Occupy Detroit began last night on a windy, chilled autumn evening. The tents went up on Grand Circus Park, twenty-five or so by my count, and the general assembly began across Woodward around 7:30. My guess, and I am not great at these things, is that somewhere in the neighborhood of one thousand people showed up. Not bad for a Friday night. The crowd was the Detroit version of those that have gathered around the country; perhaps a little more union and a little more black than other places. 2011 is a remarkable year comrades.
The handful of the Ron Paul cult there were unable to get an ‘End the Fed’ chant going thankfully. One had a professionally made sign with Paul’s face looking longingly at the future saying : ‘Vote Paul, Vote Peace’. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. This guy is a racist who advocates an economic system that looks something like a Mogadishu weapon’s bazaar, he does not believe in public education or taxes (no ‘tax the rich’ for Ron) and this doctor of medicine believes that health care is reserved for those who ‘earn it’. With that kind of ‘peace’ I definitely prefer (class) war. There were Democrats there shilling for their man in rearguard defense, but if Obama was mentioned it was mostly to make a demand. The cops were almost invisible, the most visible being those ‘undercover’. The organized left was remarkably low-key as far as these things go, subsumed as they were by an assembly that reached well beyond the ‘traditional’ left. Plenty of other folks were there with their particular axe to grind (real movements bring out all kinds); many more just fed up and motivated to act by their own circumstances and the example of Zuccotti Park.
One of the things that screams ‘genuine social movement’ is the homemade, personalized signs scratched out on pieces of cardboard that hundreds of people carried. People desperately want to be heard in a society that wants them to be silent. Gathered in circles all across the park small groups picked up conversations, networked, grievanced, consoled and planned. We all have our own story of waking up on the wrong side of the American Dream and that pain, and it is real pain, has to be shared, be listened to, to be made real. Folks did just that and in the most productive way possible; articulating their interests as part of a building movement.
I have my own particular axe to grind about the 99% slogan; it is far too encompassing though I certainly sympathize with the impulse. Here at château Rustbelt we hate the rich and not just the Bill Gates rich, but all of their class, little and big. I have as little in common (in lifestyle and in interest) with the top ten or even twenty percent as I have with the top one. That still leaves an overwhelming majority and globally the number whose interests I share is probably a lot closer to that 99%. The attempt at universalism is a false promise here though; it can’t help but muddy the waters of this class war (and how heartening to see so many signs acknowledging, even celebrating class war!). We are not all in this together and it is not simply income or wealth that divides society, but our relationship to the way the economy runs. Some of us produce, others live off of what we produce. This country is deeply divided by race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, cultural and social lives as well. The realities of imperialism and white supremacy preclude a 99% solution. These divisions are real and materially manifested everywhere. The first act of any war is to correctly identify the enemy.
The class struggle is fought on a million fronts though; it plays itself out on all kinds of levels including the urge for and embrace of community and social space. Sometimes I think that our next Civil War we have will be fought between those who want public libraries and those that don’t. Do you want to live in a society, a community, or live clutching your gun, bunkered down behind a ‘No Trespassing’ sign?
I’m not sure where this thing goes, but it is going somewhere. It has already changed political debate in this country. The Occupy Movement’s potency, why it has captured the imagination, has been its birth outside of the institutional framework. It came into this world free from the control of Democratic Party and the sell-out union bureaucracy. It would mean the movement’s death were it to allow itself to be embraced only to be smothered by them. Van Jones, Moveon.org, et. al. have no interest in this movement other than its role in getting Democrats elected.
The more the movement identifies with the interests of workers and the poor in this war declared by the capitalist class, the less possible it will be for the Democratic pretenders to keep up their pretenses, the less able they will be in co-opting the movement. In the longer run, the most serious danger to the movement will not be the disorientation the Alex Jones’ and Ron Pauls might bring (serious as that might be), but the demobilization the poison embrace of the Democrats invariably induces.
But that is not now. Now is a new movement in the process of defining itself, learning who are its enemies and who are its friends. How that process happens will determine if Occupy can match the momentous challenge it has posed with the prosecution of that challenge. There is a war in this country and around the world- a class war. It has been raging ever more vigorously as the crisis in the economy continues and the ruling class attempts to make the working class pay for that crisis. If we talk war, we better think about how to win it, if not the war, than a battle. Losing it looks too much like yesterday; a few more yesterdays and there will be no tomorrow.
A slide show of photos I took from the first night of Detroit Occupy above, comrades. See you at the occupation.