What is striking – and successful – about this leaderless protest is how it resists the meanings outsiders try to impose on it
The forcible police evictions of Occupy protesters in New York, Chicago, Oakland, Montreal, Toronto, Berlin and elsewhere raise critical questions about political speech – questions that accentuate many of the troubles we've been having with our public discourse surrounding this new leaderless resistance movement. The forcible evictions, naturally, raise a genuine first amendment free speech problem: denying the Occupy movement any public space to "occupy" and arresting them to boot, without making any reasonable accommodation for expressive political speech, deliberately creates a considerable chilling effect on what amounts to significant public expression of dissent. This is doubly problematic when the public spaces in question – such as Grant Park in Chicago – are used for other political events, such as President Obama's election night rally in 2008.
It is indeed ironic to think that the president-elect was making his political victory speech under a tent in Grant Park "after hours" on the very fairgrounds where his chief of staff and later mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, would direct the Chicago Police Department to arrest Occupy protesters – that is, to actually arrest 175 protesters in handcuffs on quasi-criminal charges, to book, fingerprint and detain them overnight in police holding cells, and then aggressively prosecute the cases in criminal courts, rather than merely to issue citations. (This was equally within the mayor's prerogative under the park ordinance at issue.) Some D/democratic speech clearly receives more first amendment protection in Chicago than others.
But the evictions also raise deeper grammatical issues about the way in which we discuss the Occupy movement – even within our limited forums of free speech. I've argued in the New York Times that the idea of a leaderless occupation movement represents a new paradigm of political resistance – what we might call "political disobedience" – that demands a new vocabulary. I'd like to suggest here that it also calls for an entirely new grammar.
The syntax that the critics and pundits are using no longer seems to work. Statements to the effect that Occupy Wall Street should get an agenda or, as the Wall Street Journal disdainfully remarked, should stop engaging in "days of feckless rage", no longer fully make sense. It is as if these grammatical formulations cannot be "heard" properly given the leaderless paradigm of the new resistance movement. They sound like the inaudible noise in Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus – or, perhaps more familiarly, the "mwa, mwa, mwa" that adults make in Charlie Brown cartoons.
This is true even for the fellow travelers. So, for instance, when philosopher Peter Hallward contends in The Guardian that "we will need to convert the polemical clarity of the new slogan – 'we are the 99%' – into a commanding political standpoint," somehow the syntax doesn't work: it is not clear who "we" are, nor whom Peter Hallward is addressing. Are "we" assembled protesters on the internet, readers of the Guardian, "leaders" of a movement, or critics? My sense is that this kind of statement, especially in the form of an op-ed in the Guardian, is somehow inaudible and slightly meaningless. It cannot be "heard" properly anymore.
The problem is, first, spatial. Normative statements about Occupy Wall Street – claims about what the movement should do – are functionally inaudible unless the speaker is physically occupying an Occupy space. Peter Hallward cannot audibly tell anyone what Occupy Wall Street should do – any more than the Wall Street Journal could – unless Hallward is physically "occupying" an Occupy space. And you can't "occupy" while sitting at your computer or publishing an editorial. You cannot "occupy" at a distance from an Occupy site.
The problem, second and connectedly, is rhizomic. Because the movement is leaderless, there is no one to "speak to" apart from the assembled protesters at an Occupy site; and there is no way to "speak to" the resisters unless the speaker situates him or herself as a member of the resistance movement. Naturally, no one can "speak for" Occupy Wall Street. Under this new political paradigm, the resistance can only be "heard" from its space of occupation, and only then, through the coordinated voice of assembled discussion and potential consensus.
But beyond that, to produce an effective normative statement about Occupy Wall Street, the speaker needs to be physically occupying Wall Street. And not just physically present, but "occupying" that site, in the sense of having a self-imagination that they are part of the resistance movement. What it takes to "occupy", grammatically speaking, does not necessarily require a tent or sleeping bag, nor even a poster (though that surely helps), but a self-conception that one is protesting. Mere presence does not even suffice. The journalist on the beat, the visiting tourist, the police officer patrolling the park, or the politician claiming to be responsive to the protesters' demand, none of these would be "occupying" unless they took the further step of conceiving of themselves as part of the resistance movement.
There is a third dimension to the problem: an authorial dimension. The conventional sentence structure of the type "People should do xyz" rests on a claim of authority that no longer seems to hold. It is as if time-honored forms of knowledge and expertise no longer grammatically produce truthful statements. The contention from an economist, a politician, a pundit or columnist opining about what Occupy Wall Street must do to succeed is no longer a fully meaningful sentence because the authors of those sentences themselves have failed.
That seems to be a central message of the Occupy movement: the purported experts are precisely the ones who got us in this situation that so many perceive as intolerable – a condition of continuously increasing inequality where, today, "the 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans." That, I take it, is the guiding Jacobin spirit of this new form of political disobedience, but without the Jacobin leadership. And it is precisely the leaderlessness that accentuates the new syntactic challenges: those who are trying to "steer" Occupy Wall Street in the "right direction" – whether with good or ill will – have already failed miserably and, as a result, there is no authorial grammar to their statements.
This new syntactic order – and its accompanying apparatus of general assemblies, human microphones, and hand signals – has radical implications. The first is the utter obliteration of charismatic leadership. This is a product not just of leaderlessness, but also of the "human mic" as a form of expression, communication, and amplification. The "human mic" interrupts charisma. It's like live translation: the speaker can only utter five to eight words before having to shut up while the assembled masses repeat. The effect is to defuse oratory momentum. It also forces the assembled masses to utter words and arguments that they may not agree with – which also has the salutary effect of neutralising political momentum.
Second, the new grammatical structure opens up the political space of occupation to multiple voices, views, and opinions – to a multiplicity of what the movement calls "political persuasions". For instance, someone occupying might say that they are pro-union, without the resistance movement itself being pro-union. Others may object and argue that unions are hierarchical institutions that reproduce or crystallise new forms of oppression. In this sense, one could imagine hearing a large group of Occupy protesters arguing for union-bargaining in Wisconsin, but it would not "make sense" for anyone to say that "Occupy Wall Street is "pro-union". The grammatical structure of that sentence would not work.
The new syntax allows for a convergence of multiple views and an overlap of sometimes mutually exclusive ideas, without an exclusionary mechanism operating. There can be pro-government protesters next to anti-government protesters, for instance, without the resistance movement needing to adjudicate between them. All those statements can be heard, as long as the authors are physically present, occupying, self-identifying, and then voicing their opinions in terms of "we."
Of course, a leaderless movement could not enforce any of these new syntactic formations, but that's hardly an issue. Grammar works through who is "heard" and what "makes sense" far less (except in grade school) by means of policing. It operates, for the most part, through auditory exclusion and filtering.
The central conception of "leaderless" is, naturally, one of the most controversial aspects of Occupy Wall Street and the source of much criticism – even among friends and fellow travelers of the global Occupy movement. The most frequent objection is that it simply paralyses political action. Slavoj Žižek gave expression to this complaint with regard to the resistance movement in Greece, when he wrote, back in August:
"[I]n Greece, the protest movement displays the limits of self-organisation: protesters sustain a space of egalitarian freedom with no central authority to regulate it, a public space where all are allotted the same amount of time to speak and so on. When the protesters started to debate what to do next, how to move beyond mere protest, the majority consensus was that what was needed was not a new party or a direct attempt to take state power, but a movement whose aim is to exert pressure on political parties. This is clearly not enough to impose a reorganisation of social life. To do that, one needs a strong body able to reach quick decisions and to implement them with all necessary harshness."
Žižek's call for "a strong body" that acts with "all necessary harshness" is, of course, the antithesis of a leaderless resistance movement – it is much more of a Leninist vanguard party. But for those who are attracted to that model, it is worth emphasising that the notion of "leaderless" may actually open radical possibilities. It seems, in fact, that it has. The United States, at the very least, is now engaged in conversation, debate and soul-searching that was pretty much inexistent – under identical economic conditions – only three months ago.
I suggested before that this new paradigm of "political disobedience" may represent a form of resistance to the way we are being governed. I would add here that by eschewing old-fashioned partisan politics and wornout ideological debates, this type of resistance may indeed open possibilities. It may serve to resist the crystallised forms of hierarchy and domination that are so often deeply embedded in the very alternatives, solutions, proposals and ideologies that are offered.
In this regard, it may be worth returning to some of the theoretical writings that followed the student uprisings of May 1968. David Showalter, a brilliant undergraduate in my graduate seminar, pointed me to an insightful passage from an interview with Michel Foucault from the mid 1970s. When asked whether, after critique, there is "a stage at which we might propose something?" Foucault responded:
"My position is that it is not up to us to propose. As soon as one 'proposes' – one proposes a vocabulary, an ideology, which can only have effects of domination… These effects of domination will return and we shall have other ideologies, functioning in the same way. It is simply in the struggle itself and through it that positive conditions emerge."
It is only by open contestation and struggle that "in the end", Foucault suggested, "possibilities open up." It certainly does seem that possibilities have opened up. There is a conversation going on in the United States that I have not heard before. It is the product, I believe, of this new paradigm of leaderless occupation. It is also the effect of a new syntax that is being deployed by an impressive group of well-educated and articulate young women and men expressing themselves in a new political grammar. Surely, there is a virtue in keeping contestation open.
UPDATE: The Village Voice has an extended interview with Valeska Paris, which you can read here.
For most people, an extended stay aboard a luxury cruise liner sounds like a dream vacation.
But Valeska Paris says she was held against her will aboard the Scientology cruise ship "Freewinds" for more than a decade. During her stay on the vessel, she alleges, she was forced into hard labor and never allowed to leave the ship without an escort.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC News) Lateline program, Paris claims that Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige sent her to the ship when she was 18 in order to prevent her family from pulling her out of the organization.
"I was basically hauled in and told that my mum had attacked the church and that I needed to disconnect from her because she was suppressive," she said. "He decided the ship, and I found out two hours before my plane left, I was woken up in the morning and I was sent to the ship for 'two weeks.' "
Paris was born into a Scientology family, but her mother quit the group after her husband committed suicide, blaming Scientology for coercing him out of a self-made personal fortune of more than a million dollars.
Instead of the promised two week stay, Paris found herself unable to leave the ship without an official Scientology escort and was often forced into hard labor on the lower levels of the ship for stretches as long as two full days. "It's hot, it's extremely loud, it's smelly, it's not nice. I was sent down there at first for 48 hours straight on almost no sleep and I had to work by myself," she said.
So, why didn't Paris simply escape from the ship when it would take port? The Freewinds has a relatively small sailing route, traveling throughout the Caribbean and occasionally docking at small islands.
"I did not want to be there, I made it clear I did not want to be there and that was considered bad ethics, meaning it was considered not right," she said. "They take your passport when you go on the ship and you're in the middle of an island. So it's a bit hard [to escape] and by that time I was 18, I'd been in Scientology my whole life, it's not like I knew how to escape," she said.
The Church of Scientology calls Paris' claims false but declined ABC requests to make church officials available for interviews for the story. The church, which has a well-known litigious history, threatened Lateline with legal action for taking part in an alleged breach of confidentiality between Paris and the church. In a statement, the Church of Scientology said Ms Paris' claims were false.
"She certainly wasn't 'forced' to be there. She was also never forced to perform labor in the engine room," the statement said. "The Freewinds is a wonderful place, as even Valeska said on numerous occasions. Her allegation that she could only leave the ship with an escort is totally false."
American Airlines' parent company AMR Corporation has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.Shares in the airline plunged immediately they resumed trading on Tuesday and closed 81% down. They are now worth 31 cents each. The company expects the airline to continue to operate as normal throughout the bankruptcy process. Speculation about AMR's financial position surfaced in recent weeks after cost-cutting negotiations failed. AMR said agreements with its workforce forced it to spend $600m (£384m) more than other airlines on staff costs
The airline employs 78,000 staff worldwide and operates out of five major US hubs. Chapter 11 refers to a section of the US Bankruptcy Code. It protects a company from its creditors, giving it time to reorganise its debts or sell parts of the business. American Airlines was the only one of the major US airlines operating international routes not to file for bankruptcy after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Its competitors have successfully used bankruptcy to restructure their labour contracts and cut costs.Changes at the board The company also announced that Gerard Arpey, the Chief Executive of AA has retired and would be replaced by the company's president, Thomas Horton. Mr Horton said the board had unanimously decided to file for bankruptcy on Monday night. He announced that American would be looking to change its employees' terms and conditions. "We plan to initiate further negotiations with all of our unions to reduce our labour costs to competitive levels," he said.
David Bates, president of the Allied Pilots Association conceded that employment terms would change. "The 18-month timeline allotted for restructuring will almost certainly involve significant changes to the airline's business plan and to our contract."
Mr Horton insisted that the company would emerge in more robust health: "I am confident American will emerge even stronger as a global leader known for excellence and innovation."
He added that during the restructuring the airline would reduce its flight schedule in the US "modestly" with a corresponding reduction in staff.
Mr Horton said no single factor had led to the decision to file for Chapter 11 but the company needed to cut costs. He pointed to weak demand and high fuel prices, which have risen more than 50% in the last five years.
British Airways operates an international partnership with AA on transatlantic routes and are both part of the One World alliance. American also has a joint venture with Japan Airlines.
British Airways' parent company IAG said in a statement: "We have every confidence in the future of American Airlines. We are pleased they are taking this step which shows commitment and determination.
The statement added: "Our joint business, which is a revenue sharing agreement, continues to operate as usual."
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