The Occupy Movement is currently the most vocal manifestation of public resistance and civil disobedience to hit the West since the 60s. In turn, it has elicited a concerted and in some ways unprecedented militarisation of state violence. In the US, the deployment of tear gas, pepper-spray and rubber bullets has deliberately brutalised peaceful, civilian protestors – purely in the name of restoring ‘civil order’. More than ever, the insistence by people on reclaiming public spaces in the name of opposing the injustice and inequality meted out by the proverbial “1 per cent” is unpeeling the mask of the democratic state, to reveal the unrestrained monopoly of wealth and weapons on which its power is premised.
Unlike previous twentieth century protests, the Occupy Movement is distinguished by its genuine spontaneity, its leaderless dynamic, and its organic global proliferation through the streets of major industrial cities in the North. The driving force of Occupy, however, is not just the escalating global economic recession, although the latter’s role in galvanising grievances shouldn’t be underestimated. Rather, the determination of citizens to occupy strategic public spaces is inspired by a convergence of public perceptions.
The majority of people now hold views about Western governments and the nature of power that would’ve made them social pariahs ten or twenty years ago. The majority are now sceptical of the Iraq War; the majority want troops out of Afghanistan; the majority resent the banks and financial sector and blame them for the financial crisis; most people are now aware of environmental issues, more than ever before, and despite denialist confusion promulgated by elements of fossil fuel industries, the majority in the US and Britain are deeply concerned about global warming; most people are wary of conventional party politics and disillusioned with the mainstream parliamentary system, due to the continuation of scandal after scandal. In other words, on a whole range of issues, there has been a massive popular shift in public opinion toward a progressive critique of the current political economic system. It is, of course, largely subliminal, not carefully worked out, and lacks a coherent vision for what needs to be done – but there can be little doubt that this shift has happened, and is deepening. People are increasingly disenchanted with prevailing socio-political and economic structures, and they are hungry for alternatives. Yet they see none readily available, no existing mechanism which allows their voices to be truly heard – what left to do, then, beyond simply occupying public space in an effort to, somehow, reclaim power?
Civil Contingencies: State-Preparations for Counter-Insurgency
Yet as the global economic recession began to kick in since 2008, the “1 per cent” – or elements thereof – were well aware that one of the immediate consequences would be citizens taking to the streets. And they were preparing for it.
In late 2008, an internal client memo from US bank and Federal Reserve member Citigroup, authored by chief technical strategist Tom Fitzpatrick, warned unequivocally of “continued financial deterioration, causing further economic deterioration, with the risk of a feedback loop.” This will “lead to political instability... Some leaders are now at record levels of unpopularity. There is a risk of domestic unrest, starting with strikes because people are feeling disenfranchised.”
What to do? One answer to that question was put out by the US Army Strategic Studies Institute in December that year, in a report urging the US military to prepare for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States” provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse”, “loss of functioning political and legal order,” or “purposeful domestic resistance and insurgency”, among other threats. The report warned that Department of Defense resources may need to be put “at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquillity” – including “the use of military force... against hostile groups inside the United States.” The noble aim of such state militarisation is, of course, to “restore public order and protect vulnerable populations” – from themselves, it would appear.