The Occupy movement on Monday made a bid to shut down ports along the U.S. West Coast – San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver – in a coordinated response to the evictions of encampments in major cities. Far from being defeated or demoralized, occupiers are finding creative ways to continue their protests in public spaces, and have begun to target their message around big banks, foreclosures, evictions, and housing.
Although they have lost their most visible presence in public spaces, #OWS has located a fault line in state power. Homeowners facing losing the sum-total of their lives and identity cannot be demonized in the same way that occupiers were in the run-up to clearing the occupations.
OregonLive reported that “Occupy Portland protesters effectively shut down two of the Port of Portland’s busiest terminals,” while thousands marched to the Port of Oakland. According to Seattlepi.com, “police used ‘flash bang’ percussion grenades to disperse protesters who blocked an entrance to a Port of Seattle facility. … Earlier, police reported ‘multiple’ arrests at nearby Terminal 18 after about 100 occupy protesters stopped traffic for about 20 minutes.”
The state has expended a great deal of effort to suppress and minimize the protests. Police have developed standardized and illegal tactics of kettling protesters and journalists to prevent the public circulation of images of force being used on nonviolent citizens.
When Occupy Boston was evicted from Dewey Square early Saturday morning, “Credentialed press, citizen journalists, academic researchers, and #OccupyBoston media members were repeatedly corralled and moved to surrounding areas 50 feet away or more, prohibiting many from thoroughly covering the raid. From pointing lights in photographers’ lenses to targeting the two official #OccupyBoston USTREAM live videographers for removal, officials went to great lengths to block media access.”
This attempt at physical and ideological containment marks the change that has taken place in the relation between state and society over the last ten years. Domestic policing has been militarized and centralized by the FBI working through the Homeland Security apparatus, removing the police from local control and accountability, while the Pentagon has taken a greater and greater share of the national budget. This has meant starving funds for that part of the state responsible for environmental, banking, and corporate oversight, while neutralizing these agencies politically.
The political deadlock in Washington and the pollution of the electoral process by the wealth of the one percent has undermined state legitimacy at a molecular level. The public has lost trust in government because of a partisan enforcement of laws: the SEC refuses to prosecute bankers and federal authorities have not jailed a single Massey corporate executive for their responsibility in the death of 29 miners.
The state has become the prime enforcer for the efforts of the capitalist class to push the costs of capital reproduction onto the rest of society. In Washington, the Republicans state they will cut medical and pension entitlements while Obama offers to do the same if only the super-rich will accept a modest increase in taxes (for the sake of “fairness”). Not surprisingly, the state has become the focus of resistance alongside corporate power.
At the Durban climate talks, a young woman took it upon herself to speak for the people of the U.S. in opposition to the official government representative. “Abigail Borah, a 21-year-old student from Middlebury College and member of the youth climate delegation, spoke out in the plenary hall as US climate envoy Todd Stern prepared to address the assembled environmental ministers.. … ‘I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot. The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long. I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty. We need leaders who will commit to real change, not empty rhetoric. Keep your promises. Keep our hope alive’.”
And in Atlanta, Georgia, sheriff’s deputies and movers refused to carry out a court order to evict a 103 year-old woman and her 83 year-old daughter from their home. “Fulton County sheriff’s deputies and movers showed up at [Vinia] Hall’s home Tuesday after Deutsche Bank planned to kick the two women out. The moving company and the deputies took one look at Lee and decided that would not happen.” As more officials and police question the justice of the demands of the capitalist class on average Americans and refuse to carry out unfair laws, legitimacy will revert to the sovereignty of the people.