clumsiness & truth are so often intertwined we tend to take their copulation for granted.

November 5, 2011 § 8 Comments

Dear ________,

You misunderstand me, so let me be clear: I do not want the City to “support” the Occupy movement or its Commune. Indeed, though I risk misunderstanding yet again so soon after such momentary clarity, I think it would be very foolish public policy for them to do so. Much better, I think, to go the disingenuous route of the Councilperson whose letter you’ve attached, and insist on a vapid sympathy.

While I agree with the message of the Occupy movement and consider myself, along with all City Employees, including the men and women in our Police Department, to be part of the 99%, I disagree that occupying Frank Ogawa Plaza, shutting down the Port, or calling for a general strike against our City, is going to impact the 1% that this movement is supposed to be targeting.

What genius is on display here in one of the more nakedly clumsy co-opting of populism in my recent memory. The Councilperson doesn’t even bother to give the dignity of a period to his agreement. Here in the opening paragraph of his letter, the feeblest of commas is all that separates his agreement with “the message of the Occupy movement” and his self-consideration as “part of the 99%” from the declarative strongman of this magnificent sentence, “I disagree.” Provided the Occupy movement does not camp, strike, or shut down a port, which is to say, provided it does precisely nothing it has in actual fact done the past three weeks, he supports it completely. The only reservation he has concerning the Occupy movement is its actual existence. Would that it could be but a “message”! — by all means, a call to be dissatisfied, even angry, but to be so at home, please, as quietly as possible, yes, at least until election day, when those so called might vote for cynical opportunists like himself.

This Councilperson is in the minority, I believe, in his clumsiness, but not in the desire to show support for the Occupy movement on his own terms. And while I understand perfectly well why the City, all of its administrative stars & ideological stripes, would go this route, I fear you don’t appreciate why the Occupy movement would do well to develop a strong allergy to any & all public expressions of sympathy by those who are formally in (or are seeking formal) power. It seems to me that the moment a city officially loses the “but” after its stated solidarity is the moment the truth of this allegiance has been lost — clumsiness & truth are so often intertwined we tend to take their copulation for granted. (Or, I should add, it is the day after a revolutionary upheaval. But, alas, I am not at all confident any of us have enough dying light remaining actually to see that morning. Rome was not unbuilt in a day, as a friend said to me recently, and arguably our allotment of days are insufficient to the cause, if not the struggle itself.)

So, in close, while we agree that the Commune should remain illegal, I have no interest in its relocation. I would much prefer that it be declared illegal and remain exactly where it is, in order that it might continue to test the City’s ability to uphold the consequences of that illegality. The gross flouting of the law–or at least its outright disregard–this is what seems necessary to expose its many inadequacies (& those of its administrators). In this way, the Commune’s symbolic value as a site of disobedience is also the unavoidable germ of its undoing. The present age, you’ve insisted in the past, has had very little real use for such symbols, but are either of us yet prepared to say the same of the future that remains?


§ 8 Responses to clumsiness & truth are so often intertwined we tend to take their copulation for granted.

  • Jas says:

    I’ve wondered when you’d start getting more deep into the logic of all of this. So, your point seems to be that the official’s claim of solidarity is a failure to grasp the nature of the event, insofar as his solution is to return to a puppetry of public pragmatism which requires the public to swallow the interests of the capitalistic that are the actual targets of the revolt?

  • tom clark says:

    The reasons why a City Council member would wish to make sure city employees are not distracted from their proper calling are perhaps not far to seek.

  • Brad Johnson says:

    Jamie, I don’t think Fuentes has any regard at all for the “nature of the event.” He just knows a ton of people have participated in marches & that it would be prudent for him to align himself in some cosmetic way with them. What was so delightful about this attempt, though, is that his heart clearly was not even in this half-measure.

    But, yes, in general, your conclusion stands. There is a general liberal faith in electoral representation — certainly so when you’re one of the ones doing the representing (& getting the benefits of doing so, as Tom flags). The reason I see Occupy having any traction at all is that, while electoral representation was always largely a myth, for a growing number of people it now is pretty self-apparently so. The only outlet right now for this lot is giving voice to their dissent by way of disobedience (or the disobedience of others). An official program of support blunts this disobedience, in my opinion. To my mind, a Commune (which is the symbolic center of the movement) should neither solicit, reject, or acknowledge official permission or eviction. This is the tenuous knife-edge a good symbol that is not yet a self-important icon has to walk.

  • tom clark says:


    Thought this might be of interest.

  • Brad Johnson says:

    Oh, that poor statue w/ graffiti. Will the violence in Oakland never end?

  • Brad Johnson says:

    While Tom is linking to relevant videos, I thought I would add even more context. Susie Cagle is an very fine freelance journalist. I’m horrified by her treatment, but am very pleased that of all people she’s on this story.

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