Anarchy gets a new and more positive definition in Nathan Schneider’s book about the Occupy movement, “Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse.” Part history, part on-the-scene reporting, and part hope for a better future, the work is valuable and delightfully controversial.
Some people will love the fact that Nathan Schneider has created a smooth mash-up of straight news reporting, reasoned analysis, and personal commentary in his “Thank You, Anarchy,” new from the University of California Press. Others will use his blending of objectivity and subjectivity as an excuse to knock the book.
But those negativists are probably lovers of the status quo people as well as people who deny or denigrate the positive aspects of the Occupy movement itself. Indeed, since many of them don’t even acknowledge the need for Occupy in this country, they wouldn’t care for the book no matter how it was written.
Instead of worrying about journalistic distance, Schneider immersed himself in the events and reported on them with a potent mixture of emotion and rationality. “And, now, fearing that my generation might slip back into irony and apathy and unreality, I feel an urgent, evangelistic duty to record as best I can the sliver of this reality that I experienced.”
Then and Now
Rebecca Solnit provides a Foreword that succinctly offers some historical perspective by referencing popular movements such as the French Revolution and the forces that emerged in Mexico after the 1985 earthquake. She also points out some of the more encouraging alterations that occurred in American society as the result of Occupy:
Everyone admitted almost immediately after Occupy Wall Street (OWS) appeared in the fall of 2011 that the conversation had changed — the brutality and obscenity of Wall Street was addressed, the hideous suffering of ordinary people crushed by medical, housing, and college debt came out of the shadows, and Occupy became a point at which people could testify about this destruction of their hopes and lives.
Definition and Destructiveness
For many people, the word anarchy is considered to be a pejorative, as in “a condition of disorder.” Other words associated with anarchy include nihilism, lawlessness, turmoil, and even revolution. But in Schneider’s hands, the word is more elastic. As we read, the term expands to mean “a welcome change” or “a throwing off of shackles.”
The anarchism they were discovering wasn’t simply a negative political philosophy or an excuse for window breaking, as many people tend to assume anarchism is. Even while calling for an end to the rule of coercive states backed by military bases, prison industries, and wage servitude, anarchists try to build a culture in which people can take care of themselves and each other through healthy, sustainable communities. Many are resolutely nonviolent. Drawing on modes of organizing both radical and ancient, they insist on using forms of participatory direct democracy that naturally resist corruption by money, status, and privilege. Everyone basic need should take precedence over anyone’s greed.
Were there elements of mobocracy during Occupy? Certainly. And you can add chaos, confusion, and tumult. But it is amazing how often the actions of the state’s representatives contributed to the chaos, confusion, and tumult. Time and time again they made their presence known in ugly and vicious ways:
Such as NYPD Capt. Edward Winski and other officers arbitrarily throwing people to the ground or pushing people’s faces into flower beds as they were arrested. At another point, “hundreds of police and Brookfield private security officers poured into the park — pushing, tearing, kicking….dozens of Occupiers were beaten.” At another point, “a cop smashed a street medic’s head against a glass door.” (Ironically, the movement’s first broken window.)
Or the man who was “dragged, cuffed, and then dragged more across the plaza and the sidewalk on his back, with his hands trapped in plastic cuffs between the sidewalk and his back. By the end of it, they were discolored and bloody.” Or the police at Occupy Oakland firing tear gas and more — “Iraq War veteran Scott Olson was nearly killed that night after being shot by police with a beanbag round.”
A legal observer was hit by a police scooter, which pinned down his writhing legs. Marchers who stepped off the sidewalk were grabbed and arrested. On Pine Street, half a block ahead of the main march, an Occupier near me danced through the road with a broom, brushing away trash. A mob of cops tackled him and took him away. He only wanted to clean.
…hundreds of police in riot gear had stormed the plaza, shining floodlights and tearing down tents. Sanitation workers loaded Occupiers’ belongings into garbage trucks, including thousands of books from the People’s Library…five police helicopters hovered overhead, where airspace was closed to media aircraft. Occupiers locked arms around the kitchen area, facing pepper spray and batons for doing so. Reporters and elected officials who managed to get into the middle of it came out bloody with the rest.
At around 3 P.M., near Fifth Avenue and Twelfth Street, officers began unrolling plastic orange barriers, isolating a crowd of marchers — along with reporters and onlookers — and began arresting everyone inside for blocking traffic. Caught on cameras were scenes of one protester being dragged by her hair, and others being slammed into the pavement. The most notorious scene of the day, though, was the video of a group of women, already trapped by the net, who were writhing and screaming as Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna doused them in pepper spray.
Obviously, with the forces in power so fearful, the Occupy movement must be on to something, if only it can be kept moving forward.
What it Is, And Who
For the first days, weeks, and even months of the Occupy phenomenon, few outside the movement knew what the hell it was or what the protesters wanted. “The demand, so far, was simply the right to carry out a process — one in which people could speak and money could not.” The main point was to try finding a way forward to a better America and a better world.
And just who are these “hippies in the streets” as I heard them called? Certainly they were shiftless, rootless people, right? Wrong:
One might have thought that family was entirely distant from these busy radicals’ minds, until you got to know some of them well enough to catch them in moments of thinking beyond the immediacy of the movement., when they would stare into nowhere and start wondering to one another how they could bring children into the world and raise them decently, the way things were going. It was common to think of the people at the center of this movement as being overly radical in one way or another, when really the problem was more a matter of the world just not being habitable enough.
The movement was neither progressive nor regressive but sought a new path. For many, progress was process, and vice versa. Participants “remembered how politics and economy were supposed to work in the first place: from the ground up, not from the top down.”
Even the idea of belonging to the left, as such, was something that the typical young Occupier was not especially comfortable with, except when there appeared to be no other way of identifying the movement’s populist blend of anti-capitalist and anti-oppressive commitments.
Everyone involved, it seemed, could agree “about the need to get big money out of elections and to stop bailing out banks — thus opposing practices that both main political parties pursued with nearly equal vigor.”
While there is a half-page description of “The Dark Knight Rises” that will send your eyebrows toward the ceiling, there is a lot more in the book that is helpful, necessary, decent, and true:
The spirit that made so much sense to so many people in the Occupy movement is finished only if we let it be — or if we wait for someone else to carry it for us. Organizing to build power and resist corruption is something we can all do, wherever we find ourselves. What would happen if families were sitting around their dinner tables discussing how corporate hegemony is vulnerable and how to exploit its vulnerabilities? What if some of the ingenuity that we normally put into weighing consumer choices, or artfully complaining, went into sucking out the marrow of capitalist culture and the modes of thinking and acting that uphold it? … Revolution really isn’t as far off as it might seem. Nor is apocalypse. “THE BEGINNING IS NEAR,” said a popular slogan on Occupy’s cardboard signs.
Let Us Proceed
Occupy is a process, and that process, hopefully, will continue because of people who were now “talking with one another over networks that they had created themselves. They were traveling, connecting, and building their capacity for future action…. People who were once merely interested in social change became committed to it.” We can only hope.
“Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse” by Nathan Schneider, Foreword by Rebecca Solnit; University of California Press, Paperback, 216 pages, ISBN: 9780520276802, $24.95. http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520276802
This original review is Copr. © 2013 by John Scott G and originally published on PublishersNewswire.com – all commercial and reprint rights reserved. No fee or other consideration was paid to the reviewer, this site or its publisher by any third party for this unbiased article. Editorial illustration based on book jacket created by Christopher L. Simmons.