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Occupy Draws Strength From the Powerless
Posted on Feb 13, 2012
By Chris Hedges
“By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such, he has exposed it as a mere game,” Havel says of his greengrocer. “He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted façade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can coexist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.”
Those who do not carve out spaces separate from the state and its systems of power, those who cannot find room to become autonomous, or who do not “live in truth,” inevitably become compromised. In Havel’s words, they “are the system.” The Occupy movement, by naming corporate power and refusing to compromise with it, by forming alternative systems of community and society, embodies Havel’s call to “live in truth.” It does not appeal to the systems of control, and for this reason it is a genuine threat to the corporate state.
Movements that call on followers to “live in truth” do not always succeed. They failed in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, triggering armed insurgencies and blood-drenched civil wars. They have failed so far in Iran, the Israeli-occupied territories and Syria. China has a movement modeled after Havel’s Charter 77 called Charter 08. But the Chinese opposition to the state has been effectively suppressed, even though its principal author, Liu Xiaobo, currently serving an 11-year prison term for “incitement of subversion of state power,” was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Power elites who stubbornly refuse to heed popular will and resort to harsher and harsher forms of state control can easily provoke counterviolence. The first Palestinian uprising, which lasted from 1987 to 1992, saw crowds of demonstrators throw rocks at Israeli soldiers, but it was largely a nonviolent movement. The second uprising, or intifada, which erupted in 2000 and endured for five years, with armed attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians, was not. History is dotted with brutal fratricides spawned by calcified and repressive elites who ignored peaceful protest. And even when nonviolent movements do succeed, it is impossible to predict when they will spawn an uprising or how long the process will take. As Timothy Garton Ash noted about Eastern Europe’s revolutions of the late 20th century, in Poland the revolt took 10 years, in East Germany 10 weeks, in Czechoslovakia 10 days.
Occupy’s most powerful asset is that it articulates this truth. And this truth is understood by the mainstream, the 99 percent. If the movement is severed from the mainstream, which I expect is the primary goal of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, it will be crippled and easily contained. Other, more militant groups may rise and even flourish, but if the Occupy movement is to retain the majority it will have to fight within self-imposed limitations of nonviolence.
I do not know if it will succeed. If it does not ,then I fear we will see the classical forms of violent protest that are used by an enraged and frustrated populace; for me such a turn to violence, while understandable, is always tragic. Violence is a poison, even when it is ingested in a supposedly just cause. It contaminates all who use it. I watched this poison work on repressors and the repressed from Latin America to the Middle East to the Balkans. I am not a pacifist. I know there are limits. But I desperately want to avoid going there.
“We would not have a movement if violence or property damage were used from the outset,” Kevin Zeese, one of the first activists to call for an Occupy movement, told me. “People are not drawn to violent movement. Such tactics will shrink rather than expand our base of support. Property damage justifies police violence to many Americans. There is a wide range of diversity of tactics within a nonviolent strategy. Disciplined nonviolence is often more difficult because anger and emotion lead people to want to strike back at the police when they are violent, but disciplined nonviolence is the tactic that is most effective against the violence of the state.”
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