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The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement [Format Kindle]

David Graeber

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9780812993561|excerpt

Graeber / THE DEMOCRACY PROJECT

ONE

The Beginning Is Near

In March 2011, Micah White, editor of the Canadian magazine Adbusters, asked me to write a column on the possibility of a revolutionary movement springing up in Europe or America. At the time, the best I could think to say is that when a true revolutionary movement does arise, everyone, the organizers included, is taken by surprise. I had recently had a long conversation with an Egyptian anarchist named Dina Makram-Ebeid to that effect, at the height of the uprising at Tahrir Square, which I used to open the column.

“The funny thing is,” my Egyptian friend told me, “you’ve been doing this so long, you kind of forget that you can win. All these years, we’ve been organizing marches, rallies. . . . And if only 45 people show up, you’re depressed. If you get 300, you’re happy. Then one day, you get 500,000. And you’re incredulous: on some level, you’d given up thinking that could even happen.”

Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt was one of the most repressive societies on earth—the entire apparatus of the state was organized around ensuring that what ended up happening could never happen. And yet it did.

So why not here?

To be honest, most activists I know go around feeling much like my Egyptian friend used to feel—we organize much of our lives around the possibility of something that we’re not sure we believe could ever really happen.

And then it did.

Of course in our case, it wasn’t the fall of a military dic­tatorship, but the outbreak of a mass movement based on direct democracy—an outcome, in its own way, just as long dreamed of by its organizers, just as long dreaded by those who held ultimate power in the country, and just as uncertain in its outcome as the overthrow of Mubarak had been.

The story of this movement has been told in countless outlets already, from the Occupy Wall Street Journal to the actual Wall Street Journal, with varying motives, points of view, casts of characters, and degrees of accuracy. In most, my own importance has been vastly overstated. My role was that of a bridge between camps. But my aim in this chapter is not so much to set the historical record straight; or, even, to write a history at all, but rather to give a sense of what living at the fulcrum of such a historical convergence can be like. Much of our political culture, even daily existence, makes us feel that such events are simply impossible (indeed, there is reason to believe that our political culture is designed to make us feel that way). The result has a chilling effect on the imagination. Even those who, like Dina or myself, organized much of our lives, and most of our fantasies and aspirations, around the possibility of such outbreaks of the imagination were startled when such an outbreak actually began to happen. Which is why it’s crucial to begin by underlining that transformative outbreaks of imagination have happened, they are happening, they surely will continue to happen again. The experience of those who live through such events is to find our horizons thrown open; to find ourselves wondering what else we assume cannot really happen actually can. Such events cause us to reconsider everything we thought we knew about the past. This is why those in power do their best to bottle them up, to treat these outbreaks of imagination as peculiar anomalies, rather than the kind of moments from which everything, including their own power, originally emerged. So telling the story of Occupy—even if from just one actor’s point of view—is important; it’s only in the light of the sense of possibility Occupy opened up that everything else I have to say makes sense.



When I wrote the piece for Adbusters—the editors gave it the title “Awaiting the Magic Spark”—I was living in London, teaching anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, in my fourth year of exile from U.S. academia. I had been fairly deeply involved with the U.K. student movement that year, visiting many of the dozens of university occupations across the country that had formed to protest the Conservative government’s broadside assault on the British public education system, taking part in organizing and street actions. Adbusters specifically commissioned me to write a piece speculating on the possibility that the student movement might mark the beginning of a broad, Europe-wide, or even worldwide, rebellion.

I had long been a fan of Adbusters, but had only fairly recently become a contributor. I was more a street action person when I wasn’t being a social theorist. Adbusters, on the other hand, was a magazine for “culture jammers”: it was originally created by rebellious advertising workers who loathed their industry and so decided to join the other side, using their professional skills to subvert the corporate world they had been trained to promote. They were most famous for creating “subvertisments,” anti-ads—for instance, “fashion” ads featuring bulimic models vomiting into toilets—with professional production values, and then trying to place them in mainstream publications or on network television—attempts that were inevitably refused. Of all radical magazines, Adbusters was easily the most beautiful, but many anarchists considered their stylish, ironic approach distinctly less than hard-core. I’d first started writing for them when Micah White contacted me back in 2008 to contribute a column. Over the summer of 2011, he had become interested in making me into something like a regular British correspondent.

Such plans were thrown askew when a year’s leave took me back to America. I arrived that July, the summer of 2011, in my native New York, expecting to spend most of the summer touring and doing interviews for a recently released book on the history of debt. I also wanted to plug back into the New York activist scene, but with some hesitation, since I had the distinct impression that the scene was in something of a shambles. I’d first gotten heavily involved in activism in New York between 2000 and 2003, the heyday of the Global Justice Movement. That movement, which began with the Zapatista revolt in Mexico’s Chiapas in 1994 and reached the United States with the mass actions that shut down the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle in 1999, was the last time any of my friends had a sense that some sort of global revolutionary movement might be taking shape. Those were heady days. In the wake of Seattle, it seemed every day there was something going on, a protest, an action, a Reclaim the Streets or activist subway party, and a thousand different planning meetings. But the ramifications of 9/11 hit us very hard, even if they took a few years to have their full effect. The level of arbitrary violence police were willing to employ against activists ratcheted up unimaginably; when a handful of unarmed students occupied the roof of the New School in a protest in 2009, for instance, the NYPD is said to have responded with four different anti­terrorist squads, including commandos rappelling off helicopters armed with all sorts of peculiar sci-fi weaponry. And the scale of the antiwar and anti–­Republican National Convention protests in New York ironically sapped some of the life out of the protest scene: anarchist-style “horizontal” groups, based on principles of direct democracy, had come to be largely displaced by vast top-down antiwar coalitions for whom political action was largely a matter of marching around with signs. Meanwhile the New York anarchist scene, which had been at the very core of the Global Justice Movement, wracked by endless personal squabbles, had been reduced largely to organizing an annual book fair.

The April 6 Movement

Even before I returned full-time for the summer, I began reengaging with the New York activist scene when I’d visited the city during my spring break in late April. My old friend Priya Reddy, a onetime tree sitter and veteran eco-activist, invited me to see two of the founders of the Egyptian April 6 Youth Movement who were going to be speaking at the Brecht Forum, a radical education center that often had free space for events.

This was exciting news, since April 6 had played a key role in the recent Egyptian revolution. It turns out the two Egyptians, who were in New York on a book tour, had a few hours unscheduled and decided they wanted to sneak off on their publicists and meet fellow activists. They’d called Marisa Holmes, an anarchist and radical filmmaker working on a documentary about the Egyptian revolution—she being the only New York activist, it seemed, whose phone number they actually knew. Marisa threw together the Brecht Forum event on a day’s notice. Twenty of us ended up coming to sit around a big table in the Brecht Forum’s library to listen to the two Egyptians. One, Ahmed Maher, young, bald, and rather quiet, mainly due to his uncertain English, seemed to be the founder of the group. The other, Waleed Rashed, was large, florid, articulate, and funny—I pegged him more as a spokesman than a strategist. Together, they told stories about how many times they’d been arrested and all the little devices they’d used to outfox the secret police.

“We made a lot of use of cabdrivers. Without their knowledge. You see there is a tradition we have in Egypt: cabdrivers must talk. Continually. They cannot do otherwise. There is a story in fact that there was one businessman who took a cab on a long ride, and after half an hour grew bored of the driver’s endless prattling, and asked him to be quiet. The driver stopped the car and demanded that he leave. ‘How dare you? This is my cab! I have the right to talk continually!’ So one day, when we knew the police were going to break up our assembly, we announced on our Facebook pages that we would all be meeting in Tahrir Square at 3 p.m. Now, of course, we all knew we were being monitored. So that day, each of us made a point of taking a taxi around 9 a.m. and telling the driver, ‘You know, I hear there’s going to be a big assembly at Tahrir Square at two this afternoon.’ And sure enough, within hours, everyone in Cairo knew about it. We got a turnout of tens of thousands of people before the police showed up.”



April 6, it became apparent, was by no means a radical group. Rashed, for example, worked for a bank. By disposition, the two representatives of the movement were classic liberals, the sort of people who, had they been born in America, would have been defenders of Barack Obama. Yet here they were sneaking away from their minders to address a motley collection of anarchists and Marxists—who, they had come to realize, were their American counterparts.

“When they were firing tear gas canisters straight into the crowd, we looked at those tear gas canisters, and we noticed something,” Rashed told us. “Every one said, ‘Made in USA.’ So, we later found out, was the equipment used to torture us when we were arrested. You don’t forget something like that.”

After the formal talk, Maher and Rashed wanted to see the Hudson River, which was just across the highway, so six or seven of the more intrepid of us darted across the traffic of the West Side Highway and found a spot by a deserted pier. I used a flash drive I had on me to copy some videos Rashed wanted to give us, some Egyptian, some of them, curiously, produced by the Serbian student group Otpor!—which had played probably the most important role in organizing the mass protests and various forms of nonviolent resistance that had overthrown the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in late 2000. The Serbian group, he explained, had been one of the primary inspirations for April 6. The Egyptian group’s founders had not only corresponded with Otpor! veterans, many had even flown to Belgrade, in the organization’s early days, to attend seminars on techniques of nonviolent resistance. April 6 even adopted a version of Otpor!’s raised-fist logo.

“You do realize,” I said to him, “that Otpor! was originally set up by the CIA?”

He shrugged. Apparently the origin of the Serbian group was a matter of complete indifference to him.

But Otpor!’s origins were even more complicated than that. In fact, several of us hastened to explain, the tactics that Otpor! and many other of the groups in the vanguard of the “colored” revolutions of the aughts—from the old Soviet empire down to the Balkans—implemented, with help from the CIA, were the ones the CIA originally learned from studying the Global Justice Movement, including tactics executed by some of the people who were gathered on the Hudson River that very night.

It’s impossible for activists to really know what the other side is thinking. We can’t even really know exactly who the other side is: who’s monitoring us, who if anyone was coordinating international security efforts against us. But you can’t help but speculate. And it was difficult not to notice that back around 1999, right around the time that a loose global network of antiauthoritarian collectives began mobilizing to shut down trade summits from Prague to Cancun using surprisingly effective techniques of decentralized direct democracy and nonviolent civil disobedience, certain elements in the U.S. security apparatus began not only studying the phenomenon, but trying to see if they could foster such movements themselves. This kind of turnabout was not unprecedented: in the 1980s the CIA had done something similar, using the fruits of 1960s and 1970s counterinsurgency research into how guerrilla armies worked to try to manufacture insurgencies like the Contras in Nicaragua. Something like that seemed to be happening again. Government money began pouring into international foundations promoting nonviolent tactics, and American trainers—some veterans of the antinuclear movement of the 1970s—were helping organize groups like Otpor! It’s important not to overstate the effectiveness of such efforts. The CIA can’t produce a movement out of nothing. Their efforts proved effective in Serbia and Georgia, but failed completely in Venezuela. But the real historical irony is that it was these techniques, pioneered by the Global Justice Movement, and successfully spread across the world by the CIA to American-aided groups, that in turn inspired movements that overthrew American client states. It’s a sign of the power of democratic direct action tactics that once they were let loose into the world, they became uncontrollable.

US Uncut

For me, the most concrete thing that came out of that evening with the Egyptians was that I met Marisa. Five years before, she had been one of the student activists who’d made a brilliant—if ultimately short-lived—attempt to re-create the 1960s activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Most New York activists still referred to the key organizers as “those SDS kids”—but, while most of them were at this point trapped working fifty to sixty hours a week paying off their student loan debts, Marisa, who had been in an Ohio branch of SDS and only later moved to the city, was still very much active—indeed, she seemed to have a finger in almost everything worthwhile that was still happening in the New York activist scene. Marisa is one of those people one is almost guaranteed to underestimate: small, unassuming, with a tendency to fold herself into a ball and all but disappear in public events. But she is one of the most gifted activists I’ve ever met. As I was later to discover, she had an almost uncanny ability to instantly assess a situation and figure out what’s happening, what’s important, and what needs to be done.

As the little meeting along the Hudson broke up, Marisa told me about a meeting the next day at EarthMatters in the East Village for a new group she was working with called US Uncut—inspired, she explained, by the British coalition UK Uncut, which had been created to organize mass civil disobedience against the Tory government’s austerity plans in 2010. They were mostly pretty liberal, she hastened to warn me, not many anarchists, but in a way that was what was so charming about the group: the New York chapter was made up of people of all sorts of different backgrounds—“real people, not activist types”—middle-aged housewives, postal workers. “But they’re all really enthusiastic about the idea of doing direct action.”

The idea had a certain appeal. I’d never had a chance to work with UK Uncut when I was in London, but I had certainly run across them.

The tactical strategy of UK Uncut was simple and brilliant. One of the great scandals of the Conservative government’s 2010 austerity package was that at the same time as they were trumpeting the need to triple student fees, close youth centers, and slash benefits to pensioners and people with disabilities to make up for what they described as a crippling budget shortfall, they exhibited absolutely no interest in collecting untold billions of pounds sterling of back taxes owed by some of their largest corporate campaign contributors—revenue that, if collected, would make most of those cuts completely unnecessary. UK Uncut’s way of dramatizing the issue was to say: fine, if you’re going to close our schools and clinics because you don’t want to take the money from banks like HSBC or companies like Vodafone, we’re just going to conduct classes and give medical treatment in their lobbies. UK Uncut’s most dramatic action had taken place on the 26th of March, only a few weeks before my return to New York, when, in the wake of a half-million-strong labor march in London to protest the cuts, about 250 activists had occupied the ultra-swanky department store Fortnum & Mason. Fortnum & Mason was mainly famous for selling the world’s most expensive tea and biscuits; their business was booming despite the recession, but their owners had also somehow managed to avoid paying £40 million in taxes.

At the time, I was working with a different group, Arts Against Cuts, mainly made up of women artists, whose primary contribution on the day of the march was to provide hundreds of paint bombs to student activists geared up in black hoodies, balaclavas, and bandanas (in activist language, in “Black Bloc”). I had never actually seen a paint bomb before, and when some of my friends started opening up their backpacks I remember being impressed by how small they were. The paint bombs weren’t actual bombs, just tiny water balloons of the same shape as and just slightly larger than an egg, half full of water, half of different colors of water-soluble paint. The nice thing was that one could throw them like baseballs at almost any target—an offending storefront, a passing Rolls or Lamborghini, a riot cop—and they would make an immediate and dramatic impression, splashing primary colors all over the place, but in such a way that we never ran the remotest danger of doing anyone any physical harm.

The plan that day was for the students and their allies to break off from the labor march at three o’clock in small groups and fan out through London’s central shopping area, blockading intersections and decorating the marquees of notable tax evaders with paint bombs. After about an hour, we heard about the UK Uncut occupation of Fortnum & Mason and we trickled down to see if we could do anything to help. I arrived just as riot cops were sealing off the entryways and the last occupiers who didn’t want to risk arrest were preparing to jump off the department store’s vast marquee into the arms of surrounding protesters. The Black Bloc assembled, and after unleashing our few remaining balloons, we linked arms to hold off an advancing line of riot cops trying to clear the street so they could begin mass arrests. A few weeks later, in New York, my legs were still etched with welts and scrapes from being kicked in the shins on that occasion. (I remember thinking at the time that I now understood why ancient warriors wore greaves—if there are two opposing lines of shield-bearing warriors facing each other, the most obvious thing to do is to kick your opponent in the shins.)



As it turned out, US Uncut wasn’t up to anything nearly that dramatic. The meeting, as I’ve mentioned, was held on the back porch of the famous vegetarian deli EarthMatters on the Lower East Side, where they sell herbal teas almost as expensive as Fortnum & Mason’s, and, indeed, was populated by just as diverse and offbeat a crowd as Marisa had predicted. Their plan was to create an action similar to the one that UK Uncut had devised at Fortnum & Mason: to protest the closing of classrooms all over the city because of budget shortfalls, they were going to hold classes in the lobby of Bank of America, a financial behemoth that pays no taxes at all. Someone would play the role of a professor and give a lecture on corporate tax evasion in the lobby; Marisa would film the whole thing for a video they’d release on the Internet. The problem, they explained, was they were having some trouble finding someone to take on the part of the professor.

I had tickets to fly back to London that Sunday, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of arrest, but this seemed a lot like fate. After a moment’s hesitation, I volunteered.

As it turned out there wasn’t much to worry about—US Uncut’s idea of an “occupation” was to set up shop in the bank lobby, take advantage of the initial confusion to begin the “teach-in,” and then leave as soon as the police began to threaten to start making arrests. I managed to scare up something that looked vaguely like a tweed jacket in the back of my closet, studied up on Bank of America’s tax history (one tidbit I put in the “cheat sheet” to be distributed at the event: “In 2009, Bank of America earned $4.4 billion, paid no federal taxes whatsoever, but nonetheless got a tax credit of $1.9 billion. It did, however, spend roughly $4 million on lobbying, money that went directly to the politicians who wrote the tax codes that made this possible”),1 and showed up for the action—which Marisa filmed for immediate streaming on the Internet. Our occupation lasted about fifteen minutes.

When I came back to New York in July, one of the first people I called was Marisa, and she plugged me back into another Uncut action, in Brooklyn. This time we ran away even quicker.

16 Beaver Street

Later that month, my friend Colleen Asper talked me into attending an event on July 31, hosted by the 16 Beaver Group.

16 Beaver is an art space named after their address just a block from the New York Stock Exchange. At the time, I knew it as the kind of place where artists who are also fans of Italian Autonomist theory hold seminars on CyberMarx, or radical Indian cinema, or the ongoing significance of Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto. Colleen had urged me to come down that Sunday if I wanted to get a sense of what was happening in New York. I’d agreed, then kind of half forgotten, since I was spending that morning with a British archaeologist friend passing through town for a conference, and we’d both become engrossed exploring midtown comic book emporia, trying to find appropriate presents for his kids. Around 12:30 I received a text message from Colleen:

C: You coming to this 16 Beaver thing?

D: Where is it again? I’ll go.

C: Now  Till 5 though, so if you come later, there will still be talking

D: I’ll head down

C: Sweet!

D: Remind me what they’re even talking about

C: A little bit of everything.

The purpose of the meeting was to have presentations about various anti-austerity movements growing around the world—in Greece, Spain, and elsewhere—and to end with an open discussion about how to bring a similar movement here.

I arrived late. By the time I got there I’d already missed the discussion of Greece and Spain, but was surprised to see so many familiar faces in the room. The Greek talk had been given by an old friend, an artist named Georgia Sagri, and as I walked in an even older friend, Sabu Kohso, was in the middle of talk about antinuclear mobilizations in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown in Japan. The only discussion I caught all the way through was the very last talk, about New York, and it was very much an anticlimax. The presenter was Doug Singsen, a soft-spoken art historian from Brooklyn College, who told the story of the New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts Coalition, which had sponsored a small sidewalk camp they called Bloombergville, named after Mayor Michael Bloomberg, opposite City Hall in lower Manhattan. In some ways it was a tale of frustration. The coalition had started out as a broad alliance of New York unions and community groups, with the express purpose of sponsoring civil disobedience against Bloomberg’s draconian austerity budgets. This was unusual in itself: normally, union officials balk at the very mention of civil disobedience—or, at least, any civil disobedience that is not of the most completely scripted, prearranged sort (for instance, arranging with the police in advance when and how activists are to be arrested). This time unions like the United Federation of Teachers played an active role in planning the camp, inspired, in part, by the success of similar protest encampments in Cairo, Athens, and Barcelona—but then got cold feet and pulled out the moment the camp was actually set up. Nonetheless, forty or fifty dedicated activists, mostly socialists and anarchists, stuck it out for roughly four weeks, from mid-June to early July. With numbers that small, and no real media attention or political allies, acting in defiance of the law was out of the question, since everyone would just be arrested immediately and no one would ever know. But they had the advantage of an obscure regulation in New York law whereby it was not illegal to sleep on the sidewalk as a form of political protest, provided one left a lane open to traffic and didn’t raise anything that could be described as a “structure” (such as a lean-to or tent). Of course, without tents, or any sort of structure, it was hard to describe the result as really being a “camp.” The organizers had done their best to liaison with the police but they weren’t in a particularly strong position to negotiate. They ended up being pushed farther and farther from City Hall before dispersing altogether.

The real reason the coalition fragmented so quickly, Singsen explained, was politics. The unions and most of the community groups were working with allies on the City Council, who were busy negotiating a compromise budget with the mayor. “It soon became apparent,” he said, “that there were two positions. The moderates, who were willing to accept the need for some cuts, thinking it would place them in a better negotiating position to limit the damage, and the radicals—the Bloombergville camp—who rejected the need for any cuts at all.” Once a deal seemed in sight, all support for civil disobedience, even in its mildest form, disappeared.



Three hours later, Sabu, Georgia, Colleen, a couple of the student organizers from Bloombergville, and I were nursing our beers a few blocks away and trying to hash out what we thought of all of this. It was a particular pleasure to see Georgia again. The last time we’d met it had been in Exarchia, a neighborhood in Athens full of squatted social centers, occupied parks, and anarchist cafés, where we’d spent a long night downing glasses of ouzo at street corner cafés while arguing about the radical implications of Plato’s theory of agape, or universal love—conversations periodically interrupted by battalions of riot police who would march through the area all night long to make sure no one ever felt comfortable. Colleen explained this was typical of Exarchia. Occasionally, she told us, especially if a policeman had recently been injured in a clash with protesters, the police would choose one café, thrash everyone in sight, and destroy the cappuccino machines.

Back in New York, it wasn’t long before the conversation turned to what it would take to startle the New York activist scene out of its doldrums.

“The main thing that stuck in my head about the talk about Bloombergville,” I volunteered, “was when the speaker was saying that the moderates were willing to accept some cuts, and the radicals rejected cuts entirely. I was just following along nodding my head, and suddenly I realized: wait a minute! What is this guy saying here? How did we get to a point where the radical position is to keep things exactly the way they are?”

The Uncut protests and the twenty-odd student occupations in England that year had fallen into the same trap. They were militant enough, sure: students had trashed Tory headquarters and ambushed members of the royal family. But they weren’t radical. If anything the message was reactionary: stop the cuts! What, and go back to the lost paradise of 2009? Or even 1959, or 1979?

“And to be perfectly honest,” I added. “It feels a bit unsettling watching a bunch of anarchists in masks outside Topshop, lobbing paint bombs over a line of riot cops, shouting, ‘Pay your taxes!’ ” (Of course, I had been one of those radicals with paint bombs.)

Was there some way to break out of the trap? Georgia was excited by a campaign she’d seen advertised in Adbusters called “Occupy Wall Street.” When Georgia described the ad to me, I was skeptical. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had tried to shut down the Stock Exchange. There might have been one time they actually pulled it off back in the 1980s or 1990s. And in 2001, there were plans to put together a Wall Street action right after the IMF actions in Washington that fall. But then 9/11 happened, three blocks away from the proposed site of the action, and we had to drop our plans. My assumption was that doing anything anywhere near Ground Zero was going to be off-limits for decades—both practically and symbolically. And more than anything, I was unclear about what this call to occupy Wall Street hoped to accomplish.

No one was really sure. But what also caught Georgia’s eye was another ad she’d seen online for what was being called a “General Assembly,” an organizing meeting to plan the Wall Street occupation, whatever it would turn out to be.

In Greece, she explained, that’s how they had begun: by occupying Syntagma Square, a public plaza near parliament, and creating a genuine popular assembly, a new agora, based on direct democracy principles. Adbusters, she said, was pushing for some kind of symbolic action. They wanted tens of thousands of people to descend on Wall Street, pitch tents, and refuse to leave until the government agreed to one key demand. If there was going to be an assembly, it was going to be beforehand, to determine what exactly that demand was: that Obama establish a committee to reinstate Glass-Steagall (the Depression-era law that had once prevented commercial banks from engaging in market speculation) or a constitutional amendment abolishing corporate personhood, or something else.

Colleen pointed out that Adbusters was basically founded by marketing people and their strategy made perfect sense from a marketing perspective: get a catchy slogan, make sure it expresses precisely what you want, then keep hammering away at it. But, she added, is that kind of legibility always a virtue for a social movement? Often the power of a work of art is precisely the fact that you’re not quite sure what it’s trying to say. What’s wrong with keeping the other side guessing? Especially if keeping things open-ended lets you provide a forum for a discontent that everyone feels, but haven’t found a way to express yet.

Georgia agreed. Why not make the assembly the message in itself, as an open forum for people to talk about problems and propose solutions outside the framework of the existing system. Or to talk about how to create a completely new system altogether. The assembly could be a model that would spread until there was an assembly in every neighborhood in New York, on every block, in every workplace.

This had been the ultimate dream during the Global Justice Movement, too. At the time we called it “contaminationism.” Insofar as we were a revolutionary movement, as opposed to a mere solidarity movement supporting revolutionary movements overseas, our entire vision was based on a kind of faith that democracy was contagious. Or at least, the kind of leaderless direct democracy we had spent so much care and effort on developing. The moment people were exposed to it, to watch a group of people actually listen to each other, and come to an intelligent decision, collectively, without having it in any sense imposed on them—let alone to watch a thousand people do it at one of the great Spokescouncils we held before major actions—it tended to change their perception over what was politically possible. Certainly it had had that effect on me.

Our expectation was that democratic practices would spread, and, inevitably, adapt themselves to the needs of local organizations: it never occurred to us that, say, a Puerto Rican nationalist group in New York and a vegan bicycle collective in San Francisco were going to do direct democracy in anything like the same way. To a large degree, that’s what happened. We’d had enormous success transforming activist culture itself. After the Global Justice Movement, the old days of steering committees and the like were basically over. Pretty much everyone in the activist community had come around to the idea of prefigurative politics: the idea that the organizational form that an activist group takes should embody the kind of society we wish to create. The problem was breaking these ideas out of the activist ghetto and getting them in front of the wider public, people who weren’t already involved in some sort of grassroots political campaign. The media were no help at all: you could go through a year’s worth of media coverage and still not have the slightest idea that the movement was about promulgating direct democracy. So for contaminationism to work, we had to actually get people in the room. And that proved extraordinarily difficult.

Maybe, we concluded, this time it would be different. After all, this time it wasn’t the Third World being hit by financial crises and devastating austerity plans. This time the crisis had come home.

We all promised to meet at the General Assembly.

Revue de presse

I have twice given away David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and Christmas will not change my habits. The book is more readable and entertaining than I can indicate...Would someone, please, give me a copy this Christmas. I promise to keep it for myself (Peter Carey Observer Books of the Year)

Debt:The First 5,000 Years by Goldsmiths College anthropologist David Graeber has become one of the year's most influential books (Paul Mason Guardian Books of 2011)

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  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 458 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 318 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 081299356X
  • Editeur : Penguin (9 avril 2013)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B00AZC56YS
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58 internautes sur 60 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Major League Eye-Opener 9 avril 2013
Par David Wineberg - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
David Graeber takes on an enormously difficult task - giving historical perspective to a movement - Occupy Wall Street - that only just happened, and whose effects have yet to run their course. It is difficult to distance yourself from the overall effect, particularly when, like Graeber - you are at the very center of it. He does an excellent job at a micro level, which will be enormously valuable for future anthropologists - like Graeber.

But he does not have the historical perspective quite right. He wisely asks a lot of questions - like why did this spread so far this time and not others? His answer is structural and tactical (micro), and doesn't ring true. I think the answer is that in every century, the pendulum swings too far (macro). There is an uprising of tormented souls, who, like college grads in the US today, are stopped in their tracks. Stopping the young and hopeful has always been the tinderbox of revolution. Abject misery remains abject misery, but the glass ceiling is the last straw. So in 1848, we saw popular movements that barricaded neighborhoods and attempted overthrow, all over the world. In the 1960s the slaughter of young American men in Viet Nam led to a peace movement that spread to Paris and the Prague Spring. In 2011 the self immolation of an unlicensed Tunisian fruit seller led to uprisings all over the Islamic Crescent. And the bottoming of the 2008 financial miasma has led Americans to catch that Arab Spring fever as well. I think power and oppression make this a cyclical phenomenon.

Graeber wrestles with the question of structure - how Occupy made no demands and had no leaders or externalities. He says that was actually Occupy's key asset, why it succeeded where other, previous attempts all failed. It's the anarchist model that succeeds, he says. But what if it is the very vagueness of it all that made it attractive to a broader audience? Once hard demands are made, you get opposition, you open yourself to criticism. Rifts appear. The way Occupy worked, everyone at home could relate at some personal level (99%), like everyone can relate to a horoscope. Specific demands would have killed off Occupy instantly.

Graeber explores an underappreciated fact that Noam Chomsky has been explaining for decades: American voters are very much to the left of political parties and most definitely left of politicians, who they revile. At first, Graeber marvels at the broad swath of people who contributed to Occupy - in cash, in kind, in stories on its web pages. He evinces surprise at union support, and the participation of so many women. But eventually he gets over it and finds abundant stats to back the facts - women are more likely to enter college, finish, and then be poor. Single mothers are the new breadwinners, working at jobs as caregivers or teachers. Americans do not detest "socialism" (no matter how it's defined). They actually kind of appreciate it. It's only poison in Washington. But then, so is peace, co-operation, privacy and common sense.

It was fascinating to read how the extreme left operates. It is made up of factions that do not like each other, don't like to work together, and are suspicious. Graeber can tell them apart on sight. They have all the petty squabbles and politics of anyone else. As for the "liberal" media, the left sees it being just to the right of Mussolini. Nothing gets covered unless a financial overlord deems it worthy of a putdown, nothing gets reported accurately or dispassionately, and the media just waits for the slightest imperfection or miscue to label the entire event as subterfuge, extreme, criminal or wacko. Add everything the Right says about the media, and it sounds like the media is actually solidly in the middle.

But these are trifling superficialities. The gloves come off with Question 6 on page 89, where Graeber slams the American system. He shows the US is based on bribery, institutionalized bribery. You can't get anywhere without payment to politicians and their parties. No pay, no hearing. The US is "unusually" corrupt. Grads can't get decent careers in New York because the entry level positions are all becoming unpaid internships. So unless your parents are rich enough to support you in New York for a few years after running up all that debt in university, you can't even get in the door. It's good old class war, that America is supposed to have banished. America uses code words to describe what it can't admit to. If you substitute "rape, torture and murder" everywhere you see the term "human rights abuses" you will appreciate how it changes the perspective of how we relate to our allies and partners. Human rights abuses in Russia are rape, torture and murder, but we can still work with them, because "human rights abuses" sanitizes it. Bribes get relabeled as fundraising, bribery itself is lobbying. For Graeber this encapsulates the deadlock of American politics.

Now imagine another system, he says. What if our politicians were required to solve problems instead of pursuing existing interests. Everything changes.

Graeber spends a lot of time on the police. There is much evidence of police abuse, arresting people for literally anything - bending over to pet a dog, drawing with chalk on a sidewalk - breaking a store window with a marcher's head, then claiming vandalism. The unfortunate truth is that NYPD is an "army of occupation" that intimidates rather than protects and serves. Unions back out of demonstrations for fear of the uncontrollable assaults by the police. There are more instances of stop & frisk of blacks in Brooklyn than there are blacks. And the cases of corruption within the police are mind boggling. It brags about being one of the largest armed forces in the world (they claim to be 7th biggest. Graeber says 30th). I have been posting their atrocities for years. It is really shameful; it is the ugly side of New York. New York is great despite, not because of the NYPD.

There's lots to argue with, of course. Graeber says of Occupy Wall Street : "Most obviously, the refusal to make demands was, quite self consciously, a refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the existing political order." That's not obvious at all. There at least two other more obvious possibilities: 1) It was so spontaneous they had no core demands that had sufficient support or momentum and 2) they wanted to keep it all as vague as possible to attract the widest possible sympathy.

It doesn't matter about the intent; that was the public perception of Occupy. And perception is everything. As I said off the top, distancing oneself from something this close is setting the bar pretty high.

I wrote a positively glowing review of Graeber's previous book, Debt, and this one adds a whole other dimension to the man. He's a thorough anarchist, and as rational and as thought-provoking as anyone writing today. If I could pick anyone in the world to have lunch with, I think it would be David Graeber. It would be endlessly challenging. That's my kind of conversation - and my kind of book.

David Wineberg
24 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 very interesting 20 avril 2013
Par Evan Neely - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
The reasons I began reading this book aren't the same as my impressions of its significance now that I'm done. Besides generally finding Graeber's work interesting, one of the reasons I originally decided to look at it was that I teach a class on American social movements and wanted to have some texts on contemporary instances; Graeber is a notable source of information on the Occupy movement (although, oddly, despite his near omnipresence and my regular participation in the movement in its first year, I've never crossed paths with him; I'm not sure why, but he routinely works with friends of mine, and yet...). I heard him discussing it on the radio and it sounded interesting enough. But now that I'm done with it, it gives me a broader perspective on the movement since I effectively stopped organizing after May Day and simply became a fellow-traveler who attends large events and aids in disasters like Sandy but little else. I've witnessed from a distance the transformation of the Occupy movement into a general pro-democracy movement into its more refined "Strike Debt" iteration. I wasn't present when it was decided by many Occupiers to go in that direction, and while I understood the logic, I thought of it as a bit of a rebranding exercise. This book convinced me otherwise, and showed me that this was possibly the right move for the movement to make, especially given its constituency. There are tendencies in this book and in the movement as a whole to talk about traditionally marginalized communities, but as far as my experience goes, organized efforts from those communities have been mostly tangential to Occupy itself, and, based on my experiences organizing in Newark, fairly skeptical of it (I also grant that the fear of arrest is greater for poor people of color because it almost always involves a greater level of physical violence and has consequences that are much greater in the long run). I don't say this to delegitimize the movement at all, simply to note that it makes it completely reasonable for Occupy to focus on something as general as the issue of debt - it allows them to make direct attempts that are (hopefully) within their powers to undo a social iniquity at the same time as the action will still affect as many people as possible. The various outcomes of the attempts, most especially the Debt Resistors' Manual, are very thoughtful and have gotten praise from many sources.

About the other features of the book, it has its ups and downs. I give it four stars mainly because Graeber set an extremely high standard for his future work when he wrote Debt: The First 5000 Years, which is just incredible. I suppose I should start with criticism. From my experience, he's a bit too optimistic about certain things. Not so much about the potential success of the movement - you'd have to be optimistic about that - but about the earnestness of many Occupiers. Occasionally he admits that there's a "core" of Occupiers, and he gives a very fair analysis of the limits of consensus process in the fourth chapter. Cores develop - it's not entirely to their discredit, but if you have a regular job, it's really hard to get into any inner circles because the full-time activists have nothing but time. This can hold up meetings for far longer than they need to be held, and it's largely because consensus process combined with the relatively idiosyncratic views of some people (some of whom he mentions, but with little other than praise) makes for difficulties. I don't want to fall back into the "moderate" and "extreme" language, but the fact is that many Occupiers tend to fetishize processes that most people hadn't even heard of before they showed up, and treat formal rules as substantive ends, which means that things the far greater number of sympathetic people might want can't make their way into plans of action (again, Graeber notes this to no small extent, but I wish he gave it fuller and more specific analysis). This can end up putting off people who want to work with Occupy, simply because they know that their intuitions and desires won't do anything but hold up meetings since they'll be blocked by people who have endless amounts of time to beat the clock. The result is an inner circle. Another issue is that, despite pretensions to upholding democratic ideals, many Occupiers found ways to suppress contrary opinions, mainly because they were too "mainstream." While you don't really see much of this when the whole General Assembly is together, during breakout groups (pretty much what it sounds like - smaller groups break out to discuss things more conveniently), oftentimes the spokesperson for the group would not convey opinions to the larger group if they didn't like them (I saw that happen to myself and other people fairly frequently).

But, to return to praising the book, at least the level of honesty of the Occupiers far outweighs their enemies'. Most Occupiers are decent people that just don't like seeing everyone except a small ruling class get shortchanged. As other reviewers have noticed, Graeber does a good job of succinctly synopsizing the social structural problems that led many people to Occupy. He is especially good when assaulting the absolutely, ridiculously fraudulent attempts to discredit the movement. As a longtime "liberal" (in the sense he used the word throughout the book) who became more radicalized over the course of the movement, I was completely appalled by the ways reactionaries tried to use absolutely anything they could to discredit a political ideal. Seriously, guys, be honest - you like authoritarianism, and don't like democratic movements, and everything else is just filler. What bothers me is the number of self-proclaimed liberals who did the same types of stuff. The long chapter called "Why Did It Work?" has an especially good dismantling of the stupid claims that all Occupations were hotbeds of filth, violence, and crime. I saw no indication at all over the course of an entire year that Occupiers had done anything like the level of violence and degradation inflicted on us by reactionaries, the police, and the media. One photograph of a derelict about to defecate on a police car was all the reactionaries needed to prove that we were everything the right has been saying about anyone but the hardest reactionary "patriots" for the last hundred years; two reported cases of rape that could have been committed by anyone given that we were open camps in the heart of major cities with serious violence problems proves nothing (and, no, the fact that there were no rapes at the two-hours-every-month Tea Party rallies proves nothing about the supposed violence of the left). Graeber's attempt to situate Occupy in the longer history of democratic activities in the chapter called "The Mob Begin to Think and Reason" is very interesting. I don't have the background to verify everything he says, but I do know a lot about the writings of the framers of the Constitution and his claims about that are entirely solid (despite what other reviewers are saying, the fact that he confuses a teargas canister and rubber bullets hardly proves that he wrote anything fraudulent - that reviewer has a bone to pick based entirely on what he read about Occupy Oakland, which, despite being the most hardcore of the Occupations, seems only to have broken a few windows - as Graeber rightly points out, the police broke far more than that). The analysis of the generation of democratic principles in that chapter is really interesting, but unfortunately brief. Although this in and of itself is significant - materials for a sufficiently lengthy treatment haven't survived in the face of the endless writings of the framers. Graeber draws the interesting conclusion that it's our own fixation on the reading habits of the privileged that makes us ask for this, which is perhaps his most interesting point - we don't need a full history, because the materials for democratic interaction are within us.

Last, I'm really glad he made the argument that it's only because we accept state violence as somehow legitimate that we think the few instance of property damage committed by Occupiers is somehow worse than everything thrown at us. Seriously, anyone who reads this book should just try to consider our perspective on this - I'm not saying accept it, just try it: think for a minute that it's possible that state violence isn't any more legitimate than anyone else's violence, and which institution turns out to be the more violent?
9 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Discusses Anarchist Origins of Occupy Wall Street and Challenges Conventional Wisdom 29 juillet 2013
Par James R Newlin - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle
David is one of the organizers of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and a professor of anthropology. His previous work on Debt seemed to be written by his professor side, and this book was written by his activist side.

Premise of the book: Our dominant institutions - corporations and the Democratic and Republican parties - have been unable to deal with our most pressing problems: climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollution, overpopulation/overconsumption, and inequality. Since the Club of Rome's popular report, Limits to Growth, in 1972, our problems have gotten much worse. We have to start working outside of the current political system (e.g. horizontal direct democracy) and questioning our assumptions about money, debt, the assumption that work is necessarily good, submitting oneself to the labor discipline, the amount of corporate, financial, and educational bureaucracy and our thoughts about communism, if we're to have a chance of mitigating damage to the biosphere.

The book starts with the anarchist origins of OWS, a fact I wasn't aware of. Before reading this book, I had thought, "Why doesn't OWS have leadership?" and "Why doesn't OWS make demands?" I had also thought anarchists were violent and angry people, a myth this book shattered, a myth likely coming from my believing corporate media or getting a poor education. This book explains the success of occupy was that it showed people what horizontal direct democracy could look like, and that people were attracted to OWS because it refused to participate in party politics, like electing people to office or trying to address problems through our current political system. Other movements tried to do this, but failed, most miserably, because they had proposed to work inside of the current political system.

David says he doesn't explain the alternative to capitalism, because doing so doesn't make any sense historically. It's not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called "capitalism," figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. Instead, David says, "Myself, I am less interested in deciding what sort of economic system we should have in a free society than in creating the means by which people can make such decisions for themselves."

It would have been good if he referred to other criticism in the 20th and 21st centuries, Lewis Mumford for example. There are also alternative systems like degrowth movements, utopian communities, transition towns, and other alternative experiments that could have been discussed.

I wish there had been more reference to Enlightenment and Romantic literature. It would be good to inject this into the discussions with Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, Claude-Adien Helvetius, Rousseau, Adam Ferguson, Voltaire, Adam Smith, and David Hume. I think more attention should have been paid to historical discussion about democracy, and why thinkers like Rousseau considered the idea, and dismissed it. It seems there actually was a circle of great thinkers who did shape our conceptions of the Social Contract, and I think David should have addressed these ideas in more detail.

Overall, I like the book, and I recommend reading it.
4 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 "The Mob Begin to Think and to Reason" 20 juin 2014
Par John L Murphy - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Having found myself intrigued by this anthropologist-activist who was among the first, as he narrates here, to generate the "We are the 99%" slogan and Occupy Wall Street movement, I followed my reading of his dense but not dull academic study of Debt: The First 5000 Years (reviewed by me in April 2014) with his more casual 2013 narrative of OWS, its origins, impacts, and relevance within grassroots, participatory direct action as the genuine democratic exercise of rights. He insists that the lack of a platform or agenda spoke to the Occupy strengths, by its refusal to play into party politics, rather than as a left-wing balance to the Tea Party's anti-government (but less rarely anti-business, at least after the GOP co-opted it, an issue that merits attention more than the aside here, but it may not be that germane in Graeber's view given his anti-corporate as well as anarchist focus). I agree here, even if my friends and media disagree. Graeber reminds readers that bipartisan "status-quo" presidents no matter their claims for "change" continue to prop up what's broken.

As I've opined often among my pro-Democratic Party friends and family, Graeber raises a critique few leftists promote; they capitulate to the lesser of two evils or "they won't let Obama win" retorts. He castigates the handling of the 2008 crisis with a new president who exhibited "perversely heroic efforts to respond to an historic catastrophe by keeping everything more or less exactly as it was." (95) This can be confirmed by Timothy Geithner's subsequent defense while he promoted his own book in Spring 2014; and by Matt Taibbi's concurrent exposure Eric Holder's role as he kept kid gloves on as he handled "legal justice" for those victimized by Wall Street's banking powers in '08. George Packer finds in his narrative history another pattern of how the law was used to suppress the common folks, buried by robo-signings and instant judgements from judges, not those in charge.

This fits well with these two recent accounts I've studied which address the mess we're in these decades post-Reagan, and all who've succeeded him: George Packer's "The Unwinding" about a disintegration of American stability under the corporate-political oligarchy, and Matt Taibbi's "The Divide" about the refusal of Obama's administration to pursue justice against Wall Street bankers while doggedly beating down and hounding the poor and weak among us who cannot counter the power of the law and order forces, paid by the government which enables these same banks to launder drug money, profit off debtors, expand prisons, and sustain an increasingly unequal economy.

Graeber shows close-up at OWS a common complaint: the "U.S. media increasingly serves less to convince Americans to buy into the terms of the existing political system than to convince them that everyone does." (109) This is a bit too compressed, but his point is that--take Ralph Nader's campaign--that the media portrays such candidates and platforms as is only the 2.7% who voted for him favor them. The media refuse to offer such alternative advocates the opportunity to speak out, and consigns them to the realm of fringe or freakish figures who don't merit the gravitas afforded the Democrats and to a lesser or greater extent depending on the channel chosen, the GOP. Therefore, a false choice perpetuates, and dismissal of spontaneous uprisings that may present a challenge to the parties who persist in representing the 1% more than the rest of us continues. Those who take to the streets or camp out near City Hall or big banks get ridiculed as dangerous bums or deluded rich kids.

While I remain cautious about his claim that over half of all British female students engaged in sex work to pay off tuition and that nearly a third went to prostitution, and his factoid that 280,000 American women with college debt signed up for sugar daddies needs more than one HuffPo citation to sway me, I agree that student debt (I heard recently costs have gone up 1200% since 1978) and the wider indentured status this incurs among many of us cripples us. For degrees are now the ticket into many professions, and that entry fee rises as banks profit off the money they lend to students and their families, continuing to deepen the hold that loans and interest have over many Americans now. Coupled with his own studies and the pressing need for reform or a debt jubilee (as his previous book naturally called for), this does seem a logical stance to take as the issue most needing redress by us.

The trouble is, "corporate lobbying" as he relabels it by its reality as "bribery" stymies progress. Each Congress member needs to raise, he says, $10,000/week from the time he or she is in office to prepare for the next election. Contrary to our national myth that we can separate the system from its overthrow as if we are revolutionaries anew, Graeber contends the economic and political control is so linked now that it cannot be reformed by representatives, complicit in the status quo. He shows how the appeals of the indebted smack of peasants begging for their land and relief from burdens, such is what Americans have been reduced to. As to "white working-class populism," he correctly chides this for its anti-intellectualism, and Graeber to his credit takes a moment to consider the lasting appeal of it for so many. Within its determination to call for liberty, there's "an indignation at being cut off from the means of doing good," within a society bent in equating our life's range with only the satisfaction of our self-interest. (124) People want to achieve for themselves and conduct their own decisions, and not expect the State to cater to all of their needs. A sensitive issue; a commendable insight. This is explored idiosyncratically in James C. Scott's 2013 "Two Cheers for Anarchism." (Taibbi, Packer, and Scott's three books have been recently reviewed by me.)

Midway, Graeber tackles liberal mockery of OWS. He confides that the left as they dominate media tend to project their guilty conscience by their coverage. "Liberals tend to be touchy and unpredictable because they share the ideas of radical movements--democracy, egalitarianism, freedom--but they've also managed to convince themselves that these ideals are ultimately unattainable. For that reason, they see anyone determined to bring about a world based on these principles as a kind of moral threat." (150) He reminds us that what John Adams feared as "the horrors of democracy" as if anarchy (often a negative term from Plato on) does not negate "core democratic principles," but takes them "to their logical conclusions." (154) In a truly eye-opening chapter "The Mob Begin to Think and to Reason," he shows Gouverneur Morris, gentry of NYC, witnessing at planning for the Constitutional Congress "butchers and bakers" arguing the merits of the Gracchi or Polybius (a sign of how far we've fallen from a classical education for the masses?).

He cautions those who'd toss bombs or instigate violence, and he shows as in the chapter "How Change Happens" not only the way direct action and affinity groups and peaceful assemblies reach consensus, but he notes in passing the dangers of coercion. The Iraqi Sadrists attempted to form a mass working-class base for self-governance, but the zones they opened with the wedge of "free clinics for pregnant and nursing mothers" took on, as they required security, the social apparatus and then political platforms supporting charismatic leaders turned cultural voices co-opted into the state and in formal institutions.

This book as with "Debt" skips about although it stays animated with Graeber's confident presence. In a few places the style stumbled and careful editing might have smoothed out a couple of rough spots in the prose. I liked the glances at humor as in the Occu-pie pizza, "99 percent cheese, 1 percent pig" provided those at OWS early on. Books on anarchism sometimes need a lighter touch, after all. And as with other studies, I needed to see how workplace strategies might evolve to prefigure change, in an increasingly unstable and detached electronic and dispersed environment where freer standards may contend against online surveillance, weak wages, globalization, and reductive profit.

He touches on this, however, in "Breaking the Spell" as he glances at the "productivist bargain" that assumes work is a moral good rather than an economic position. He shows if in passing how labor discipline can make one worse, not better, if it does not become virtuous to allow us to help others. Why not make mothers, teachers, caregivers the "primordial form of work" rather than models of production lines, wheat fields, or iron foundries? Mutual creation and a shift, as he admits Occupy might formulate a key demand, to "change our basic conceptions of what value-creating labor might actually be" is a small step, if one meriting a book and movement of its own. (289) He tells us how the weight of bureaucracy grew, under capitalism and communism, and how the latter term underlies what society, our circle of friends, our family runs on: amicability, cooperation, practical assistance.

I wish the book, after its vignettes as early on he and a handful of activists met at the Irish Hunger Memorial and then Zuccotti Park to jumpstart OWS, had covered more of the blow-by-blow on the street examples of how consensus might or might not have worked, and how across the world (not only in this perhaps understandably Manhattan-centered p-o-v from one who is based now in London academia after his departure from Yale) people met to for better or worse try to coordinate progress. I saw at the L.A. encampment examples of both, and Graeber appears to gloss over a lot of the mess. It's a mixture: a study of democracy historically and at OWS, and part personal testimony. But this makes it uneven in pacing and scope; it's valuable behind-the-scenes, yet you want to peer in deeper.

In closing, Graeber teaches a different civics lesson. "No government has ever given a new freedom to those it governs of its own accord." (239) Grassroots turn tough. Laws may need to be broken.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 This Book Will Increase Your Sense of What's Possible! 16 janvier 2015
Par Ex-Patty - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle
David begins with a firsthand account of the birth of the Occupy Wall Street movement on the streets of New York from his own participation. Instead of getting personal however, he’s rational, anthropological and lucid about the events, their historical worth and potential influence on American society and beyond.
He talks at length about the level of arbitrary violence and outright planned brutality police (and SWAT teams) in NYC and other cities around the US were increasingly willing to deploy against unarmed citizens, especially since 9/11. The police also thought nothing of denying the rights, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, that Americans were brought up to be proud of and believed to define us as a nation, with no protest from the liberal establishment or the media – or the rest of us.
David talks about how the OWS movement differed from previous protest movements in that it eschewed setting a specific platform and simply allowed the participants and American public determine what they wanted it to be and this greatly contributed to its success.
He talks about how limited Americans’ political horizons have become and seeks to demonstrate, in part through this book, that we have unlimited opportunities available to us to improve this broken system that we have, we just have to be able to imagine it. We have the possibility of real democracy and we can utilize this work – as well as others – as a beginning manual on how to move forward. But what we need to begin with – is Profound Moral Transformation.
David discusses at some length, the experiments with actual democracy within the Occupy Movement and the various methods, some successful some not, their historical precedents and how we could all utilize them in the future and build on his experience (since we all know we really have no idea what democracy is at this point). He interestingly points out how many Founding Fathers warned against voting and political parties as a divisive and demagogic influence on society which would lead to various angry and disenfranchised minorities – rather than seeking overall compromise. That the act of voting actually breaks society apart rather than brings it together.
He clarifies that actually democracy was never what our Founding Fathers wanted and that’s why it was never mentioned in the US Constitution. He refutes the idea that democracy sprang from Ancient Greece because, as he points out, their leaders eschewed it as well and that democracy in general was considered an evil until it was utilized as a political ploy in the 1700’s (?) by an unknown populist running for office, but that it was so widely successful everyone began using the term and then suddenly it became in fashion. David discusses the real roots of democracy as being universal, not specific to any one group or history, but that every community in the world has had some experience with it – just not Americans of the past 100 years or so – and that real American democracy has its roots in the Iroquois Nation of Native Americans and Pirates! (My favorite subject since I was a kid!)
He points out that democracy and freedoms are never given and have to be won – like the 8-hour work day that people died for at the beginning of the last Century and we have given up without a whimper. Those freedoms of speech and assembly, and many others are under attack – and I will add – that we need to actively defend them and utilize them, in order to maintain them.
David spends some time talking about the case for Gandhian non-violent direct actions (another favorite of mine) and what it needs to be effective, mainly media attention – which is what our media isn’t doing.
He sheds even more light on the institutionalized bribery that we call “lobbying” that has destroyed our political system, civil liberties and worst of all, our sense of what’s possible.
US Defense spending has far exceeded Cold War spending. In fact the US expends more in military spending than ALL other countries on earth COMBINED. The US financial system is upheld by the US willingness to send its military to anywhere on the globe at a moment’s notice – (that may have been his other wonderful book DEBT).
He talks about the drag on the US economy the apparatus of security organizations has and laments how we should instead concentrate more on care giving organizations.
Mainly though, he is thoroughly thought provoking with his ‘out of the box’ and always compassionate views on why some people are conservative (maybe someday I’ll be able to forgive my parents’ conservatism after all!) and how once we have our minds opened to the fact that there really is something beyond the broken system we have and we don’t have to have a fully developed blueprint for the future, just an idea that we want something better.
I absolutely love this book. It is a wonderful MUST LISTEN for everyone. David gave me hope that we can fix this tragedy we’ve allowed the US political system to become, that we owe it to ourselves and the rest of the world - that we are allowing our tax money to militarize and financialize - and I believe he can give you hope too.
I highly recommend this work also as a Manual for Non-Violent Direct Action Protest.
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