We expect history to provide us with explanations – to place the immediacy of experience within a wider story whose terms will be progressively elaborated and illuminated. Political action, which aims at intervening into history and altering its movement, has an entirely different kind of truth – a subjective truth produced in the act of participating.
Occupy Oakland’s call for a day-long general strike on November 2 has revived interest in the tactic, calls for which were also heard over the winter in Madison, Wisconsin. Yet the general strike is practically unknown today in the United States, functioning more as a rhetorical index of militancy than a serious proposal for unified action. In solidarity with this movement’s profound rupture in political language, we’ve selected a few important moments in the history of the concept to illustrate its potential directions.
In the early twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of African-Americans migrated from the Deep South to Harlem. Racist white residents fled to the outer boroughs and the suburbs, and landlords began to double and triple Harlem rents, capitalizing on the limited geographic options presented to new black New Yorkers. Families crammed into single rooms, but when the first of the… Read more →
The International Herbert Marcuse Society held its fourth biennial conference at the University of Pennsylvania. A mix of academics and activists, the conference represented yet another attempt to connect the two worlds. What better way than to have Angela Davis herself – renowned intellectual, renowned communist – share her thoughts with us on a chilly Friday night.
Only through following a long-term organizing approach can Occupy Wall Street begin to harness the anger and energy it has made visible and translate it in into a dynamic, class-conscious movement. And only the labor movement has the experience and organizational capacity to take on the challenge.
This is an unfinished work – a snapshot of history as it occurred, experienced by me, reported on social media, or retold by trusted comrades. It will lack the finality of hindsight. Contained within is my account of the Oakland Insurrection, as it has unfolded over the past days and weeks. Both the insurrection and this essay are works of hope. I hope that we push forward on the streets of Oakland, the Bay Area, and everywhere else, to the limit of what is possible – beyond occupation and the proposed general strike to “total freedom” for us all.
Dismantling a public education system in a country with strong background of political struggles requires a mitigated form of neoliberal strategy. Between 2009 and 2010, I observed this operation as a new professor at the University of Puerto Rico. In the spring of 2010, students opted for an indefinite strike. The one-month-long occupation of the Mayagüez campus left a permanent memory in those who participated in it.
On the morning of October 14, one week into Occupy Philadelphia’s encampment beside City Hall, someone emptied the contents of a paint can on the building’s southwestern entrance. This incident suggests the ambiguity and contradiction in the political imagination of Occupy Philadelphia. What constitutes meaningful action – a spectacular act of vandalism, the peaceful occupation of public property, or direct action on the horizon more confrontational and radical? There has been no shortage of activity – daily marches strike out to the usual targets – but as of yet no dramatic confrontations like those of Occupy Wall Street have occurred.
Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had already stepped down, following a popular movement that established a micro-republic, the Gumhuriyyah el-Tahrir (Republic of Liberty), which contradicted the pervading logic of the international economic system. And now protesters in Wisconsin were occupying the state house to prevent the passing of legislation that would effectively suspend bargaining rights for public workers. Sitting in a Washington newsroom, we needed a headline. I very quickly suggested something along these lines: “Middle East unrest spreads to the Midwest.” I got a side eye. After all, how could a free and open society, the democratic society, be taking its cues from, of all places, Egypt, an antique land with backward ways, Islamic fundamentalists, and Arab dictators? The editors went with a more modest title.
A general strike has been declared by the Oakland General Assembly. The original version of this song was the number one hit during the 1946 Oakland General Strike.