Occupy Portland protesters appear to have successfully resisted the plan of mayor Sam Adams and police to close their encampment. Up to five thousand people massed at the site as the midnight deadline passed on Saturday and police backed off from moving to clear it. The occupation was still in place on Sunday morning – Madison Dines, an engineering student, said: “This has regalvanized our movement.”
Despite statements from the general council that they intended to resist peacefully, the police had spread a story that dozens of anarchists had descended on Occupy Portland and accumulated weapons for a showdown. In fact, occupation organizers went around the camp during Saturday to dissuade individuals from violent confrontations. Mayor Adams, like other state authorities, had used the rhetoric of public safety to emphasize the presence of homeless people and drug abusers in the encampment, together with sanitary and security problems.
The movement has revealed truths about American society that the authorities would rather had stayed hidden: how the enrichment of the one percent and consequent cuts in the social safety net has grown an underclass of unemployed, homeless and mentally sick people. Alison Kilkenny notes: “The group is on the frontlines of America’s unjust, vastly unequal society, and so they have become a default support group for the mentally disturbed, addicts, and sometimes suffering veterans.”
Meanwhile, Occupy Oakland still faces eviction, although the encampment remains in place, defying a second order to vacate Frank Ogawa plaza. Despite the successful general strike, a lack of direction from the occupiers has ceded the political edge to the authorities. They cannot decide on appropriate tactics because the camp general assembly has been hijacked by a minority group of dissident anarchists. At the last general assembly, a proposal to denounce vandalism was voted down on the grounds that, as one protester argued, the proposal was “divisive” and would give Oakland mayor Jean Quan “the moral justification she needs to bust [the occupation] up again.”
The misplaced ideological dogma behind this statement hides the fact that anarchists’ actions of breaking windows, spraying graffiti on downtown buildings, taking over a foreclosed building and staging a confrontation with the police strengthens opposition to the occupation. Under the slogan of “diversity of tactics” – code for allowing individuals to vandalize property and provoke fights during an otherwise peaceful demonstration – dissident anarchists have essentially coopted protesters to their agenda of forcing an escalation of state violence. Louis Proyect dug up primary sources on the justification for these tactics: “The idea is that by showing the larger population the violent means by which the status quo is maintained, a significant number of people will become further radicalized by this physical and visual demonstration of the nature of the State.”
The crude idea that people need to be “radicalized” through state violence is a form of political vanguardism that is essentially contemptuous of anyone who disagrees with it, and has the effect of using others as state victims. It is a product of isolation from the mass movement – inspired by the Weathermen “Days of Rage” in 1969, as Louis Project notes, which was a historical moment when student-led opposition to the Vietnam War was divorced from labor unions.Today it is evident there is a huge groundswell of opposition to corporate power which seeks political direction. Rather than fight the power, the anarchists have strengthened it: as new occupations spring up, police have used threats of violence to raid and close down encampments in other areas of the country.
The “Occupy/We are the 99 percent” movement has succeeded in focusing American public opposition to the massive transfer of wealth to the 1 percent, the erosion of a public safety net and the social compact, and this is the source of its success. In the face of the challenges of winter and state opposition, many occupiers are tackling difficult problems of survival and turning outwards to gain support from other communities. To sustain that support, OWS needs to continue to build these alliances. The violent confrontations of black bloc anarchists cut off the movement from the source of its legitimacy: the people.