Occupy Wall Street: The Will to Face the Arithmetic

Published on ZNet, by Stanley Rogouski, November 28, 2011.

… As of this writing, November 27, there’s a very strong current of opinion, if not a consensus among both Occupy Wall Street and its liberal supporters that there’s no need to retake Zucotti Park or Oscar Grant Plaza in the spring of 2012. As one sign read near Zucotti Park the morning after the brutal military action on November 15 read “you can’t evict an idea.”   

It’s my belief that this is a mistake, that you most certainly can evict an idea. If Occupy Wall Street does not regroup and retake the public space that it liberated during the fall of 2011, it will no longer by Occupy Wall Street. It may, it almost certainly will go on in name, but it will emerge as simply another left wing mailing list, another Move On, another New SDS, another Obama for America or Dean for America.

This may, at first glance, seem counterintuitive. After all, Occupy Wall Street in Zucotti Park was successful before it set up tents, and started to lose momentum after the tents went up. It was the homeless and socially marginalized who flocked to Zucotti Park after October 14 who were used by the corporate media to demonize Occupy Wall Street and set the stage for the crackdown. The city governments of Oakland, Seattle, Portland and New York evicted Occupy Wall Street not only political grounds, but on trumped up health concerns. The hordes of panhandlers on the western edge of Zucotti Park had become demoralizing. There were attacks on women. There was theft. There were problems with sanitation. Wouldn’t it be better if Occupy Wall Street continued as a movement without the difficulties that come with maintaining large squatter camps under the constant harassment by the highly militarized police departments of city governments of major cities like Portland and New York?

Let me phrase my answer as a question:

  • If the city governments of New York, Portland and Oakland, and, above all, the financial and real estate interests who own the city governments of New York, Portland and Oakland have demonstrated by their willingness to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in a military campaign against their own citizens just how much of a threat they considered Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland and Occupy Portland to be, are these physical occupations not worth reestablishing in the spring of 2012?
  • Let that sink in. The municipal governments of progressive cities like New York, Portland, Seattle and Oakland waged a carefully planned military strike against American citizens. For almost a month, the NYPD drilled underneath the FDR Expressway to evict Occupy Wall Street, rehearsed the massive blitzkrieg on the morning of November 15, almost as if they were a team of Navy Seals drilling to assassinate Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Similar military campaigns went on in Oakland, Portland and Seattle.


  • We can dismiss their stated reason, health concerns, right off the bat. The homeless have been sleeping in Penn Station and “occupying” the bathrooms of the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit for years. Rousting homeless men from bathroom stalls immediately before rush hour is done by minimum wage janitors in orange vests, not by riot police with clubs and pepper spray.
  • Whether most Americans realize it or not, their ruling class, the “1%” in the parlance of Occupy Wall Street, is waging a class war against them. Last fall, in 2011, Occupy Wall Street accidentally chose the right battlefield, public space in various large American cities. Occupy Wall Street flanked the usual gatekeepers, the Democratic Party, the big unions, and the traditional “left” organizations and allowed the people, the “99%” in the language of Occupy Wall Street, to put their biggest advantage into play, their numbers, their simple, overwhelming physical presence. This is a war that the “1%” can only win by a swift decisive bluff, an immediate show of overwhelming force designed to terrify the “99%” into giving up the advantageous positions in Zucotti Park and Oscar Grant Plaza that they stumbled on last September. Call that bluff, and they lose.
  • What Occupy Wall Street needs is “the will to face the arithmetic.”

The term comes from the American Civil War. … //

… On the other hand, if Occupy Wall Street plans to retake Zucotti Park, Oscar Grant Plaza and their counterparts in Seattle, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles in the spring of 2012, it can and inevitably will mobilize numbers of people the police departments in those cities won’t be able to face. They won’t even want to. Every police officer will be terrified of becoming the next John Pike. Five thousand arrests, 10,000 arrests, 50,000 arrests, at some point, the capacity of even the New York or Los Angeles police will simply be overwhelmed. No city government, even as part of an effort coordinated by Homeland Security will be able to “face the arithmetic.” The “1%” have chosen a battlefield they can’t hold, a military strategy that depends on the “99%” defeating themselves through fear, the desire to be respectable, or the simple unwillingness to reach out and grab what’s rightfully theirs. Call their bluff. (full long long text).

(Stanley Rogouski is a 1986 graduate of Rutgers University where he studied under Steve Eric Bronner. He became politically active in the late 1980s as a volunteer for the Committee in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador. For two months, during the occupation of Zucotti Park, he served as an embedded photojournalist, and a totally non-objective supporter of Occupy Wall Street).

Comments are closed.