Dear Occupiers: A Letter from Anarchists

dear

Starting with the occupation of a park next to Wall Street on September 17, a new movement is spreading across the country in which people gather in public spaces in protest against social inequalities. We’ll present a full analysis of this phenomenon here shortly; in the meantime, here’s an open letter to the occupation movement, engaging with some of the issues that have arisen thus far. Please forward this widely and print out versions to distribute at the “Occupy” events!

Dear Occupiers [online viewing version]

Dear Occupiers [print version]: A two-sided flier intended to be folded down the middle, longways.

Dear Occupiers

A letter from anarchists

Support and solidarity! We’re inspired by the occupations on Wall Street and elsewhere around the country. Finally, people are taking to the streets again! The momentum around these actions has the potential to reinvigorate protest and resistance in this country. We hope these occupations will increase both in numbers and in substance, and we’ll do our best to contribute to that.

Why should you listen to us? In short, because we’ve been at this a long time already. We’ve spent decades struggling against capitalism, organizing occupations, and making decisions by consensus. If this new movement doesn’t learn from the mistakes of previous ones, we run the risk of repeating them. We’ve summarized some of our hard-won lessons here.

Occupation is nothing new. The land we stand on is already occupied territory. The United States was founded upon the extermination of indigenous peoples and the colonization of their land, not to mention centuries of slavery and exploitation. For a counter-occupation to be meaningful, it has to begin from this history. Better yet, it should embrace the history of resistance extending from indigenous self-defense and slave revolts through the various workers’ and anti-war movements right up to the recent anti-globalization movement.

The “99%” is not one social body, but many. Some occupiers have presented a narrative in which the “99%” is characterized as a homogenous mass. The faces intended to represent “ordinary people” often look suspiciously like the predominantly white, law-abiding middle-class citizens we’re used to seeing on television programs, even though such people make up a minority of the general population.

It’s a mistake to whitewash over our diversity. Not everyone is waking up to the injustices of capitalism for the first time now; some populations have been targeted by the power structure for years or generations. Middle-class workers who are just now losing their social standing can learn a lot from those who have been on the receiving end of injustice for much longer.

The problem isn’t just a few “bad apples.” The crisis is not the result of the selfishness of a few investment bankers; it is the inevitable consequence of an economic system that rewards cutthroat competition at every level of society. Capitalism is not a static way of life but a dynamic process that consumes everything, transforming the world into profit and wreckage. Now that everything has been fed into the fire, the system is collapsing, leaving even its former beneficiaries out in the cold. The answer is not to revert to some earlier stage of capitalism—to go back to the gold standard, for example; not only is that impossible, those earlier stages didn’t benefit the “99%” either. To get out of this mess, we’ll have to rediscover other ways of relating to each other and the world around us.

Police can’t be trusted. They may be “ordinary workers,” but their job is to protect the interests of the ruling class. As long as they remain employed as police, we can’t count on them, however friendly they might act. Occupiers who don’t know this already will learn it firsthand as soon as they threaten the imbalances of wealth and power our society is based on. Anyone who insists that the police exist to protect and serve the common people has probably lived a privileged life, and an obedient one.

Don’t fetishize obedience to the law. Laws serve to protect the privileges of the wealthy and powerful; obeying them is not necessarily morally right—it may even be immoral. Slavery was legal. The Nazis had laws too. We have to develop the strength of conscience to do what we know is best, regardless of the laws.

To have a diversity of participants, a movement must make space for a diversity of tactics. It’s controlling and self-important to think you know how everyone should act in pursuit of a better world. Denouncing others only equips the authorities to delegitimize, divide, and destroy the movement as a whole. Criticism and debate propel a movement forward, but power grabs cripple it. The goal should not be to compel everyone to adopt one set of tactics, but to discover how different approaches can be mutually beneficial.

Don’t assume those who break the law or confront police are agents provocateurs. A lot of people have good reason to be angry. Not everyone is resigned to legalistic pacifism; some people still remember how to stand up for themselves. Police violence isn’t just meant to provoke us, it’s meant to hurt and scare us into inaction. In this context, self-defense is essential.

Assuming that those at the front of clashes with the authorities are somehow in league with the authorities is not only illogical—it delegitimizes the spirit it takes to challenge the status quo, and dismisses the courage of those who are prepared to do so. This allegation is typical of privileged people who have been taught to trust the authorities and fear everyone who disobeys them.

No government—that is to say, no centralized power—will ever willingly put the needs of common people before the needs of the powerful. It’s naïve to hope for this. The center of gravity in this movement has to be our freedom and autonomy, and the mutual aid that can sustain those—not the desire for an “accountable” centralized power. No such thing has ever existed; even in 1789, the revolutionaries presided over a “democracy” with slaves, not to mention rich and poor.

That means the important thing is not just to make demands upon our rulers, but to build up the power to realize our demands ourselves. If we do this effectively, the powerful will have to take our demands seriously, if only in order to try to keep our attention and allegiance. We attain leverage by developing our own strength.

Likewise, countless past movements learned the hard way that establishing their own bureaucracy, however “democratic,” only undermined their original goals. We shouldn’t invest new leaders with authority, nor even new decision-making structures; we should find ways to defend and extend our freedom, while abolishing the inequalities that have been forced on us.

The occupations will thrive on the actions we take. We’re not just here to “speak truth to power”—when we only speak, the powerful turn a deaf ear to us. Let’s make space for autonomous initiatives and organize direct action that confronts the source of social inequalities and injustices.

Thanks for reading and scheming and acting. May your every dream come true.

25 thoughts on “Dear Occupiers: A Letter from Anarchists

  1. Hey, sorry to nitpick, but the small font size on this post is driving me nuts. When I try to zoom in, it only adds more space between the lines, leaving the font size the same. Any way to change the formatting? I’ll just copy/paste and enlarge it myself in the mean time. Thanks! <3 + (A)

  2. Hey, don’t worry, you have several viewing options. You could click on the online viewing pdf, or on the printable pdf. Both of those, when you zoom in the print should get bigger.

  3. If anyone’s interested in similar/other ways that anarchists are interacting with occupy stuff, anarchist in st. louis have set up a website to give summaries of events and post the texts of leaflets, statements, etc.

    http://antistatestl.wordpress.com/

    Last night seems to have been a moment of break through for OCCUPYSTL. There was an hour long march through the financial and yuppie disctricts of downtown with chants of “Class War Now!” and “Rev-o-lu-tion!”

  4. Sup Crimethinc. So, not naysayers so much anymore, are you.

    I’d like to offer a crow-shaped cake when I’m finally on the ground. Or maybe little marzipan crows.

  5. Thank you. Inspiration, yet again. So proud to be an Anarchist. So proud of my comrades. This is the greatest opportunity we have ever had to help the collective masses the world over to understand what is real freedom; what is real power. We will make a new world. A free and fair world.

  6. Hey there Crimethinc — longtime lurker, first time commenter. First, I just wanted to say that the pamphlet looks great. It’s definitely the best anarchist outreach material occupy*-oriented that I’ve seen so far. I went through a period of loving your shit when I was a kid in the early 2000’s, hating your shit for a while in the mid-late 2000’s (won’t get into that), and now I think that in the past couple years your overall content has been overall pretty great, especially Rolling Thunder. I have yet to pick up a copy of Work, but my main problem with your earlier stuff was a (maybe just misperceived by me?) lack of/shallow class analysis. I think your writing and material has really evolved and come a long way, and I really respect all of you for hanging in there so long and still doin your thing. It can be fucking hard to be an anarchist sometimes!!!

    Anyway…getting back on track, my main question/critique of this pamphlet is, predictably, class-related. I think this kind of hints at and alludes to some of the shit class understanding that seems to have characterized (what I’ve seen of) the occupy* movement, but I wonder why the pamphlet isn’t a bit more clear about it.

    I think the points of “The 99% is not one social body, but many,” “the problem isn’t just a few bad apples,” and “police can’t be trusted” do a good job of pointing at systemic problems and opening the door to a better class analysis, but why not come out and say something about class and its accompanying social relationships? I think there could be value in including a little something about this, maybe explaining that it’s not *just* about concentration of wealth, but about the way that a certain class/classes of people control myriad aspects of our lives through various kinds of relationships and use the police to maintain them.

    I suppose the authors could have just made some decisions about this based on the target audience, space concerns, or whatever, and may not have felt like this was appropriate for the pamphlet. But I just wanted to comment and say that that is one of the most frustrating things about the occupy* movement to me (besides apparently just wanting a better managed capitalism): its failure to see beyond the spectacle of reclusive billionaires and Wall Street bankers and into the way that class affects everyday social relationships.

    Anyway, thank you for putting together this pamphlet. I think in the coming years it is going to be critical for anarchists to have each others’ backs, and I feel so glad that there are other people thinking and feeling the same stuff about occupy* that I do. Here’s to hoping this helps end occupy*’s love-affair with cops.

  7. Anonymice–Thanks for your eloquent and supportive comment. Indeed, the above statement does go a little light on class issues; that’s chiefly because it is intended to initiate new conversations, not get into the nuts and bolts. Our forthcoming analysis will be much more direct and get into much more depth about class.

    Indeed, the conflicts about police are coded language for a struggle over the spirit of this expression of class unrest–a struggle between the newly disenfranchised middle class, who still retain their much of their middle-class worldview, and the longtime poor and disenfranchised, who have had a much different relationship to the authorities.

    White privilege plays in here alongside class privilege–hence many of the people circulating the above statement have been coming from an anti-colonialist rather than specifically anarchist background. Those folks are our natural allies in this context, and we should work hard to deserve their trust.

    More soon. There’s so much happening right now.

  8. h ttp://zinelibrary.info/dear-occupiers-letter-anarchists-altered

    This altered version was made for anarchists to distribute at a particular occupy demonstration, and we thought it might as well be shared. It is longer, and sections were significantly changed to suit our analysis and to elaborate on some points, but the overarching structure of the text is the same. There is more space between the inside columns.

    Main changes:

    Not US specific so can be used in Canada and elsewhere.
    Why should you listen to us? -> why should you listen to our ideas?

    Bad apple section- added “We’ll have to put an end to the systems, identities, and relations imposed on all of us since birth, so that we can finally create our lives in the joyous revolutionary possibilities that arise from continuous struggle against all forms of domination.”

    Police- added “In fact, we’ll have to be in conflict with them.”,”In the same way, politicians, reformist bureaucrats, and the enforcers of legalism (like ‘peacekeepers’ at demonstrations, and the leaders who always denounce those who act against authority, including theirs) can only be enemies to a struggle that seeks what power will never be able to give us: our lives.”

    Law – “moral”-> “ethical”, added “the laws created by our rulers and enforced on the rest of us.”

    Break the law- new paragraph with the intention of more fully critiquing nonviolence “We face a system that controls our lives by forcefully aligning them to its miserable terms, whose prisons lock up anyone who acts on their desires for autonomy and freedom by disrupting the reproduction of power and the economy. There is nothing in this world currently deserving the name peace; from governments carpet bombing villages and police torturing people, to the daily coercion of living under the rule of power maintained by the threat of prison. ‘Violence’ is just a moral category, a meaningless term used to control our struggles which pretends to be able to compare the incomparable. It equates the state’s domination to acts of revolt like destroying commodities, defending yourself from police, fighting to free prisoners, and indigenous people taking back stolen land. It should be clear that legalistic pacifism only makes movements obedient, harmless, and delusional.”

    No government- Took away historical example which was confusing and seemed to have the wrong date.
    Demand section changed to critique the act of making them: “That means the important thing is not to make demands upon our rulers, but to build up the power to realize the desires behind these demands ourselves. This is called direct action. Ironically, if we do this effectively, realizing that anything these systems might concede is only a distraction from the continuation of their misery, the powerful will have to take our demands seriously, if only in order to try to keep our attention and allegiance.”
    Social inequalities clarified as being of “capital and the state”.

    May your wildest dreams come true -> may your struggles bring you closer to freedom.

    waronsociety.noblogs.org was added as a site to give access to anarchist action

    A French version will be posted shortly.

    Thanks for making this crimethinc.

    If you want to change it to relate something of resonance in your city, you can use illustrator/indesign to make more drastic changes, or the text edit function on Acrobat Pro to add/change sentences.

  9. @shanti.witchinghour, re:font size

    If it’s this post (not the pamphlet) that you are having difficulty with, try pressing CTRL + to enlarge the font on your screen.

    (This will work in Firefox, but I don’t know about other browsers.)

  10. as someone who wholly supports the cause, i don’t fully agree with this statement: “The answer is not to revert to some earlier stage of capitalism—to go back to the gold standard, for example; not only is that impossible, those earlier stages didn’t benefit the “99%” either.” ref. Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story; also, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s speech in support of Occupy Wall Street, which can be viewed here: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/10/04/nobel-winning-economist-supports-occupy-wall-street/#.Toultabh1t8.facebook.

  11. Alisha–Certainly, to some extent, more [North American white middle class] people used to “benefit” from capitalism than do today. But I think on closer analysis, we’d find all those benefits were undesirable in some way: for example, the high standard of living those folks used to enjoy was not only based on brutal exploitation in other parts of the world (and the legacy of colonization and slavery here), it also involved converting a biosphere that once nurtured us into a toxic wasteland. In my own family, I’ve seen how capitalist employment wrecked my grandfather’s generation, my father’s generation, and my own generation in three different but equally tragic ways.

    But this is a complex subject. If you haven’t read Work, the latest book we published, it gets into these issues in much greater detail.

    All the best.

    PS–Regarding Stiglitz, I’m glad he’s supporting Occupy Wall Street, but I can’t say I’m especially impressed with his Nobel Prize–didn’t Obama get one of those for promoting peace?

  12. Thank you for this. I was at the Occupy San Francisco protest on the first day and left in frustration – this pamphlet succinctly and constructively summarizes the problems I had with what I saw going on there.

    Concerning your website – first of all, congrats on being able to afford Mint analytics. Second, the reason the font size isn’t adjustable is that you’re setting an explicit pixel size instead of using percentages.

    Your current implementation breaks the browser’s zoom capability. In order to make your site as accesible as possible, you really ought to fix this. Contact me if you need help.

  13. “Don’t fetishize obedience to the law. Laws serve to protect the privileges of the wealthy and powerful; obeying them is not necessarily morally right—it may even be immoral. Slavery was legal. The Nazis had laws too. We have to develop the strength of conscience to do what we know is best, regardless of the laws.”

    This is patronizing and doesn’t really make sense. Anyone who defends laws and states at these protests is obviously against slavery and Nazism. If that is the best anarchist critique of law, well… it can’t be! Why talk down to people?

    Who is the intended audience for this pamphlet? It conveniently ignores the largely nationalist/populist thrust of the occupy protests. In many ways, the conflation of left and right wing populism at these things (scapegoating of finance, appeal to a better best, Federal Reserve conspiracy theories, democracy, etc) is worse than the nativism of the Tea Party rallies.

    The “why you should listen to us” section is also pretty wild, considering the track record of American anarchists over the last two decades. If these occupy protests turn out to be anything interesting, it certainly won’t be because they follow in the footsteps of anarchists.

    If anarchists were to get involved, I would hope it would be to attack the professional union/NGO activists acting as ‘organizers’ and ‘mediators’ and those putting forward the Federal Reserve conspiracy theories. Or maybe it would be best to occupy new things rather than tag along with the latest media craze.

  14. Lexington:

    Why do feel this is patronizing? And what part does not make sense to you?

    The intent here is not to talk down to anyone. I’m sorry you have interpreted the text this way, but I don’t really understand why. This is sharing a specific point of view, we are not asking you to agree or disagree. You can feel how you want.

    The audience for the pamphlet is exactly who the title addresses, meaning anyone who is participating or considers themselves a part of the occupation protests.

    What do you consider to be the track record of American anarchists over the past decade? Because for me, the track record is pretty damn good. I would include in that record, a resurgence of anarchist thought and practice as a political force spawning thousands of projects in the realm of information technology; community organizing; a range of social movements from prison abolition to movements for affordable housing and a living wage and so much more: anarchist participation in the largest protest movements of the last several decades including the anti-globalization and anti-war movements; the publishing of hundreds of titles contributing to anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist thought from magazines, to books, to online publications, the publishing wing of this website as well as collectives like AK Press and PM Press alone sell tens of thousands of texts each year that contribute to an anarchist understanding of a variety of issues and the world itself; a re-introduction and popularization of consensus and other horizontal methods of organization; decision making and movement building (that have been adopted by the occupy movement); the list could go on and on.

    Anarchists are also responsible to some extent for the popular awareness and understanding of climate change and global warming; and the many other hot button issues of this period in time.

    And even now – as much as you want to deny any anarchist influence in the Occupy protests, again one cursory look at them proves that the decision making models are also anarchist methods in action. Further, it’s not “if anarchists were to get involved,” we are involved. We are in all of these Occupy protests. In DC anarchists are doing most of the heavy lifting. In NYC they have a distinct precense. In Oakland, in Chicago, in LA, and many other cities, anarchists are in the thick of these actions.

    You can deny it all you want, but anarchists are a lot more relevant than you want to give credit for.

    Further, why the pro-oppression stance? Because anarchism is the only political philosophy that advocates for equality in social standing and in political “representation” of all people. Hierarchical structures inevitability rely on one group having more power than another. If you are not for anarchy, you in some way are promoting dis empowerment. And there’s nothing noble about that.

  15. Hi. I think your article was timely and necessary. We cannot make the mistakes that stumped movements in the past; and we have to look at the past with current tools to create various solutions, modes, and infrastructures so that necessary changes can occur in a peaceful, but thorough manner.
    Some area-solutions I feel can make impact are:
    1. Realize that the systems are paper-trail systems. Many are indentured servants of this paper-work trail. Many veterans do not receive full benefits or any due to not being able to keep up with the neverending paperwork trail and the flaws of the system that erroneously take money and benefits away. Attorneys do not take these cases, often, for the client to be has no money to pay. The Social Security System is the same, just as for foodstamps and Medicaid. Also, the invasion of privacy is extreme. One cannot even make private funeral arrangements. A Medicaid or Medicare recipient of counseling services is required to be given a psychological label. A child with attention deficits is labelled, usually put on psychotropics; yet the root issues of even the simplest cranial-bone strain will usually never be investigated. The masses of children misdiagnosed and labelled are having their futures ruined before they even know how to plan for their future.

    2. Self-entreeneurship is very limited by the power structures creating zoning, taxing, and licensing regulations that greatly limit the type of labours ones can create for themselves. Many of our counties will not make it easy or feasible to sell products or services from homes or on the street. In the past, in our country and still allowed in various countries, are the small businesses that bring vitality, esteem, and dignity to ones that harness and utilize their unique skills and-or resources they are able to allocate. A grandmother is not even allowed to legally sell hand-kniitted sweaters from her home that is in residential zoning; yet she must breathe the fumes of the corporations and their traffic on a daily basis. If disabled and receiving benefits, every two dollars made equals one dollar taken by the state and federal governments. Neighborhoods could revitalize with various small and cottage businesses out of homes and on the streets. This would also make the streets safer and enjoyable even for tourism.

    3. Laws and bills are being passed every day that further take away our rights. In Florida, for example, a representative is attempting to pass a bill that will allow death row inmates to be shot by a firing squad. Bills are costly and timely to pass; yet much time, money and attention are given in respect to various ones in status that we are taxed for as our issues are ignored.

    4. Even if a no religion status or various religion diversities are aspects of the masses; there is a power in creating a new religion. This is a way of thinking outside the box. An example of this new religion on the basis of using religious discrimination as a violation of rights is:
    A. A religion that promotes propersity of function for all for whatever their skills and life purposes are. A right to manifest without manmade limits and charges.
    B. A right to choose the way to die and when. This would really assist wrongfully charged death-row inmates.
    C. A right to live with a purpose(s) to manifest.
    D. A right of value of a person not based only on status and money currency.
    A right to further expand the definition of currency of life.
    E. A right to incorporate ones personhood to then equal the rights of corporations.
    F. A right for ones to have people and other life as pars of stock to protect and build. Why is pars for stock only based on monetary currency?
    These are just some examples and some ideas. The goal of this message is that when we think outside the box, we can outmaneurver the flawed systems that are leaving the masses of us in multiple limited positions that do not respect our inherent and innate rights to be in movement, function, and structure.
    That is why I like the above article was written for it proposes the importance of finding solutions that take into account the historical lessons that can be used to find ways to reestablish our rights of liberty and freedom; and that all diversities need the space to work together for dividing leads to conquering, and we have already learned that lesson, more than once.

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