Now’s the chance to stop the NYPD

I wrote this for In These Times: read it there at the Uprising blog.

Whether or not we think that cops can—meaningfully—be tried and sentenced in the courts, there is every reason to closely watch the class-action law-suit Floyd et al vs. City of New York. Multiple new and long-term struggles against the Police Department’s systemic, bloody, and racist violence are now converging. Among them we must count the movement for justice for Kimani Gray, Stop Stop and Frisk, Stop Police Brutality, the CPR, Ramarley’s Call—Ramarley Graham’s parents link his death with stop-and-frisk—and those still battling for justice for the “Central Park Five”. Thanks to prosecution witnesses Officers Polanco and Serrano, the police union (PBA) has recently been proven to collude in the implementation of quotas: bosses have demanded 20 summonses and 1 arrest per precinct per month. This is, it goes without saying, an interesting and an important moment for New York.

Some reminders of the facts: with 87% of those frisked being Black or Latino, and 88% innocent of any crime, so-called crime prevention would be far better off performing stops blind. The police don’t often put their hands on the group which, when stopped and frisked, is most likely to be carrying guns or marijuana. NYCLU statistics confirm this: cops do not detain and handle the bodies of white people very often at all, though when they do, they are able to seize a relatively high proportion of the aforementioned commodities. The Center for Constitutional Rights, and class action, director Vince Warren thunders, “They’re not stopping the people that have the weapons”.

Yet the premise of the policy “Stop-Question-Frisk” (SQF) is, Michael Bloomberg says, to “take guns off the street and save lives”. He alleges there is “no denying” the thousands of SQFs imposed each month accomplish this. But this means the mayor sees undeniable proof of a policy in a O.15% success rate. As Michael Skolnik explains, police would find more guns if they stopped and frisked the population entirely at random.

As decades of bitter experience under the terrors of “drug crackdowns” have taught, there is no “random” where police violence is concerned. By generalizing fear, it effectively disciplines poor neighborhoods en masse. Quotas seem arbitrary: over a million hours were wasted on petty marijuana seizures between 2002 and 2012, most of those harassed being Black and Latino. Stores of evidence have accrued that officers routinely trample UF-250 protocol, penetrating beneath clothing without reasonable suspicion, humiliating locals and aiming to produce summons- or arrest-worthy behaviors—like possessing a small amount of pot in public view, a cop having conveniently removed it from one’s pocket—through trickery, provocation and, often, sheer verbal or physical hatred. One helpful example of the latter remains Ross Tuttle’s October 2012 documentation of an arrest that included explicit threats to “break your fucking arm”, recorded as such, “for being a fucking mutt”.

In this context,  the case led by David Floyd—namely that racial profiling is unconstitutional—began on Monday just as a number of uneasy city lawmakers agonized over a deal to install an inspector general over the force. Activists are hoping to leverage Christine Quinn’s fierce opposition to Bloomberg, in support of an independent overseer, in challenging Ray Kelly’s hitherto autocratic sovereignty over the handling of officers accused of crimes. “We have a genuine chance right now”, enthused a person identified with Copwatch, present on Wednesday’s overflow room, “to win victories against this ‘rogue’ state organization”.

The City’s lawyers, Heidi Grossman and Brenda Cooke, are currently warming up to give Judge Schira Scheindlin a second week’s worth of defense arguments out of many anticipated in this long-haul class action. Both have, predictably, so far echoed Ray Kelly in passionately arguing—with bare-faced disregard of maps like these produced with the NYPD’s own data—that stop-and-frisk is not about racism, but quite simply “where the crime is”. In fact, as Warren repeats, more guns are found outside SQF hotspots. A Deputy Inspector, covertly recorded while ordering officers to frisk “the right people … male blacks 14-21” is tentatively thought to have sunk the City’s argument. Darius Charney, senior CCR staff attorney and lead counsel in the action, believes “it’s going to be debunked completely”.

Hundreds of community members, activists, mourners, and habitual victims of police violence, grouped in- and outside 500 Pearl Street this week. Some stress it shouldn’t matter whether a target of a stop does have a gun or not. “Regardless! Cops shouldn’t be shooting to kill! Yet they are shooting to kill us every time, look at RamarleyShantel,Kimani…” cried a woman standing with the Bronx Defenders last Friday, with reference to three notable young Black fatalities of the past year. “Can we even imagine America where the second amendment applies to Black people?” added Jamila Clark, 19, from East Flatbush, standing outside the court.

The struggle against police brutality in New York won victories against Giuliani, but now desperately needs to re-gather force within a strong left movement in order to tackle Bloomberg’s administration and escalate the issue. Slayings rose 70% last year, and SQFs have rocketed 600% since 2002. Back in 1999, thanks to a formidable movement taking the streets, the Center for Constitutional Rights successfully litigated against Police Commissioner Bratton to shut down the plainclothes Street Crimes Unitfollowing their frenzied shooting of Amadou Diallo, who died—unarmed, as is the pattern—outside his own home in the Bronx.

Now, once again, we face the question of what a just and a desirable NYPD might look like in the imagination of the communities it besieges, whose vigils it ham-fistedly beats and kettles. Contrary to Inspector McCormack’s claim that “the community overwhelmingly is supportive of it”In These Times found no one demonstrating to #changethenypd with a single kind word for the Department. “Let the City send the Bronx some decent housing, medical, schools, you know, help with childcare!—instead of racist thugs in uniform. Then we’ll talk” suggested Elric Amin, 28.

It has been pointed out that Mourad Mourad and Jovaniel Cordova, the killers of Kimani Gray, were both sued over abuse of stop-and-frisk. Though both were themselves “minority” individuals, to take a famous phrase from Stuart Hall, race is the modality in which class is lived in New York City. A Black community fightback may continue to gain momentum, whether or not Floyd et al. gain their formal judicial breakthrough in Manhattan. Only continued mobilization by all in solidarity can ensure it. When, if not now, will it be possible to stop the NYPD?

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‘The Poverty of Privilege Politics’ and its critics

This is a strange way to return to a long-neglected blog, namely, with a highly specific engagement, from New York City, with what some people are saying in Manchester and Leeds. But anyway:

There appears to be a conversation starting up (again) in the UK about the significance of ‘privilege’. This piece hopes to generate mutual understanding whilst arguing for a particular conclusion, namely, a position distinguishing itself sharply both from privilege theory and, on the other hand, from the appalling “ortho”-Marxism that still lives on, which (absurdly) deems race, class and sexuality irrelevant in the struggle against capitalism. This is not a fully-formed article, but a swiftly penned response that hopes it could be a helpful intervention as well as an overview of three texts relevant to this debate. It conveys my belief that these are questions crucial to the revival of something like a Left, and indispensable to the emergence of revolutionary struggle.

In Shift (15) we find the source of some of the debates, the much-misunderstood and much-maligned article ‘The Poverty of Privilege Politics'[1]. It seems to me that Tabitha Bast and Hannah McClure wanted to make the case for an anticapitalism that is integrated, coherent, unitary, and so on, one which therefore – paradoxically for some – might actually be up to the feminist and anti-racist tasks of liberating all humans in their differently-oppressed specificity. They explain why they are “embarrassed by the simplicity of [“privilege,”] this undisclosed and undefined overarching theory,” to the point of being “concerned that it further leads a stagnant movement down more … dead ends”. In particular, they criticise the rise of well-meaning “check-lists” that have been circulated widely online (e.g. bullet-points that defamiliarize the normal/unmarked heterosexist, able-bodied, and cis-gender experiences). They lament certain “self-flagellating groups” whose workshops they dub “punkier than thou equal ops sessions” that “prop up a culture of shame”.

Although those already lambasting their piece as “manarchist” will not have perceived this, Bast and McClure are not saying that check-your-privilege tick-lists have no pedagogic uses in struggle (they do) but, rather, pointing out that power mechanisms are irreducible to such tick-lists and/or could not be eradicated even by the mass disciplined assimilation of such tick lists by individuals. I don’t think many people would disagree with this. Still, a legitimate addition to this objection to tick-listing might consist in stating how “privilege”-mitigating, consciousness-raising catechisms and protocols, despite being ineffectual at actualising a embodied, generalised equality, are actually vital transitional social accommodations on the way to something better. They are certainly clumsy, clunky, frequently counterproductive, and uncomfortable for many. Yet they are indispensable agreements symbolically carved out in the everyday violence of capitalist social relations. (Stewart Lee says as much in his stand-up about political correctness.[2]) The efforts so easily dismissed by some as “incomprehensible jargon” or “elitist babble” – when of course, like “foreign-sounding” names, gender-neutral pronouns aren’t so hard to learn when you try – are arguably a necessary but not sufficient condition for organising. In this sense they are not a “politics” or a “theory” proper but rather an imperfect, messy element of praxis.

I feel the Shift article could have avoided eliciting some of the worst, hurt, angry excesses of its ensuing comment-thread disputes, if it had started out with a simple definition of what it was critically attributing to activist populations in general, namely, an entire, allegedly “undisclosed and undefined”, theory. A Black Orchid guest post (‘Privilege Politics is Reformism’ March 12, 2012 [3]) provides an in-depth account of what privilege politics actually is. If they had incorporated that definition more fully, McClure and Bast could quite rightly, I believe, claim that “a political lens of privilege is divisive and unhelpful when we are part and parcel of a system that already thrives on the division of the working classes, through gender, class and sexual oppression”. One rather distracting or dissatisfying point Bast and McClure appear to want to make is quite simply that anti-patriarchy training for men isn’t working: “the ones who could do with it rammed down their hairy throats wouldn’t dream of attending”. This pragmatic despondency is hardly a good enough reason to desist: if need be, I would say we shall set up re-education camps. Still, I will now begin to outline the argument in favour of Bast and McClure’s conclusion.

In n+1 recently, Rosalyn Baxandall recalled the January 1969 anti-war MOBE demonstration (and Counter-inaugural Ball) at Nixon’s inauguration in Washington. The only two women speakers that had been appointed for the mobilization, “neither Shulie [Shulamith Firestone] nor Marilyn Webb could [actually] speak, because SDS guys soared onto the stage, saying, “Take her off the stage and fuck her!”” This anecdote about the white male SDS leadership gives us just one (rather breathtaking) example of ‘manarchist’ internal oppressors in another era. Nevertheless, the Women’s Liberation Movement was focusing not on interpersonal protocols that would enable it to work on more acceptable terms with other anticapitalists, but on programmatic revolutionary feminism and advancing the ‘dialectic of sex’. It strongly resisted a politics of retreat, of guilt, and even of ‘consciousness-raising’ education if these have to exist at the expense of militant action (class organising). The idea remained that the task of liberation is carried out by those most at risk, by those most oppressed. Privilege politics today focuses (well-meaningly) on protecting these people from the excessive punishment their militancy would provoke. For Black Panthers and second-wave revolutionary feminists, others (and allies) could indeed sometimes be coerced into highly conscious attitudes of ‘respect’, but this would not spell liberation.

The Black Orchid guest blogger, Will, bolsters their argument against “privilege” theory (short version: “radical sociology attempting to struggle”) by quoting Frantz Fanon. In the conclusion to Black Skin White Masks, Fanon asserted: “I do not have the right to allow myself to be mired in what the past has determined.  I am not the slave of the Slavery that dehumanized my ancestors.  I as a man of colour do not have the right to hope that in the white man there will be a crystallization of guilt toward the past of my race.” Will remarks that, in contrast to this, it is social interactions that are now more politically contentious to revolutionaries than the overarching facts of white supremacy, for instance, the wealth divide, the education gap, racialized incarceration numbers, and so on — though obviously, it would be surprising if (misogyny and) white supremacy did not crop up in interpersonal relations given our historic environment. A programmatic and organizational response is needed; meanwhile, though, it has to be assumed that movement participants, whilst probably chauvinistic and alienated, are not in fact white- or male-supremacists (the distinction is important). This also amounts to a call for having thick skins. Of course, it is disgusting and preposterous when white graduate students are the ones telling immigrant workers to have thick skins. But Black Orchid insists we remember the real stakes: Harriet Tubman, like Fanon, deemed life worth living through the struggle to become fully human, or not at all.

At its most polemical, the Black Orchid article thunders that “Privilege theory [in fact] thrives off the inactivity of the masses and oppressed”. Its proponents “seek only to remind the masses of its weaknesses. … [when] they actually have the power.” The author says: “I have yet to meet Privilege theorists who hold classes on revolutionary politics with unemployed people, with high school drop outs, with undocumented immigrants etc.  Privilege theory’s fundamental assumption exposes its proponents’ class background when they claim that theoretical-political knowledge is for people who come from privileged backgrounds.” Similarly, McClure and Bast discern in privilege-oriented circles “an anti-intellectualism where both theorising and militancy are seen as privilege[s] in and of themselves”. The Black Orchid Collective, for its part, defines itself as a “multi-gendered, multiracial revolutionary collective… against capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, imperialism, ableism and the state …fighting for a direct democratic, ecologically sustainable society in which we as workers can creatively produce to fulfill human needs … developing ourselves as working class revolutionaries … reviving the Marxist method as a tool for combining the best of feminist, anti-colonial, anarchist, ecological, anti-racist, and queer liberation perspectives, while discarding all that holds us back.” As the Black Panthers recommended, when alienating and chauvinist things occur, the best attitude is “fuck ’em”.

One rebuttal (an extensive Facebook note, ‘Politics Recognising Privilege’, by Siân O’matic on Tuesday, 9 October 2012[4]) argues that the common allegations of an “oppression Olympics” and “culture of shame” are straw arguments, and this may in many cases be so. However, this author seems to insist that the so-called “privilege” politics should rightly be called liberation politics, acknowledging the downside of it being “problematic when people with privilege demand even more attention or self-victimise”. They cite the familiar formula: it is not the unpleasant complaints of “privilege politics” which is divisive, but of course, in fact, racism, sexism, transphobia, classism, homophobia “and other structural oppressions”. This is because, in their view, “capital is not the only oppressor”. For this reason, true privilege-conscious, “liberation” or “anti-oppression” politics demands a kind of catch-all orientation that “recognises” (according to the title of the piece) all possible and existing forms of oppression. The author reasons one cannot be content that there be “an anti-oppressive string running through the rest of what we do” — the rest of what we do meaning, here, fighting capitalism.

The rejoinder to the well-meaning, harmless, but ultimately analytically weak position, summarised above, can be swift even if it does not intend dismissive harshness. Fighting capitalism can never be the “rest of what we do”, for the very simple reason that it is capitalism which produces sex, gender and race: capitalism is best understood as an expanding, intimidatingly pervasive system of social relations. Patriarchy is not an autonomous mode of production that exists simultaneously alongside capitalism (as Christine Delphy has proposed): like white supremacy, it is a non-negotiable characteristic, fundamental to the capitalist mode of production. I suspect that, for all they were able to identify “straw” enemies of class struggle, the author is still working against an entirely “straw Marx” who is characterized by determinism, vulgar materialism, sex blind categories, and economic reductionism. Better to revive the notion of social reproduction, which gives us a sophisticated, non-reductionist account of the relation between various oppressions and capitalism without falling into the impasse of dual and triple systems theories (which conventionally “added” gender and race “on”).

[1] http://shiftmag.co.uk/?p=679.

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGAOCVwLrXo.
[3] http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/guest-post-privilege-politics/.
[4] https://www.facebook.com/note.php?&note_id=10151109954408004.

Organizing for Occupation against the political economy of Percents


A much shortened version of this appeared in the OCCUPY GAZETTE, issue #4

 

What kind of person, confronted with an outburst of song, stands up in order to huddle around an auctioneer at the front of a public court-room, hurriedly nodding and gesticulating their way through a bidding process (‘$50,000’, ‘$60,000’…) for a ‘property’ that represents a poor crash-stricken Flatbush based family’s foreclosed-upon home? What kind of person ignores the brave chorus ‘Listen, Auctioneeeer! All the people here are telling you to hold all the sales right now’ for the purposes of competing cravenly, up-close and personal with other speculators, for a bargain currently-inhabited four-bedroom? Well, it’s a very ordinary kind of person. It isn’t “the 1%”, in case that’s what you were thinking.

You don’t see rich, besuited persons sitting in the front pew, snapping up those ‘clouded titles’ and the various ‘rights of redemption’ represented by home-losers’ unsettled taxes or unpaid bills. Inside the paneled confines of the weekly foreclosure auction (3pm til 4pm, or usually, 3.15 when sales are already over), one theater of the King’s County magistrate’s court on Adams street, in downtown Brooklyn, ‘the public’ sits to witness the transfer of property rights from one person to another, or vulture-like, to get in on it themselves. The type of transfer is a little complicated, divesting people usually absent – uninformed by the courts, or by the banks prosecuting their breach of promise, that their homes will be sold that particular day – of the collateral used for the mortgage they took out long ago, before the economy crashed, at a bank.

We’re going to survive, but we don’t know how, listen, auctioneer”. The King’s Court police officers take loudly singing protesters out in handcuffs, while the traders attempt to get their business done in an improvised sign language. (I urge you to look up what you can of these scenes on YouTube.) Leaving court, those civil disobedients are thinking something like this: We’ve just tried to impede the profit-motivated divestment of somebody’s home, because the right to a home should be enshrined in law, forbidding eviction, certainly at the behest of a bank that organized brutal mortgage terms with the person in the first place, in a climate of record bank bonuses, intense working-class suffering, and stunning homelessness. But noticeably, those whomOrganize for Occupation[1] is hindering, in the most direct, theatrical sense, are not Brian Moynihan and Vikram Pandit. They are, instead, long-suffering court functionaries and hard-bitten small-time real estate investors, Italian, Chassidic, Russian, and African American: ninety-nine-per-centers, every one.

Should this be a “problem” for us, activists ponder to themselves, leaving the court? Does everyone already secretly know how perplexing ‘99%’ is, in practice, even as a stand-in for class analysis? Ultimately, is there no real diversion of impact ‘because capitalists are capitalists’ (‘Mom and Pop’ flavored or otherwise), and, as the extraction of surplus is orchestrated by much fatter cats, must one grin over any ‘collateral damage’ to the smaller reactionary wheeler-dealers? This Moratorium Now campaign of O4O’s is certainly nothing politically out of the ordinary if it seems to have to bother a lot of ‘ordinary’ speculators in order to ‘throw bodies on the gears’ the foreclosure industry, and almost any campaign appears to involve battles against foot-soldiers and functionaries of accumulation, rather than CEOs and Congressmen. The Yes Men – who have been training activists at Cooper Union’s mobile ‘Yes Lab’[2]this Spring – are an interesting exception, and seem able, by contrast, to penetrate the inner sancta (witness their recent press-release as Bank of America: ‘Today, it’s time to acknowledge that our bank isn’t working – not just for the market, but for the people, our real customers’).[3]

When capitalism is working, it hurts people; but when it has ‘crashed’, it hurts people – if possible – even more. Groups figure out how to act on this paralyzing reality in time, for themselves, but much could be learned over a shorter period of agonizing navel-gazing, in my opinion, if we listened a bit more humbly to the likes of Grace Boggs, Drucilla Cornell, and Laura Whitehorn. Occupy Wall Street is a network like any other, beguiling some previously existing campaigns to merge with it, opening its spokes-council structure to them, and yet also keeping others separate. There are many who want to focus on tenants’ and neighbors’ struggles. O4O, with its own inspiring and autonomously arrived at strategy for strong community squatting drives and resistance to owners’ foreclosure, stands apart from OWS. Yet newcomers to New York can sometimes participate in Organize for Occupation actions without realizing that they aren’t actually doing an ‘Occupy’ action. Which means, of course, that they are. The spectre is haunting Bloomberg, that’s for sure. And this paradoxical fungible specificity, which we see in our deeds, hints at what it might mean to fuse the particular with the universal, dialectically, over the course of this ominous century. Ninety-nine-percentism in itself is a naïve distributionalist mental sketch containing a superficial, populist have/have-not dispensation, and that is all, but in practice it becomes a dream of a new universalism – that “impossible and necessary object”[4] – a far more dangerous and thoroughgoing antagonistic thing.

The ‘public’ is now widely thought about through a lens labeled ‘the 99%’, thanks to some rebels in the USA having dreamed a dream about Wall Street late last year. The figures that circulated widely were vivid, but really, they were like any other figures. They told us that one-hundredth of the population possessed two-fifths of its common wealth. Or that one-hundredth of us accounted for a quarter of all income. One hundredth of us? No, no: a hundred percent of them were like that. Statistics – infamously – do funny things. It’s not just that they create containers labeled ‘us’ and ‘them’. They foster communist desires, without providing the theory of relationality, of exploitation, and of history, which might empower them. They invite the imagination to picture the scene, colored in by those vivid, shamelessnumbers, and to counter-imagine another scene in juxtaposition to it, as though the fact that numbers only go up or down indicates the possibility that the picture be drawn entirely differently – someday soon. What if every hundredth of America possessed and controlled an equal share – a hundredth, in fact – of wealth and income? As of now, there are 313,398,536 people in America according to ww.census.gov. What if each single one were equal? Every one of us would ‘control’ about 0.00000000319% of the wealth in that case. And that would be very very useful indeed to know. Would it not?

The South African constitution (2.26), backed up by the department of Human Settlements, enshrines the right to have access to adequate housing. If this were not so, to keep the faith, you might be forgiven for saying it’s high time housing was abolished as a human right. I began with a scene of intense ugliness, in which a gaggle of desperate people vied to snap up the tragic loss of another, invisible, desperate person, right in the cultural capital, or ‘big apple’, or ‘gateway’ to the United States itself. I’m often a dour old crank, but truly, the singers burst spine-tinglingly out of their pews in ones and twos, brimming with that Che Guevaran emotion, love. A crisis of legitimacy was successfully created for the bourgeois court, by the means of our courageous serenade. At Left Forum, John Holloway said, ‘We are proud to be the crisis of capitalism’; that was the feeling, there.

In the USA, and for Empire, the human ‘right’ serves to define the human in relation to a shifting perimeter of right-less-ness, beyond which only debt defaulters (and other animals) exist. Opponents of revolutionary politics here are wont to say that enshrining obligation instead of right, and commonsinstead of property, couldn’t possibly work. Suddenly they are the ones talking about the finitude of the planet, and the serfdom of being equal, and the scarcity of actually available houses in which families could have the right to live. After all “everyone wants to be in the ruling class” but not everyone can be. (Pity that. Can you show me why? Go on: on a piece of paper?) Nope. Bring down capitalism, and it would only grow again, because it’s in our nature to want to be the best we can be. So say the people who are particularly fond of the liberal notion of right. It goes: ‘You have the right to the house. So buy a house!’ But we say that the particular right of any group or agent to a house is necessarily a universal right. Indeed, when they say “our nature”, they mean theirs. “Being the best you can be” here means coalescing plentiful ‘dead labor’, private capital, around the idol of your ego. What if, instead, it were in the nature of the state to mediate its own redundancy, to help us become who we really are?

But that’s not a very good campaign. Talk like that, and you turn intoZeitgeist, horror of horrors. No, fighting the man is currently a scatter-offensive, pragmatic, skillful, universal, and particular. Like UK Uncut in Great Britain, which coagulated in order to expose corporate tax evasion within the new climate of budget cuts, welfare slashing, and austerity, at the twilight of the five-year-long activities of a very powerful, anticapitalist and anti-state, climate justice direct action network (the Camp for Climate Action), Organize for Occupation finds itself in a position where it is defending private property and inconveniencing petty entrepreneurs (or, in UK Uncut’s case, playing tax collector to the individual business and inconveniencing ordinary shoppers). It is probably right that a certain uneasiness should attend our political explanations of this messiness, this two-pronged struggle, for transitional public welfare, on the one hand, and for the ultimate destruction of the paradigm which makes welfare necessary, on the other. Like with almost anyrevolutionary group, the puertorriqueñ@ Young Lords,[5] for instance, the intervention is at the point of accumulation by dispossession: at the place of public robbery, eviction, hunger, or pollution, at the place where people are going (this in 1969) without breakfast, garbage collections, or TB testing.

The creditor in this dispute racket – i.e. the publicly bailed-out bank – dispossesses someone’s, probably a Black family’s, current home, but doesn’t want a house, nor to have to evict anybody itself. What can a bank do with a house, after all: it certainly can’t cook and sleep and shower and eat in it? Thank goodness then, that homes themselves are basic currency, by the grace of the market. The bank then profits from the re-conveyance of the ‘fee simple’, that is, the sale of various rights and remnants pertaining to the deeds or the mortgage, usually to individual middle-class petty real estate traders physically present in court, and ostensibly only to make good what it originally, poor righteous bank, was owed originally, by the long-time payers of debt and interest, who eventually had to give up.

In order for this solemn court of redemption and right removal, this tossing of a tarnished ‘title’ to the private ‘masses’ by the judiciary, this cruel farce of public expropriation, to carry on, it has to make sense to most people that some people shall have houses, because they have deserved them by the sweat of their brow, and that others do not, and shall not. Indeed, our minds must be firmly made up on this, because 2.8 million property-owners in the US received a foreclosure notice in 2010, then, three-and-a-half million in 2011 alone. Meanwhile Amnesty International estimates that there are 18.5 million vacant homes, and 3.5 million homeless. Most of us agree that some people don’t deserve homes.

Everybody lives, don’t they? Just about? But of course, there is living, and then, there is bare life, life on the street that makes us feel sick to be American, sick to the stomach at the quiet holocaust that is market democracy, sick in the way that Gandhi must have felt when he said ‘Western civilization? … I think it’s a very good idea’. And there is life like that advertised at Point One Per Cent (.com), which has broadly the same effect, really:

Luxury: the feeling you have when every feeling you have is taken care of.

.1% may not seem like much, but to us, it’s everything. We’re a branding, marketing and strategy consulting firm, and our name refers to the wealthiest .1% of the population, a group we’re dedicated to understanding and reaching. We know how these consumers think, how they live, and what they respond to, and we translate these insights to help companies create an aspirational pull for their brands. A Point One Percent brand is held in the highest regard. … It’s a big world, and we’re the absolute experts on .1% of it.”

I think this quotation I’ve pulled speaks for itself; I wish only to suggest that as .1% is so very close to 0, those of us committed to the impossible and necessary political object, the universal, might fruitfully pay POP LLC a visit at 200 Varick Street, Suite 606, the West Village.

Comrades, I never introduced myself. I came to New York, and all its ‘terrible beauty’, its cyborg sleeplessness, in late August 2011 (just in time for the call to converge on Wall Street). I came from a rich British university town that was full of seven-hundred-year-old buildings and bicycles. The summer nights in urban Britain shortly before then had been lit up as the theater for the riotous rage of dispossessed youths of color, whose rippling, looting, fire-lighting response to the police shooting of unarmed black man Mark Duggan in north London terrified the ruling class’s media (i.e. all of it) into unanimity with a punishing, ordering, animalizing mainstream discourse. The Left failed to do anything about it, and failed, moreover, to act to change the fact that the August riots bore no explicit link to the anti-austerity politics powering the mass mobilizations of the previous ten months (in particular in November and in March). The Londoners and Brummies and Glaswegians were not rioting to save the National Health Service – the loss of which, to the neoliberals, by the way, is like a well of sorrow, right inside the chest cavity. I am now not in Oxford, instead, in New York. Both conglomerations, however, feature populations of indentured servants, non-citizens, sub-citizens, and unemployed black people, those employed to do the worst work, if that, and all, seemingly, remote from class consciousness. More unarmed and crimeless black men have been shot, or indeed executed, by the state. Dear reader, all I want to say is, though so many have said, before me, that what gets done to black people’s bodies, and their homes, will not stop until we stop it, until the black is human and her right is universal. I am frightened, but next time, you will see me on the streets.

If each of us had free access to the commons, ‘income’ and ‘wealth’ would fall away as statistically measurable concepts. Work would carry no wage, commodities would become things, and families could form at will. One would witness a giant exodus of quantity as it disappeared back into liberated quality. And the apotheosis of the historic part, of those who had always had ‘no part’ in politics (to use Rancière’s idea), would do away with the need for politics in its totality, we would merely administer our communes, share according to ability and according to need, and the last would (all) be first on earth. No percentages, in the classless society. OK. Perhaps I am not really such a wild-eyed millenarian. My desire for communization – like many people’s in the constellation Occupy! – is first and foremost a desire for the return of politics, and if there must be politics in perpetuity, as we figure out and figure out all over again how to live together on the earth, so be it. The point is that we have too lung suffered in the grip of the neoliberal anti-politics machine. If by writing (in the Journal for Occupied Studies, occupiedstudies.org) on the ‘odiousness’ of the word ‘occupy’, I sounded critical, well, the better I hoped to convey my relief, and my gratitude, for the returning of politics to the public space.


[2] The Yes Lab http://yeslab.org/.

[3] Whose bank? Our bank! The Yes Men explain their prank on BofA http://rt.com/usa/news/yes-men-bank-people-510/.

[4] Laclau (2000:58.)

[5] The Young Lords were a revolutionary movement for socialism and Puerto Rican independence. The Latina@ Education Networks Service maintains a website entitled Palante (the Young Lords newspaper’s name) here: http://palante.org/AboutYoungLords.htm.