Chris Hedges Sums Up Occupy Wall Street [Updated]


[Occupy Ukiah events being planned for next Saturday and Sunday, Oct 15th and 16th… stay tuned. ~DS]

[See “Update” below]

More from Chris Hedges:

Well, the only people who are confused are the journalists. They’re not confused; I can sum up what they want, or what they’re doing, or what their goal is in one word, and it’s called rebellion. They don’t have any faith in the corporate systems of power, nor should they. They recognize that electoral politics is a farce; that the judiciary and the press are wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state; and that the only way they are going to be heard, both as citizens and as people who care about protecting the planet, is to build a movement, and that’s precisely what they’re doing. They are so savvy, so smart, so clear and so well organized. From the outside, they may not look organized, but when you’re inside the park, boy, they’ve really got it together. And it’s just—I ran into the managing editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet, who’s a friend of mine, Thursday and I said you know, you have to send a reporter down. Instead of going down for a few minutes and looking at them, you have to send a reporter down there, and write about how they put this thing together. And Dean did, and it was in the Saturday paper. Because it’s really remarkable. And because it’s non-hierarchical, the authorities don’t know what to do with it. I mean, one of the funny sort of scenarios that is constant within the park are these undercover cops who appear in Yankees baseball hats and tell you they’re students from Rollins College, even though they look to be about 35. I mean, it’s sort of out of a Doonesbury cartoon. But the question they always ask is, you know, ‘So, who do you think the core leadership are? So where are the leaders?’ And the fact is it’s ruled by consensus. And what the cops want to do is find out who that cobble is of manipulators and decapitate the movement, but since they don’t exist, they can’t do it. And that’s part of the whole confusion; they run up against a structure they don’t comprehend and they don’t understand. And that not only is true for the New York City police department, but it’s also true for the press that comes down and isn’t prepared to think outside the box.

Peter Scheer: Let me ask you, we sent a reporter out, Howie Stier, to the Occupy L.A. protest today. And he reported—and we’ll get to this later in the show—that there was a remarkable lack of a police presence. Is this particular to New York? You’ve encountered this a lot in your protests in Washington. And how have the police been, in relation to the protests …

Chris Hedges: Well, in New York, it’s very heavy. Because they have essentially militarized the financial district of lower Manhattan. Every single street going in to Wall Street has metal barricades with police, and there are phalanxes of motorcycle cops, patrol cars, paddy wagons—which every once in a while, just to remind all the protesters they’re there, in the middle of the night they’ll circle the park with the sirens and the lights going. Because everyone sleeps there, of course. So no, the police presence has been very, very, very heavy. And …

Peter Scheer: Has it changed with more attention?

Chris Hedges: What’s that?

Peter Scheer: In terms of the abusiveness, has it changed with more attention on the police?

Chris Hedges: Yeah. They clearly—I mean, the feeling among the protesters is that when those attacks took place a week ago, where they used pepper spray on those women, it was an attempt to provoke the crowd. I don’t know whether that’s true; I don’t know what the motives of the NYPD are. But there is a feeling, there was a feeling among the protesters that what they wanted was a violent response, maybe even a riot. Because that’s the kind of language they speak. I mean, pictures of people smashing the windows of cars is not going to garner any kind of sympathy among the wider public. Well, they didn’t respond. And what’s fascinating is that because the mainstream media wasn’t there, they created their own media, just like your dad did with Ramparts, and started doing real journalism, just like your dad did. And shamed, just like your dad did,  the traditional media into responding. So the only people that were recording this pepper spray incident were people who had cameras from the protest group itself; indeed, the nerve center for the protesters on Wall Street is the media center in the center of the park. And it’s interesting that one of the decisions, if the park is raided, is that large groups of people will surround the media center to try and keep it going as long as possible. So once again, the commercial media was not doing its job, and these people found a way to have a voice by creating a media system of their own. And they’ve done a very effective job of it. So since that exposure of Anthony Bologna, this inspector who—you know, it’s just an amazing piece of footage;  these women are seated on the sidewalk and he’s spraying them in the face, till they can’t breathe, with pepper spray—the police have had to back off. I mean, the pressure has not been as intense. I mean, they did arrest large numbers of people on the Brooklyn Bridge, and there’s a gigantic march today, by the way, that’s been joined with unions; unions have joined in. But that has given the protesters some space that they did not have before.

Peter Scheer: Let me ask you about the police again, because—not to dwell on this, but you’ve written extensively in your column about how—and in your books—as we make this shift to a more oligarchical society—feudalistic—that the elites will have to surround themselves with a security apparatus to protect from the public anger. And we saw, I just want to bring up, in 2008 what happened at the Republican Convention, Amy Goodman and two of her producers were trying to report on protests there and they were surrounded by an extreme police presence. And then they were beaten and arrested, and they just won a settlement from the cities, St. Paul and Minneapolis, and from the Secret Service. And I wonder if you see this, how this will affect media coverage in the future. The settlement, and the reaction to the protesting.

Chris Hedges: I don’t think the settlement’s going to affect the coverage too much. I mean, police were, for instance, arresting reporters on the Brooklyn Bridge; they were beating reporters on that Saturday march when those women were sprayed in the face with pepper spray. So anybody recording acts of police brutality is instantly seen, I think, as the enemy no matter who they work for. And I expect that if they go in and try and shut this thing down, the first or the primary target will be making sure that it can’t be broadcast to the outside world. I mean, they certainly understand the role of the media system that the protesters have set up, and how much it has hurt them. And it’s hurt them a lot.

Peter Scheer: There was a post that was sort of going viral around the Internet, a commentary, a guy writing in sympathy with the 99 percent protesters, but also urging them to—sort of a humorous commentary but semi-serious—urging them to put on a polo shirt and khakis. And made the argument that they shouldn’t come off as more, I don’t know, radical; that they should think about how they’re represented in the media. Do you find that compelling at all?

Chris Hedges: No. I don’t think the media is going to give them much slack …

Peter Scheer: I mean, there were these photos, for instance, of women, topless women …

Chris Hedges: I mean, look, the whole reaction of the media has been, in essence, to make fun of them. I mean, Ralph Nader wears a suit and a white shirt and a tie everywhere he goes, and they make fun of him.

Peter Scheer: Yeah.

Chris Hedges: I mean, you’re about to have Dennis Kucinich on; Dennis always looks pretty sharp, and I’ve watched the media make fun of him. No. You know, they will find—because there’s no cost. They can’t do this to the tea party. Because the Koch brothers and all their backers will come down on them like a ton of bricks. But they can be snarky and snide and dismissive of the left, because the left has no power within this country, yet. I mean, let’s hope that that changes. And so they do. And if you look at the early coverage, especially in The New York Times, it’s just … I mean, it’s disgusting. And you know, why should everybody look like they, you know, shop at The Gap or J. Crew, or—is that really such a great look? [laughter] I think the people in the park look great.

Peter Scheer: So, let me ask you. You know a hell of a lot about the Middle East. You were The New York Times bureau chief there; you speak the language. This movement is said to be inspired by what happened in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, and the Arab Spring youth movements there. Obviously very different culture, different things going on, but do you see—what similarities and differences do you see there?

Chris Hedges: Many similarities. First of all, it’s driven by highly educated—these, most of the people are very young and very smart and very well educated. That was also true in Egypt. They’re very tech-savvy, and that’s also true. They’re very, very adept at using social media. Not as a form of activism, because it’s useless as activism; but it is very useful in terms of communication, communicating a message; and so again, that’s very similar with Egypt. And I think finally, the third similarity would be that many people at Wall Street, you know, they did everything right; they worked hard, they studied, they went to good schools; they got massive loans to do it; got out in the wider society, did not want to be whores for JP Morgan Chase or Goldman Sachs or somebody, and realized that everything had dried up. They’d been had. We are no longer a society that remunerates anything that has to do with truth or beauty or education or journalism, or art or teaching; we only pay public relations, which is propaganda and corporate management, and that’s about it. And so they sort of got hit in the face with a two-by-four. And again, that’s similar to Egypt. I mean, these are highly talented, creative people who frankly should be in positions where they can help us reorient ourselves in a time of severe climate change, and weaning away our dependence on fossil fuels, and you know, they’re the best among us. I mean, that was the last line of a column I wrote, but it’s true. And the society has just pushed them to the margins. And so they have a kind of consciousness about the degradation of the American political system that I think perhaps others have up to this point lacked, but I think are beginning to see.

Peter Scheer: Let me just ask you a final question. You wrote in your last column that you mentioned, “The state and corporate forces are determined to crush this. They are not going to wait for you; they are terrified this will spread.” And it is starting to spread. You’ve been calling for movements like this for a long time. Is this real? Is this happening, or do you see it fizzling out?

Chris Hedges: No, it’s real. And it’s happening. But I’m too good a reporter to tell you where it’s going. You never know where it’s going, you know; I will say that, certainly, having spent a lot of time with the Wall Street protesters, they are very determined and very resilient. And even if the cops shut this thing down tonight, there is within the DNA of the hundreds, perhaps few thousand people that have been through that park, a kind of consciousness that wasn’t there before. And in that sense, they’ve already won. Where is it going to go? Can they shut it down? Will it spread? These are just unknowable questions. These kinds of movements, when they spring up, have a kind of centrifugal force that even the purported leaders—and I used the example of East Germany—don’t grasp; I mean, they don’t know where it’s going and none of us know where it’s going. I’m certainly going to work overtime to make sure it goes somewhere…

Why the Elites Are in Trouble

by Chris Hedges

Ketchup, a petite 22-year-old from Chicago with wavy red hair and glasses
with bright red frames, arrived in Zuccotti Park in New York on Sept. 17.
She had a tent, a rolling suitcase, 40 dollars’ worth of food, the graphic
version of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and a
sleeping bag. She had no return ticket, no idea what she was undertaking,
and no acquaintances among the stragglers who joined her that afternoon to
begin the Wall Street occupation. She decided to go to New York after
reading the Canadian magazine Adbusters, which called for the occupation,
although she noted that when she got to the park Adbusters had no
discernable presence.

The lords of finance in the looming towers surrounding the park, who toy
with money and lives, who make the political class, the press and the
judiciary jump at their demands, who destroy the ecosystem for profit and
drain the U.S. Treasury to gamble and speculate, took little notice of
Ketchup or any of the other scruffy activists on the street below them. The
elites consider everyone outside their sphere marginal or invisible. And
what significance could an artist who paid her bills by working as a
waitress have for the powerful? What could she and the others in Zuccotti
Park do to them? What threat can the weak pose to the strong? Those who
worship money believe their buckets of cash, like the $4.6 million JPMorgan
Chase gave a few days ago to the New York City Police Foundation, can buy
them perpetual power and security. Masters all, kneeling before the idols of
the marketplace, blinded by their self-importance, impervious to human
suffering, bloated from unchecked greed and privilege, they were about to be
taught a lesson in the folly of hubris.

Even now, three weeks later, elites, and their mouthpieces in the press,
continue to puzzle over what people like Ketchup want. Where is the list of
demands? Why don’t they present us with specific goals? Why can’t they
articulate an agenda?

The goal to people like Ketchup is very, very clear. It can be articulated
in one word-REBELLION. These protesters have not come to work within the
system. They are not pleading with Congress for electoral reform. They know
electoral politics is a farce and have found another way to be heard and
exercise power.

They have no faith, nor should they, in the political system or the two
major political parties. They know the press will not amplify their voices,
and so they created a press of their own. They know the economy serves the
oligarchs, so they formed their own communal system. This movement is an
effort to take our country back.

This is a goal the power elite cannot comprehend. They cannot envision a day
when they will not be in charge of our lives. The elites believe, and seek
to make us believe, that globalization and unfettered capitalism are natural
law, some kind of permanent and eternal dynamic that can never be altered.
What the elites fail to realize is that rebellion will not stop until the
corporate state is extinguished. It will not stop until there is an end to
the corporate abuse of the poor, the working class, the elderly, the sick,
children, those being slaughtered in our imperial wars and tortured in our
black sites. It will not stop until foreclosures and bank repossessions
stop. It will not stop until students no longer have to go into debt to be
educated, and families no longer have to plunge into bankruptcy to pay
medical bills. It will not stop until the corporate destruction of the
ecosystem stops, and our relationships with each other and the planet are
radically reconfigured. And that is why the elites, and the rotted and
degenerate system of corporate power they sustain, are in trouble. That is
why they keep asking what the demands are. They don’t understand what is
happening. They are deaf, dumb and blind.

“The world can’t continue on its current path and survive,” Ketchup told me.
“That idea is selfish and blind. It’s not sustainable. People all over the
globe are suffering needlessly at our hands.”

The occupation of Wall Street has formed an alternative community that
defies the profit-driven hierarchical structures of corporate capitalism. If
the police shut down the encampment in New York tonight, the power elite
will still lose, for this vision and structure have been imprinted into the
thousands of people who have passed through park, renamed Liberty Plaza by
the protesters. The greatest gift the occupation has given us is a blueprint
for how to fight back. And this blueprint is being transferred to cities and
parks across the country.

“We get to the park,” Ketchup says of the first day. “There’s madness for a
little while. There were a lot of people. They were using megaphones at
first. Nobody could hear. Then someone says we should get into circles and
talk about what needed to happen, what we thought we could accomplish. And
so that’s what we did. There was a note-taker in each circle. I don’t know
what happened with those notes, probably nothing, but it was a good start.
One person at a time, airing your ideas. There was one person saying that he
wasn’t very hopeful about what we could accomplish here, that he wasn’t very
optimistic. And then my response was that, well, we have to be optimistic,
because if anybody’s going to get anything done, it’s going be us here.
People said different things about what our priorities should be. People
were talking about the one-demand idea. Someone called for AIG executives to
be prosecuted. There was someone who had come from Spain to be there, saying
that she was here to help us avoid the mistakes that were made in Spain. It
was a wide spectrum. Some had come because of their own personal suffering
or what they saw in the world.”

“After the circles broke I felt disheartened because it was sort of
chaotic,” she said. “I didn’t have anybody there, so it was a little
depressing. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

“Over the past few months, people had been meeting in New York City general
assembly,” she said. “One of them is named Brooke. She’s a professor of
social ecology. She did my facilitation training. There’s her and a lot of
other people, students, school teachers, different people who were involved
with that . so they organized a general assembly.”

“It’s funny that the cops won’t let us use megaphones, because it’s to make
our lives harder, but we actually end up making a much louder sound [with
> “people’s mic”] and I
imagine it’s much more annoying to the people around us,” she said. “I had
been in the back, unable to hear. I walked to different parts of the circle.
I saw this man talking in short phrases and people were repeating them. I
don’t know whose idea it was, but that started on the first night. The first
general assembly was a little chaotic because people had no idea . a general
assembly, what is this for? At first it was kind of grandstanding about what
were our demands. Ending corporate personhood is one that has come up again
and again as a favorite and. . What ended up happening was, they said, OK,
we’re going to break into work groups.

“People were worried we were going to get kicked out of the park at 10 p.m.
This was a major concern. There were tons of cops. I’ve heard that it’s
costing the city a ton of money to have constant surveillance on a bunch of
peaceful protesters who aren’t hurting anyone. With the people’s mic,
everything we do is completely transparent. We know there are undercover
cops in the crowd. I think I was talking to one last night, but it’s like,
what are you trying to accomplish? We don’t have any secrets.”

“The undercover cops are the only ones who ask, ‘Who’s the leader?’ ” she
said. “Presumably, if they know who our leaders are they can take them out.
The fact is we have no leader. There’s no leader, so there’s nothing they
can do.

“There was a woman [in the medics unit]. This guy was pretending to be a
reporter. The first question he asks is, ‘Who’s the leader?’  She goes, ‘I’m
the leader.’

And he says, ‘Oh yeah, what are you in charge of?’ She says, ‘I’m in a
charge of everything.’ He says, ‘Oh yeah?  What’s your title?’ She says
‘God.’ ”

“So it’s 9:30 p.m. and people are worried that they’re going to try and rush
us out of the camp,” she said, referring back to the first day. “At 9:30
they break into work groups. I joined the group on contingency plans. The
job of the bedding group was to find cardboard for people to sleep on. The
contingency group had to decide what to do if they kick us out. The big
decision we made was to announce to the group that if we were dispersed we
were going to meet back at 10 a.m. the next day in the park. Another group
was arts and culture. What was really cool was that we assumed we were going
to be there more than one night. There was a food group. They were going
dumpster diving. The direct action committee plans for direct, visible
action like marches. There was a security team. It’s security against the
cops. The cops are the only people we think that might hurt us. The security
team keeps people awake in shifts. They always have people awake.”

The work groups make logistical decisions, and the general assembly makes
large policy decisions.

“Work groups make their own decisions,” Ketchup said. “For example, someone
donated a laptop. And because I’ve been taking minutes I keep running around
and asking, ‘Does someone have a laptop I could borrow?’ The media team,
upon receiving that laptop, designated it to me for my use on behalf of the
Internet committee. The computer isn’t mine. When I go back to Chicago, I’m
not going to take it. Right now I don’t even know where it is. Someone else
is using it. But so, after hearing this, people thought it had been gifted
to me personally. People were upset by that. So a member of the Internet
work group went in front of the group and said, ‘This is a need of the
committee. It’s been put into Ketchup’s care.’ They explained that to the
group, but didn’t ask for consensus on it, because the committees are
empowered. Some people might still think that choice was inappropriate. In
the future, it might be handled differently.”

Working groups blossomed in the following days. The media working group was
joined by a welcome working group for new arrivals, a sanitation working
group (some members of which go around the park on skateboards as they carry
brooms), a legal working group with lawyers, an events working group, an
education working group, medics, a facilitation working group (which trains
new facilitators for the general assembly meetings), a public relations
working group, and an outreach working group for like-minded communities as
well as the general public. There is an Internet working group and an open
source technology working group. The nearby McDonald’s is the principal
bathroom for the park after Burger King banned protesters from its

Caucuses also grew up in the encampment, including a “Speak Easy caucus.”
“That’s a caucus I started,” Ketchup said. “It is for a broad spectrum of
individuals from female-bodied people who identify as women to male-bodied
people who are not traditionally masculine. That’s called the ‘Speak Easy’
caucus. I was just talking to a woman named Sharon who’s interested in
starting a caucus for people of color.

“A caucus gives people a safe space to talk to each other without people
from the culture of their oppressors present. It gives them greater power
together, so that if the larger group is taking an action that the caucus
felt was specifically against their interests, then the caucus can block
that action. Consensus can potentially still be reached after a caucus
blocks something, but a block, or a ‘paramount objection,’ is really
serious. You’re saying that you are willing to walk out.”

“We’ve done a couple of things so far,” she said. “So, you know the live
stream? The comments are moderated on the live stream. There are moderators
who remove racist comments, comments that say ‘I hate cops’ or ‘Kill cops.’
They remove irrelevant comments that have nothing to do with the movement.
There is this woman who is incredibly hardworking and intelligent. She has
been the driving force of the finance committee. Her hair is half-blond and
half-black. People were referring to her as “blond-black hottie.”  These
comments weren’t moderated, and at one point whoever was running the camera
took the camera off her face and did a body scan. So, that was one of the
first things the caucus talked about. We decided as a caucus that I would go
to the moderators and tell them this is a serious problem. If you’re
moderating other offensive comments then you need to moderate these kinds of
offensive comments.”

The heart of the protest is the two daily meetings, held in the morning and
the evening. The assemblies, which usually last about two hours, start with
a review of process, which is open to change and improvement, so people are
clear about how the assembly works. Those who would like to speak raise
their hand and get on “stack.”

“There’s a stack keeper,” Ketchup said. “The stack keeper writes down your
name or some signifier for you. A lot of white men are the people raising
their hands. So, anyone who is not apparently a white man gets to jump
stack. The stack keeper will make note of the fact that the person who put
their hand up was not a white man and will arrange the list so that it’s not
dominated by white men. People don’t get called up in the same order as they
raise their hand.”

While someone is speaking, their words amplified by the people’s mic, the
crowd responds through hand signals.

“Putting your fingers up like this,” she said, holding her hands up and
wiggling her fingers, “means you like what you’re hearing, or you’re in
agreement. Like this,” she said, holding her hands level and wiggling her
fingers, “means you don’t like it so much. Fingers down, you don’t like it
at all; you’re not in agreement. Then there’s this triangle you make with
your hand that says ‘point of process.’  So, if you think that something is
not being respected within the process that we’ve agreed to follow then you
can bring that up.”

“You wait till you’re called,” she said. “These rules get abused all the
time, but they are important. We start with agenda items, which are
proposals or group discussions. Then working group report-backs, so you know
what every working group is doing. Then we have general announcements. The
agenda items have been brought to the facilitators by the working groups
because you need the whole group to pay attention. Like last night, Legal
brought up a discussion on bail: ‘Can we agree that the money from the
general funds can be allotted if someone needs bail?’ And the group had to
come to consensus on that. [It decided yes.]

There’s two co-facilitators, a stack keeper, a timekeeper, a vibes-person
making sure that people are feeling OK, that people’s voices aren’t getting
stomped on, and then if someone’s being really disruptive, the vibes-person
deals with them. There’s a note-taker-I end up doing that a lot because I
type very, very quickly. We try to keep the facilitation team one man, one
woman, or one female-bodied person, one male-bodied person. When you
facilitate multiple times it’s rough on your brain. You end up having a lot
of criticism thrown your way. You need to keep the facilitators rotating as
much as possible. It needs to be a huge, huge priority to have a strong
facilitation group.”

“People have been yelled out of the park,” she said. “Someone had a sign the
other day that said ‘Kill the Jew Bankers.’ They got screamed out of the
park. Someone else had a sign with the N-word on it. That person’s sign was
ripped up, but that person is apparently still in the park.

“We’re trying to make this a space that everyone can join. This is something
the caucuses are trying to really work on. We are having workshops to get
people to understand their privilege.”

But perhaps the most important rule adopted by the protesters is nonviolence
and nonaggression against the police, no matter how brutal the police

“The cops, I think, maced those women
>  in the face
and expected the men and women around them to start a riot,” Ketchup said.
“They want a riot. They can deal with a riot. They cannot deal with
nonviolent protesters with cameras.”

I tell Ketchup I will bring her my winter sleeping bag. It is getting cold.
She will need it. I leave her in a light drizzle and walk down Broadway. I
pass the barricades, uniformed officers on motorcycles, the rows of paddy
wagons and lines of patrol cars that block the streets into the financial
district and surround the park. These bankers, I think, have no idea what
they are up against.


Now that the mainstream media, even NPR, have started to cover Occupy Wall Street, we hear over and over that the organiziing model is new. I even heard it on Democracy Now! this morning (online; our subservient public radio station no longer makes it available in a timely fashion).

But this non-hierarchical, consensus-based organizing model was invented here, taken to Seattle, and went viral from there, dominating both the Global Justice organizing pre-9/11 and the anti-war movement afterwards. It’s radically democratic and exhilerating to watch.

The danger is co-optation by the Democratic Party, which is suddenly alive with people, including Mr. Obama, who “sympathize” with the protesters, even show up for photo-ops and public speeches. Even if the protesters themselves remain steadfast in refusing party identification, it’s pretty clear that the Democrats will take the movement as an opportunity to differentiate themselves from Republicans and offer a few sops to a desperate country so we can go back to the status quo under Democratic management.

I don’t have any solution to that and not a lot of hope we won’t see things fizzle out in a downpour of such efforts at co-optation. But pushing the envelope, demanding not just vauge “reforms” but real change — like a death-penalty for corporations, the break-up of the big banks and bigger monopolies, state-run investment banks (like N. Dakotas), etc. — might also push the meliorists so far to the left they can no longer cling to the Democratic establishment.

Time will tell with the ‘Occupy Movement’. I’m always hoping for the best, but hope has proven to be sadly ineffective so far.

In any event, I doubt we’ll be going back to a Democratic status quo, or anything else for that matter. The point of no return was crossed some time ago.