could flood their neighborhoods and subway stations with “Occupy the Vote” flyers, hold campaign meetings and revamped GAs where they live, and reach out to local businesses, mosques, and churches for support. Imagine barbershops in Harlem or Red Hook with “Occupy the Vote – Thomas 2013″ in their windows and you get some idea of what this could look like.

Running serious campaigns for local office would scare the hell out of the 1% since they’d see we are dead serious about stripping them of their political power over us. In addition to declaring NYC a safe haven for occupations, an occupy mayor could fire Kelly, purge the worst of the NYPD’s white shirts, and finally put an end to stop-and-frisk, a win-win-win if there ever was one.

Is there an anarchist among us who wouldn’t dance like it was 1936 all over again if these things happened?

Let’s turn the New York City 2013 mayoral race into a referendum on the (mis)rule of Wall Street and use elections and elected office against the lobbyists, the corrupt, and the craven. Let’s evict our evictors, occupy the point of corruption, and disrupt business as usual right where the dirty deals are made.

Occupy the vote – not because we support severely limited democracy but because in this case it might be the only road back to what got results – occupying public space.

  • http://youtu.be/G5Bdyjyu17A Deran

    It’s an interesting idea, but the Working Families Party is a Left adjunct of the Democratic Party and will no doubt nominate whoever the Dems nominate. The campaign could still work, but I don’t think there is anyway the WFP will go for such a plan.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp

      Working Families Party (WFP) is not simply a front group for the Democratic Party. They are a very partial and highly inconsistent break with the Democrats; their purpose is take advantage of New York state’s fusion voting rule to promote candidates they view as progressive. The case of Jesus Gonzalez is a good example: http://newpol.org/node/506

      The left-of-Democratic left is so weak that it generally exerts no pull on WFP whatsoever. However, if the Green Party made it it’s business to nominate someone like Thomas and fight like hell for the entire left to back him, that might pull WFP away from whatever business-friendly candidate the Democrats will nominate for the 2012 mayoral race (most likely Quinn). There are WFP activists like Nelini Stamp that might be friendly/supportive of ideas like this and it would be a huge mistake to write them off.

      The reality is that there will not be a Simon Pure “break with the Democratic Party” on a mass scale if we play our cards right and break their funding base from their voting base.

  • David Berger

    FROM PHAM BINH: In the year since the evictions swept away our encampments, we’ve struggled might main just to survive. May Day’s general strike

    FROM DAVID BERGER: What are you talking about? There was no general strike. This is bullshit.

    FROM PHAM BINH: the Chicago NATO protest, and #S17 were bright points in an otherwise dark sky

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Convenient that, as a socialist, and presumably a believer in class struggle, you left out every labor-oriented action, including the West Coast dock struggles (which actually did involve something like a general strike), the actual May Day labor-oriented march in New York, the support for locked-out Con Ed workers, the Verizon workers action in Brooklyn, etc.

    FROM PHAM BINH: and our actions at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions did not even dent business as usual much less disrupt it. Attendance at General Assemblies (GAs), spokescouncils, and working groups has dwindled in New York City (NYC) and has ground to a halt in most places outside NYC.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: All true.

    FROM PHAM BINH: We’ve learned the hard way over the past year that the encampments continue to be irreplaceable

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Irreplaceable, yes. Essential, no.

    FROM PHAM BINH: as living spaces

    FROM PHAM BINH: You’ve got to be kidding (but I know you’re not). How much time did you spend in Zuccotti in the last days before the cops raided it? Did you see the over-crowding, the growing dirt, the constantly-increasing presence of drugs, the sexual harassment of women, the separation of the park by class, etc.? In the absence of an organized governing body, and I don’t mean the increasingly stymied GA, the park was become unsustainable.

    FROM PHAM BINH: as organizing hubs

    FROM DAVID BERGER: There you have a point. But how much more useful might it have been with the encroachment of winter, which makes outdoor meetings difficult if not impossible, is hard to say.

    FROM PHAM BINH: and as rallying points to push back against the class war waged by the 1% against everyone who can’t afford a lobbyist.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: This is a rosy view of the encampment at Zuccotti Park. Physically, it was important up to that point as an organizing hub. However, politically it was becoming more and more difficult to sustain. Much important work, such as that of the Labor Outreach Committee, had already moved away from the park and was happening outside the influence of the GA, which was becoming politically impotent (and more and more marginal as a governing/leading body, opening the way to the leadership of a non-elected hierarchy).

    FROM PHAM BINH: Without our encampments, we’ve been without much focus, coherence, or success in terms of inspiring and mobilizing the 99% to act up, speak out, march forward, or occupy much of anything beyond their couches.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Speak for yourself. Where were you and your Class War Camp, on May Day (and in the planning of it), which, basically, would not have happened without the participation of major elements of OWS, including Direct Action, Immigrant Workers for Justice and the Labor Outreach Committee.

    FROM PHAM BINH: Given this

    FROM DAVID BERGER: With all your distortions.

    FROM PHAM BINH: I’d like to make two radical, counter-intuitive suggestions: 1) we go back to the encampments

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Fascinating, Captain.

    FROM PHAM BINH: not out of misguided nostalgia but out of hard-headed pragmatism

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Before you enshrine pragmatism as a methodology, I suggest you study that very anti-socialist philosophy.

    FROM PHAM BINH: and 2) the road back to the encampments is, paradoxically, through the unrepresentative, rigged, and corrupt circuses that pass for elections in America that necessitated encampments in the first place.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Well, let’s give this a listen.

    FROM PHAM BINH: Before anyone objects, “we don’t want to legitimize the system” or “voting doesn’t change things, direct action does,” hear me out.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: How about when people say: “How successful will this be in spreading the message of Occupy Wall Street?” But then, again, from a previous post, I suspect you think that bourgeois power can actually be encroached on by elections.

    FROM PHAM BINH: If we evict Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan by electing Scott Olsen in her place, would that not make a difference for direct action?

    FROM PHAM BINH: Yes, but that ain’t happened. And New York ain’t Oakland.

    FROM PHAM BINH: When we set up encampments again, does anyone seriously believe that police commissioner Ray Kelly and the New York Police Department (NYPD) will get the exact same orders from the mayor’s office this time around if the mayor is Sergeant Shamar Thomas and not Michael Bloomberg?

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Welcome to Fantasy Politics. Ain’t gonna happen, so why focus your wet dreams on it? Elections as an organizing tool: sure. As an actual source of power: go study history.

    FROM PHAM BINH: The tactical experiments with general strikes

    FROM DAVID BERGER: There was only one “experiment” with a general strike, and I would be very careful about generalizing from it as it was probably a once-in-five-years event that no one in their right mind thinks can be duplicated without a very active, organized labor movement and a very active organized Occupy movement, neither of which exist at the moment. If you were putting forward a program of labor organizing and organizing with labor, as a socialist should, you might be taken seriously. Referring to the May Day march in New York, or anywhere else, as a general strike, is lying.

    FROM PHAM BINH: port blockades

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Again, a very special event that it will take years to organize again. And, again, it will take labor organizing (both in the sense of labor organizing itself and working to organize labor) and Occupy organizing to repeat it.

    FROM PHAM BINH: roving pickets

    FROM DAVID BERGER: See above.

    FROM PHAM BINH: organic gardens

    FROM DAVID BERGER: A sure road to revolution.

    FROM PHAM BINH: co-ops

    FROM DAVID: A long history of failure there and more-or-less politically useless anyway. About as effective as farmers markets.

    FROM PHAM BINH: and guerilla theatre

    FROM PHAM BINH: Always fun and cool as part of an existing organizing drive, but hardly pivotal.

    FROM PHAM BINH: over the past year has proven that what the authorities fear most is people armed with a tent and a dream banding together to form a community without greed or hierarchy.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: (1) You are confusing Occupy as an organizing hub and movement with the physical occupation. As the former, the physical occupation was crucial but probably unsustainable. As to the latter, it was probably unsustainable. Having spent about 100 hours in Zuccotti Park, I can say that as a physical occupation it was rapidly becoming a liability. (2) As to a community, it was fast becoming a slum. Greed, maybe not at the moment. But there was a lot of money floating around and no one knows at this point where it all went, and it wasn’t all for pizzas and bail money. (3) As to hierarchy, Zuccotti has already developed a full-scale functioning hierarchy and a bureaucracy in two months. It had a non-elected leadership and an ongoing , nonelected structure. Don’t kid yourself.

    FROM PHAM BINH: Our post-eviction efforts to do just that at a Trinity Church lot in NYC and the Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland were unsuccessful because the cops were ready for us and we didn’t have the numbers to push them aside as our counterparts did in Tahrir Square.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: We also didn’t have a revolutionary situation as they did in Tahir Square. You are engaged, again, in political fantasy.

    FROM PHAM BINH: So the encampment tactic no longer has the element of surprise it did in fall of 2011 and we can’t get the 10,000-100,000 bodies necessary to peacefully push past police lines or nonviolently resist evictions.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Okay. But I do find it fascinating that, as an alleged socialist, you fail to mention that it was the organized labor movement that defeated the first attempt by Bloomberg evict the encampment. The “we” that resisted that first raid was very much an organized (in the sense both of unionized and actively led) working class effort.

    FROM PHAM BINH: That leaves us with one option we haven’t tried:

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Uhh, there’s a lot more than one. You been to any meeting of the OWS Labor Alliance groups lately?

    FROM PHAM BINH: infiltrating the power structure

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Read the history of the New Left in the Sixties lately? I think it was called “permeationism” then. It didn’t work then. It won’t work now.

    FROM PHAM BINH: and disrupting business as usual from within it by evicting our evictors and electing occupiers to enable our encampments.

    FROM DAVID BERGER Comrade, if a left-wing movement were to the point of electing a mayor of a major city, restarting an encampment would only be part of an agenda.

    FROM PHAM BINH: What might an occupy the vote effort look like? In NYC, the Green Party and Working Families Party

    FROM PHAM BINH: The Working Families Party, like the Liberal Party before it, is a tool of the Democrats. As to the NYC Greens, they have no structure that I know of capable of mounting such as effort.

    FROM PHAM BINH: could both put Shamar Thomas on their mayoral ballot line for the 2013 race (or some other courageous, respected occupier; Thomas probably won’t want to run since he’s not a power-hungry narcissistic egomaniac like most people who run for elected office).

    FROM PHAM BINH: So who else are you suggesting? By the way, no disrespect to Brother Thomas, but I think his reputation in Occupy is a lot less than you think it is. By the way, Pham, have you or your Class War Camp been out to Brooklyn or Queens to aid in the Occupy-organized relief effort or help it to orient towards the working class?

    FROM PHAM BINH: Going through the local Democratic primary is a fool’s errand, a way to keep us on the plantation. (Remember Howard Dean’s 2004 primary campaign to end the Iraq war? No one else does either.)

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Right as rain and as obvious as darkness at 3:00 AM in Zuccotti Park.

    FROM PHAM BINH: An Occupy Wall Street (OWS) mayoral campaign independent of the two-party state would focus our disparate organizing initiatives, give the unions Bloomberg has stepped on a better choice than the party of Rahm Emanuel, and serve as a way for people who wholeheartedly supported us but never made it to Zuccotti a way to register that support (we had majority support in a city of 8 million, so we’re talking about millions of voters, potentially).

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Supporters at the time, yes. Voters now, I don’t think so. A mayoral campaign as an oraganizing strategy is worth discussing. As a road to power, it’s bullshit.

    FROM PHAM BINH: An OWS candidate’s visit with rent strikers in Sunset Park or picketing workers at Hot and Crusty would give these small struggles much-needed publicity from the local press.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Somehow, I doubt that the royal touch of an OWS mayoral candidate is what the workers or rent strikers needed or need. But congratulations for mentioning an actual labor struggle that the OWS Labor Alliance was involved in and, by the way, one where the workers actually won.

    FROM PHAM BINH: OWS campaigners could flood their neighborhoods and subway stations with “Occupy the Vote” flyers, hold campaign meetings and revamped GAs where they live, and reach out to local businesses, mosques, and churches for support. Imagine barbershops in Harlem or Red Hook with “Occupy the Vote – Thomas 2013″ in their windows and you get some idea of what this could look like.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: I get the idea that although marijuana isn’t legal yet in New York, you are indulging in the weed as a substitute for political thinking.

    FROM PHAM BINH: Running serious campaigns for local office would scare the hell out of the 1%

    FROM DAVID BERGER: I didn’t notice that, whatever else happened, the 1% was exactly crapping in their drawers over the overtly socialist campaign in Oakland.

    FROM PHAM BINH: since they’d see we are dead serious about stripping them of their political power over us.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: I’m sure that Donald Trump is losing sleep over the thought of an OWS mayoral campaign.

    FROM PHAM BINH: In addition to declaring NYC a safe haven for occupations, an occupy mayor could fire Kelly, purge the worst of the NYPD’s white shirts, and finally put an end to stop-and-frisk, a win-win-win if there ever was one.

    FROM PHAM BINH: And reform the school system, institute rent control, stop evictions and provide free candy on Friday’s and end death. You’re fantasizing.

    FROM PHAM BINH: Is there an anarchist among us who wouldn’t dance like it was 1936 all over again if these things happened?

    FROM DAVID BERGER: I assume you mean 1936 in Spain, shortly before the anarchists went into a bourgeois government, and the fascists won the Spanish Civil War. In the USA, it was the teeth of the Depression. I hope no one wants to go back there.

    FROM PHAM BINH: Let’s turn the New York City 2013 mayoral race into a referendum on the (mis)rule of Wall Street and use elections and elected office against the lobbyists, the corrupt, and the craven.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: You are, and this doesn’t surprise me, confusing elections as an organizing tool and elections as a source of power. As the latter, it’s a social democratic or liberal fantasy.

    FROM PHAM BINH: Let’s evict our evictors, occupy the point of corruption, and disrupt business as usual right where the dirty deals are made.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: All that with one mayoral campaign. Don’t forget that Friday candy.

    FROM PHAM BINH: Occupy the vote – not because we support severely limited democracy but because in this case it might be the only road back to what got results – occupying public space.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Stop bogarting that joint, Comrade.

  • BC

    David, I think you make a number of substantive points here, and in fact I agree with several of them. But in the future it would be much more helpful to the debate/discussion if you could avoid the one-liners, and simply write a response in paragraphs rather than this style of dialectic. It is very difficult to read – it’s like reading Imre Lakatos “Proofs and Refutations” without any of the awesome mathematics.

  • Arthur

    Agree with BC. Substantive points are made. Not only style, but also “attitude” (cynical and personalized sneering instead of simple refutation) only gets in the way of those substantive points.

  • David Berger

    I suggest that everyone here use a style that appeals to them and that they feel expresses what they have to say best. Meanwhile, neither BC nor Arthur, let alone Pham has addressed the points I’ve made.

    FROM PHAM BINH: Working Families Party (WFP) is not simply a front group for the Democratic Party.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Close enough that it makes no difference. It’s in the long tradition of groups like the Liberal Party and the Brotherhood Party, which provide left cover for the Democrats.

    FROM PHAM BINH: They are a very partial and highly inconsistent break with the Democrats;

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Which means that they are no break at all. I n any crucial election, they’ll either back the Democrat or run a weak, compromised candidate.

    FROM PHAM BINH: their purpose is take advantage of New York state’s fusion voting rule to promote candidates they view as progressive. The case of Jesus Gonzalez is a good example: http://newpol.org/node/506

    FROM DAVID BERGER: So, I guess Andrew Cuomo is their idea of “progressive.”
    http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/2010/09/working-families-party-to-endo.html

    FROM PHAM BINH: The left-of-Democratic left is so weak that it generally exerts no pull on WFP whatsoever.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: In a previous post in this thread, you indicated that an Occupy candidate could win a mayoral election. That doesn’t sound weak.

    FROM PHAM BINH: However, if the Green Party made it it’s business to nominate someone like Thomas and fight like hell for the entire left to back him, that might pull WFP away from whatever business-friendly candidate the Democrats will nominate for the 2012 mayoral race (most likely Quinn).

    FROM DAVID BERGER: If the WFP is so corrupt that they would even consider backing a shit like Quinn, they are beyond salvation.

    FROM PHAM BINH: There are WFP activists like Nelini Stamp that might be friendly/supportive of ideas like this and it would be a huge mistake to write them off.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: In your opinion. In my opinion, it would be a huge mistake to have anything to do with them.

    FROM PHAM BINH: The reality is that there will not be a Simon Pure “break with the Democratic Party” on a mass scale if we play our cards right and break their funding base from their voting base.

    FROM DAVID BERGER: Why not a real break with the Democrats? Basically, by supporting the WFF, you’re supporting the Democrats, which I suspect you’ll end up advocating anyway.

    • PM

      The problem is, if the style that appeals to you is tedious and unreadable, folks will tend not to address your points.

      • David Berger

        You can use any excuse you want. I have used this “style” on the Internet for about 1 years now. I’ve found that when people want to engage, they engage. When they want to duck out, they duck out.

        So let me make a very short, clear point: Pham’s article is a left cover for eventual collaboration with the Democratic Party.

        • Aaron Aarons

          Given Pham Binh’s support for U.S. imperialist intervention in, at least, Libya and Syria, collaboration with the Democratic Party wouldn’t be a move to the right for him.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp

          Because unseating Ds and Rs with Occupiers from every elected office in the United States from dog catcher to the White House is “collaboration with the Democratic Party.” Riiight.

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp

        Strawmen in any style are not worth engaging. It’s a waste of readers’ time.

  • Aaron Aarons

    “[…] we can’t get the 10,000-100,000 bodies necessary to peacefully push past police lines or nonviolently resist evictions”

    When push comes to shove, so to speak, police lines will be pushed past (or smashed) and evictions of working-class and poor people stopped, by any means necessary. Or maybe Pham Binh can convince us that the U.S. ruling class will be less violent in defending its power than the regimes of Gaddafi or Assad have been.

  • http://lefteyeonbooks.com Steve

    This piece is a fantasy, rather than a strategy. Remember Reverend Billy’s run for mayor? No one else does either. Charles Barron, who had real roots in his district, the support of the incumbent, and the support of a key union, only got about 25% of the vote as the neoliberal steamroller moved through. These two recent performances give some idea of the prospects of left electoral efforts in NYC at present. There is nothing remotely resembling the level of organization needed city-wide to contest the mayoral election, which would also require, to be effective, a professional and experienced politician, not someone whose name has a familiar ring to fans of Occupy. Maybe there are a couple of city council seats where a more conservative politician represents a more liberal area. Perhaps work at those. There are a number of neighborhood and working group Occupy efforts that have had some viability, they can be strengthened, expanded, and their number increased. But fantasies about attaining the New York mayor do not help us.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp

      The argument here is that we should run, not that we would win. An aspiration is different than a utopian fantasy.

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