Julian Assange’s Show Highlights the Occupy Movement
In the latest episode of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange’s show, “The World Tomorrow,” Assange examines the Occupy movement with guests from Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London. The show gets into a compelling discussion of the importance of occupying space, why governments might want to use violence against Occupy, what fueled the movement and why it spread rapidly about seven months ago.
Guests on the program were Marissa Holmes, Alexa O’Brien and David Graeber of Occupy Wall Street and Aaron Peters and Naomi Colvin of Occupy London.
None of the guests in the episode downplay the significance of occupying space. Colvin suggests there is a “natural human need to communicate face to face” and that is why it is better to organize in meat space instead of only in cyberspace. Meeting face to face takes on additional significance when one realizes the people of Occupy are trying to create the “kind of society people wish existed all the time.”
O’Brien eloquently declares that occupying space involves an “experiment” to see how far one can “push engagement in civic space.”
When civic space is the curb between the Chuck E. Cheese and the Wal-Mart, which it is in the United States in a lot of cases, in a lot of really small towns, there is a need to create a publicness that is not private, that is not related to one’s job even. That is the we. The we that comes together that deals with [the Carlyle Group] buying our water or whatever it might be.
Graeber follows O’Brien’s comment by addressing Assange’s question on whether the space has to be contested for Occupy to take over the space (e.g. one could go in a group into the Redwood Forest but it is possible that no one would see this group or know people were there). He answers yes and suggests over the past thirty years there has been a systematic assault on community and the political imagination. Occupy is an effort to reclaim both at the same time.
It is about sovereignty. People physically attempt to control space. They control it by the force of their action or occupation. Neither side brings in legalities except as a weapon to bolster the action. Occupiers explicitly say through action, “This is our space. We’re the public. This is a public space. We’re going to take it.” This is a simple act of defiance that is “enormously creative,” according to Graeber, and part of making it clear that people do not accept the “terms of the existing order.”
These points raised are why I oppose any suggestion by people, especially liberal Democrats, who argue that Occupy needs to get involved in electoral politics. Such a suggestion demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of what made Occupy powerful and how it can maintain power. Investing resources in electoral politics would essentially be assimilating into a system that is massively broken, corrupt and rigged. It would be a departure from challenging the “existing order,” as the “order” depends on citizens legitimizing power and policy through voting in elections.
Conditions for transforming the current social order have not fully transpired yet and Occupy has only just begun to make an impact, even though it is seven months old. That is why it should continue to organize out in the open and assert its power in the public square.
It’s like Dustin Slaughter of the David and Goliath Project declared in October:
The occupation at Liberty Plaza may outwardly appear to be just a large encampment of hundreds of tired, exuberant, unwashed people. But it’s an incredibly subversive idea. What the occupation has managed to do thus far is set up a center for agitation on Wall Street’s doorstep, while simultaneously stand up to the most militarized police force in America. In that brave act of defiance, they’ve begun the process of recapturing public space to assemble and foment resistance against a corrupt system, a public space lost to us after 9/11 (with the introduction of “free speech zones”) and just as importantly, begin to remedy the fear and cynicism so many Americans have been feeling for well over a decade now under the hand of a police state and a domestic intelligence apparatus unparalleled in American history. The Founders clearly understood that the right to assemble was of key importance to those who wanted to correct wrongs done by their government. If they could not assemble, they could not achieve their goals. Liberty Plaza is a long-overdue civics lesson. [emphasis added]
The episode reminds viewers that the Occupy movement in the US didn’t just sprout because of issues within the United States. It was part of a global movement. It was precipitated by the global economic crisis. It was inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other Middle Eastern and North African countries. It was, as Peters states, a response to a global phenomenon—the realization that nation states are overwhelmingly no longer a “repository of democratic accountability.”
Violence also played a role in catalyzing the spread of the Occupy movement, especially in the United States. That was when the media began to really pay attention. Assange wonders if the Occupy movement should intentionally provoke police violence. There are those in law enforcement that would likely contend the Occupy movement is all about trying to bait police into committing acts of brutality they can use to fuel the movement.
Holmes answers Assange’s recommendation:
We didn’t provoke violence. We took a nonviolent direct action. We went and we occupied the squares so we could have a General Assembly and talk about the world that we want to live in, which we saw as completely antithetical to the world we are currently living in and the structures that governed it. I guess by being there, by exercising a directly democratic process we were posing a threat and so the police had to respond.
This comment prompts Graeber to add, “There’s nothing that terrifies the US government so much as the threat of democracy breaking out in America. They’re sure to react violently.” Indeed.
The establishment media has long since abandoned the kind of thoughtful and introspective discussion broadcasted in this episode. Discussions are now limited to whether the Occupy movement can go anywhere because it does not have plans to be involved in supporting candidates in the 2012 election cycle. The people who are brought on are pundits, who have a minimal amount of experience speaking with participants or organizers in the Occupy movement. They speak for these people. The media does not invite guests, like the five organizers who appeared in this episode, on to programs to talk about what they are doing and why they are confident in the movement. (And, that’s of course assuming that the media even bothers to cover the Occupy movement.)
The show was the seventh episode of Assange’s show “The World Tomorrow,” which was independently produced but licensed to air on Russia Today (RT).
The barrage of preemptive smears that came as Assange’s first episode featuring Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah went to air appears to have succeeded in convincing many to ignore the show. The smears essentially suggested the show would be controlled by Kremlin overlords that would ensure the content of the program was anti-American and propaganda on behalf of the Russian state. This criticism overlooked the fact that Assange could have potentially licensed the show to Al Jazeera English but chose not to because RT is carried by more cable and satellite providers in the US than Al Jazeera English. The decision to go with RT had nothing to do with production and everything to do with distribution.
In addition to Nasrallah, Glenn Greenwald notes the show has featured the following debates and interviews
Episode 2: A debate between Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian sociologist, philosopher and former anti-communist dissident who turned communist, and right-wing neocon fanatic (and former communist) David Horowitz, on a wide range of global political issues, including ecomonic globalization and Israel’s behavior in the world.
Episode 3: An interview with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, a former human rights activist who is that country’s first post-revolution leader. Marzouki spoke about the double standards and hypocrisy of the West in his region, the solitary confinement to which he was subjected by the prior regime and the reasons he considers that to be torture, and the challenges he and other Arab Spring leaders face in eliminating human rights abuses and transforming the region.
Episode 4: A discussion with two key Arab Spring leaders, Egypt’s Alaa Abd El-Fattah and Bahrain’s Nabeel Rajab, about the imperative of overthrowing oppressive regimes, how that can best be done, and the substantial challenges that remain in the effort to bring basic liberties to their countries.
Episode 5: An interview with former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, along with an activist for current detainees, human rights lawyer Asim Qureshi, regarding “the plight of Muslims in the post 9/11 world, the thin line between terror and self-defense, and how Obama has ushered in an era where ’extra-judicial killing’ has replaced ’extra-judicial detention’.”
Episode 6 (today): A sweeping discussion with Ecuador’s U.S.-educated-economist President Rafeal Correa, about the fight to stabilize democracy in that country, the 2010 coup attempt he faced, the role of corporate media in advancing elite interests, his efforts to protect Ecuadorian environmental resources while growing its economy, the way in which transparency brought about by WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables was beneficial for Ecuador (“We have nothing to hide. If anything, the WikiLeaks [releases] have made us stronger”), and the reason he closed the U.S. base in his country (“Would you accept a foreign military base in your country? It’s so simple, as I said that at the time, there is no problem in having a US military base in Ecuador but ok, perfect – we can give permission for the intelligence base only if they allow us to install an Ecuadorian base in the United States, a military base. That’s it, no more problem”).
Each episode that I have viewed has been fascinating if not incredibly provocative. If I had not had significant news stories to cover that take precedent over writing about news programs, I would have written a post on each of the previous episodes. The conversations address key questions related to some of the most profound issues of the day. They examine questions, which most news pundits in the United States will never ever try to honestly attempt to address. That is because, quite frankly, most in US news media lack the intellectual interest to care what people with primarily dissident views have to say about the US and the world.