Occupy Wall Street and Plutocratic Fear of Pluralist Democracy

The Occupy movement, in a few short months, has brought to the surface the tension between the ideals of the American Dream and the reality of bank debt, unemployment, and state suppression of protest. Its struggle has highlighted the fact that, no matter what administration is in power, the state has relentlessly been assigning to itself powers that subordinate civil rights to its own interests.

This process cannot simply be blamed on the response to 9/11, because the swift passage of the Patriot Act created the opportunity for the political elite to implement long-desired extensions of executive power. In fact, the creation of a Homeland Security bureaucracy amplifies and connects with changes in the relation between federal, state and local government that have taken place over years.

While government now claims legal justification for the assassination of U.S. citizens; indefinite detention; arbitrary justice; warrantless searches; secret evidence; war crimes; secret court; immunity from judicial review; continual monitoring of citizens; and extraordinary renditions, the actual power of the U.S. internationally is restricted by military defeat and economic recession. The rhetoric that justifies its draconian power grab is that of fighting terrorism, but the real target is domestic dissent.

Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, writes in the Washington Post:  “While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. … These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy. …

“An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will. … The indefinite-detention provision in the defense authorization bill seemed to many civil libertarians like a betrayal by Obama. While the president had promised to veto the law over that provision, Levin, a sponsor of the bill, disclosed on the Senate floor that it was in fact the White House that approved the removal of any exception for citizens from indefinite detention.”

Commenting on Turley’s article, Glenn Greenwald wrote in Salon.com: “Overwhelmingly, the victims [of civil liberties assaults] are racial, ethnic and religious minorities: specifically, Muslims (both American Muslims and foreign nationals). And that is a major factor in why these abuses flourish: because those who dominate American political debates perceive, more or less accurately, that they are not directly endangered (at least for now) by this assault on core freedoms and Endless War …”

Using racial and class divisions to manage the political consequences of social polarization has been a long-term strategy. Paul Kantor of Fordham University argues that from the 1980s on, public policy decisions were devolved to state and local government as the federal government retreated from social safety-net policies which assisted the urban poor. The result was urban development plans that physically separated the poor from suburban dwellers. In short, “territorial segregation by government to limit social conflict has become the major means for managing social polarization – indeed, it is at the core of America’s contemporary regulatory state.” [2007:53]

“The barriers that protect downtowns come in various forms, such as shopping centers, entertainment districts, and tourist enclaves. Perhaps the most comprehensive barriers have been built in Atlanta and Detroit, where a large proportion of downtown office workers commute to the sealed realms of the Peachtree Center and the Renaissance Center. In both these structures, workers drive into parking garages and then enter a city-within-a-city where they can work, shop, eat lunch, and find a variety of diversions after work. They never have to set foot in the actual social community of the city.” [55]

“Other aspects of segregated development as social control arise from efforts by city governments to ‘militarize’ and privatize valuable urban spaces to defend them from poor resident populations. This includes the use of bonus zoning laws that reward developers of high rise buildings for including essentially quasi-public mini parks, atriums and other boutique settings patrolled by private security guards who keep these areas free from people who do not shop or do business there. It also includes changing street furniture to discourage loitering, walling off commercial neighborhoods from nearby slums with roads, parks and other public infrastructure, and beefing up law enforcement efforts to focus on quality of life offences and otherwise discourage contact between the visitor class and residents who appear out of place.” [57]

The Occupy movement has subverted this social segregation with occupations that brought together all sectors of society experiencing the effects of recession, and it is notable that the strategy of devolving the maintenance of social order to local government failed; it became necessary for Homeland Security agencies to coordinate police tactics on a national scale. The local agencies were unable on their own to manage the political fallout from the violent clearing of occupations in places like Oakland and Denver and had to be subordinated to the command structures established after 9/11.

However, centralization also narrows the social base of the state and makes it a factor in the rapid polarization of American society. While the rich resist taxation, the economic base of the state is shrinking; police and military funding come into direct conflict with funding for social programs. The coming struggles by the 99 percent over social entitlements will sharply pose the role of the state in aggressively defending the wealth of the social elite rather than maintaining the social compact.


1 Comment

Filed under financiers, Homeland Security, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Portland, occupy wall street, police raid, political analysis, poverty, US policy, We are the 99 percent

One response to “Occupy Wall Street and Plutocratic Fear of Pluralist Democracy

  1. Not Yet a Sansculotte

    In Wisconsin winter
    in New York winter
    in Massachusetts winter
    in Detroit winter
    in Minnesota winter
    in Georgia winter
    in California winter
    in Arizona winter
    in Alaska winter

    We work for the spring that will rise from we the people of America.

    The 1.9 million signatures in Wisconsin indicates how the will of the people to hold their government accountable cannot be hypnotized away with iPods, iPads, mind-numbing TV, and even more mindless consumerism.

    Our body politic is ailing, but the spirit of 76 is strong!

    Make no mistake. As the Colonel writes, the Occupy Movement has brought into sharp relief the biggest threat to American democracy since the so-called Golden Age of the Robber Barons: the abysmal inequality between the 1% and the 99 %.

    Romney, Gingrinch and Co., who willfully distort this reality, will soon come up against it in the voting booth. You can fool people sometimes, but you can’t fool the people all the time. It will be rich to see Romney’s tax havens in the Caymans. Like him, there are five hundred, perhaps a thousand of the 1% who think it’s fair to hoard their wealth while we pay for the infrastructure that makes it possible.

    And Obama, Levin and Co., who continue to trample civil liberties and rights to terrorize our populace into submission, will see that Americans will not accept the conversion of their state into a police state.

    Thank you Colonel Despard for keeping your finger on the pulse.

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