The 99% Rise Up

By Greg Hom Rebecca Tumposky
October, 2011

Washington's Wars and Occupations:
Month in Review #78

October 31, 2011

By Greg Hom and Rebecca Tumposky

There are moments in history, at times when we least expect it, that windows of opportunity open before us. Sometimes we stand perched and ready for them. Other times they catch us off guard. Either way, our only choice is to look up, climb in, and join in the action. October has been one of those moments.

Photo courtesy of @occupyla.

This month we saw the most significant popular upsurge in the U.S. in over a decade, with thousands occupying Wall Street and setting up encampments in over two hundred cities and towns. Mass marches and demonstrations are occurring around the country under a banner that has spread deep into the mainstream: "We Are the 99%.”

This new level of pushback comes when ruling elites are already scrambling to deal with economic crises and lost wars. Their program is austerity for working and poor people and a shift to hi-tech rather than troop-intensive military strategies to defend increasingly threatened imperial power. But an awakened global movement is not standing for it. There is a direct line from Egypt's Tahrir Square to the Occupy upsurge in the U.S. The outpouring here in turn has reinforced the resolve of the huge protests in Greece, Spain and other European countries against "save the Euro" austerity measures. And Occupy has already accomplished a great deal: in just six weeks the movement has shifted the national conversation from cuts and the budget deficit to economic inequality, its root causes and the rapaciousness of the 1%. 


Targeting the 1% and linking resistance here with the uprisings of working and held-down peoples across the globe also opens windows to shift current debates about foreign policy.

For instance, in a huge defeat, Washington has just been forced to officially give up its hopes of keeping troops in Iraq beyond December 31. Perhaps it's time to say louder than ever that the underlying reason is that the Iraqi people do not want the U.S. there? In its Afghan war, the U.S. continues drone strikes and ups its threats against Pakistan, further antagonizing the peoples of both countries who want the U.S. to get out. And in relation to the Arab Spring overall, U.S. hypocrisy and double standards have never stood more exposed. Washington talks about universal human rights and condemns repressive regimes it does not like (Syria, Iran) while killing civilians with drones (Yemen) and preparing to sell new weapons to repressive regimes it does like (Bahrain). Not to mention backing Israel 100% in land-grabs that are even in contradiction to Washington's own stated policy on settlement building on Palestinian land.

Photo courtesy of Nonprofit Quarterly

No wonder new levels of connection and solidarity are emerging in the fast-growing movement against the ruling class agenda. Protesters in the U.S. have explicitly cited Egypt and the Arab Spring as inspiration, and people around the world are taking heart from the resurgence of progressive motion in the U.S., with Egyptians holding a march in Tahrir Square in solidarity with Occupy Oakland! 


Last week President Obama announced that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of this year. Negotiations aimed at extending the troops stay broke down because the Iraqi government was unwilling to give U.S. troops legal immunity from Iraqi prosecution. While Obama has put a positive spin on the troop withdrawal, saying the troops can leave “proud of their success”, the reality is that the U.S. lost. The war that was supposed to show the world that the U.S. could invade any country, install a puppet regime and build a "new (U.S.-controlled) Middle East' instead showed the opposite. The invasion led instead to U.S. overstretch and a weakening of U.S. power and influence in this oil-rich region.

A large contingent of U.S. contractors and troops under State Department control will remain in Iraq, and more troops will be stationed in nearby Kuwait. So much remains for the peace movement to do to fully end U.S. intervention in Iraq. But the world knows (and the Arab Spring shows) what Washington is trying to hide from the U.S. people: Washington lost, because of the Iraqi people's resistance and the shift in U.S. opinion in large part due to the peace movement.


On her recent trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan Secretary of State Hilary Clinton pushed hard for a U.S.-controlled process of reconciliation with the Taliban. High-level talks led by Clinton in Islamabad laid out the U.S. position that Haqqani militants operating along the border need to be reined in by Pakistan. (The Haqqanis, like the Taliban, were once supported by the CIA against the USSR.) But then the statement by Hamid Karzai that in the event of a war by the U.S. against Pakistan, Afghanistan would side with their neighbor, created a mini-media storm. Pakistani leader Yousuf Raza Gilani distanced himself as far as possible from the comment, and Clinton did her best to claim the comment was taken out of context. But the comment was made, and it betrays an independence of mind on the part of many Afghans towards their “liberator”.

Additionally, the U.S. leaving Iraq in defeat convinces many insurgents there that it is only a waiting game before Washington gives up the ghost here too. In the meanwhile the heavy use of drones by the U.S. on the Af-Pak border - “combat” carried out by soldiers using remote controls from hundreds to possibly thousands miles away - is a vicious video-game war with little strategic direction. Meant to weaken the Taliban, the attacks mainly serve to inflame Pakistani public opinion.


Israel's freeing 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit caused quite a stir. Why would Israel cut a deal with Hamas, since Hamas winning the election to lead Gaza infuriated Israelis and the U.S. alike, and Tel Aviv and Washington both consider Hamas a “terrorist” organization? Most media analysis in Israel and the U.S. focused on the thesis that Netanyahu agreed to the deal in order to win a short-term gain for his declining popularity, but that he was gambling Israel’s safety in the process. 

Try this on for size: The reason for the deal lies in the context of the recent U.N. Statehood bid by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. The Israeli government feels immensely threatened by that initiative because it threatens to take "peace process" diplomacy out of U.S. (and hence Israeli) control and locate it in the international arena.

By negotiating an arrangement with Hamas, Israel is playing Hamas and the PA against each other, offering as bait "who can offer more to the Palestinian people." Dividing the Palestinian public lowers the possibility for unified action. The PA and Hamas do have significant contradictions, but there is increasing pressure from Palestinian civil society – both in historic Palestine and the diaspora – for reconciliation and a united national movement against heightened Israeli land-grabs and brutality.  

Meanwhile, the U.S. has a different frustration with the PA at the moment, as different votes go forward on full membership status with UNESCO. On October 31 UNESCO did in fact accept Palestine into its ranks. A rather shamefaced State Department spokeswoman acknowledged that the U.S. will be forced by its own laws to stop funding the organization, which is a major propaganda arm for the U.S showing goodwill around the world.

Many states in the U.N. have shown support for fuller inclusion of Palestine, many out of solidarity and some out of opportunism to challenge U.S. power in the U.N.  But the main thing is that the U.S. is being challenged because the world increasingly sees Washington as a one-sided negotiator for Israel. Israel itself is becoming more diplomatically isolated, and the prisoner swap is at bottom another indication of Israel being put on the defensive. It may embolden resistance forces and governments throughout the Middle East to challenge Israel more aggressively. 


Graphic images of Muammar Gaddafi’s murder-after-being-taken-prisoner circulated around the world along with scenes of celebration across Libya. The former Libyan leader was killed eight months after the first protests erupted against his 42-year-long rule. In what began as a popular uprising against an ally of the U.S.’s war on Terror quickly evolved into No-Fly-Zone turned NATO intervention led by France and Britain with U.S. support. Supposed to "save lives," the intervention and stonewalling all efforts at a negotiated solution meant many lives lost, with estimates of up to 30,000 people dead.

President Obama hailed the declaration of freedom in Libya, saying “a new era of promise” is under way in the African nation. But the question remains of what role the U.S. and Europeans will seek to play in the transition ahead, and at what price will they charge for their role in bringing the new government to power. The war has produced new divisions and complex political realities in Libyan society, including violent anti-Black racism, and anti-Gaddafi militias operating independently from the U.S.-backed Transitional National Council (TNC). The TNC claims that it is committed to holding elections in eight months, but the challenges are enormous. About the only thing that is clear is the shift in Western strategy from Iraq to Libya: regime change via large-scale Western invasions are seen as likely debacles (even if this is not admitted to the U.S. public); but regime change if there are sufficient forces within a country that can be allied with or manipulated, and have the potential to succeed if given air support and arms – then fine to get them to do the empire's job. 


For other countries experiencing the Arab Spring, U.S. support for the “dawning of a new age of promise” has exposed its true colors. It will advance human rights only when they are compatible with U.S. interests. 

In Bahrain, where medics have been jailed for treating protesters, Washington gives only lip service to human rights. This month the U.S. opportunistically stated that it will review reports frominternational rights groups and U.N. officials about crackdowns in the Gulf kingdom before finalizing a deal to sell the regime $53 million in weapons.

The Syrian government's’ brutal crackdown on protesters has produced condemnations from Washington. But much as Washington might wish it could reproduce a Libya in Syria, it is blocked from doing so by opposition in the Arab world and at the U.N. and by the fact that the vast bulk of the Syrian opposition rejects Western intervention. 

In Yemen, the U.S. has continued its symbolic efforts alongside the U.N. and Saudi Arabia to condemn violence against protesters, get Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, and try to re-establish legitimacy for essentially the same regime under the leadership of his Deputy. The popular uprising in Yemen continues despite more attacks by government forces, including dozens of demonstrators murdered by snipers in recent days. Reports show that protesters are writing their names across their chests for identification in case they are killed in anti-Saleh marches. 

Despite the U.S. posturing for human rights, incessant drone attacks continue, reflecting a new level of authority-to-kill being seized by an imperial presidency. Ironically exposing the brutality of its drone attacks, the U.S. killed one of its own--16-year old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric assassinated in a separate drone strike last month.


Following the lead of New Yorkers occupying Wall Street, the Occupy mobilizations have spread around the country and around the world. Occupiers have taken to the streets in London, Rome, Athens, Buenos Aires and elsewhere, intensifying fights already underway against bank bailouts, austerity cuts and free trade agreements. This month saw a global day of action, designed to coincide with a G20 meeting in Paris, with protesters in over 900 cities in Europe, Africa and Asia demanding economic justice.

According to a recent Times Poll, 25% of U.S. residents view the protests very favorably - encouraging numbers for protests that are relatively recent and were virtually ignored or derided at the beginning by the mainstream press.

As encampments and protests have grown, so too has state repression. New York City saw one of the largest arrests of nonviolent protesters in recent history, with more than 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. Police raids, attempted raids and arrests occurred in Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, Austin, Portland and elsewhere. The assault on Occupy Oakland produced the most notable example of police brutality when Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who served two tours in Iraq, suffered a serious head injury from Oakland Police use of projectiles against the protesters.

OWS has provided a broad umbrella for those who are dissatisfied with a status quo where banks get bailed out, unemployment grows, and the budget deficit gets balanced on the backs of the working class, poor, immigrants and communities of color. Masses of people, many of whom have never before attended a protest, are embracing the spirit of this moment. Veterans have been participating in great numbers, making connections between the wars at home and wars abroad. Labor unions, community organizations and faith groups are seeing the significance and opportunity of this moment, mobilizing to defend the encampments while engaging their own bases and struggles within OWS. 

7how many wars-must die.jpg
Photo: Jan Adams; taken at #OccupySF.

The peace movement has a tremendous opportunity to add to the momentum of this moment by spotlighting militarism's distortion of national priorities and helping grow a platform that builds upon demands for jobs, housing, progressive taxation and environmental protection. Judith LeBlanc, Peace Action Field Director, says in Organizing Upgrade: “When the peace movement stands with the occupations it links the militarization of the federal budget to the anger against 'the system.' Unless we have the long view and understand that linking our ongoing organizing to the peaceful, spontaneous outrage the occupations symbolize, we will miss the opportunity to strengthen the grassroots, rank and file understanding of what we are really up against.”


We end this column with more hope in our hearts for political and social change than we have had in a good while. The magical illusion of "American exceptionalism" has worn off for many, people are seeing contradictions and systemic inequities in this society, asking questions and looking for ways forward. 

The role of war in mis-shaping our society’s values and direction now has a chance to be exposed on a massive scale. Marines who have been holding the sign “2nd time I’ve fought for my country, 1st time I’ve known my enemy” at the OWS protests are making a bold statement to the military and broader public about their take on the wars abroad, about who they benefit and who they hurt. 

The rest of the world has taken notice and is encouraging us to keep going and step it up. The activists at Tahrir Square marching in solidarity with Oakland, California are taking an incredibly generous stand given the work still ahead of them to recreate their own society. Our work is to infuse the Occupy Wall Street protests and all the battles waged by the 99% with that same spirit of internationalism and solidarity. Identification with the 99% is not complete if it stops at U.S. borders – our struggles are connected to those of humanity across the globe. Indeed, we in the U.S. have special tasks here, since the political choices this country makes have huge impacts all over the planet.

The empire is over-stretched and facing new levels of resistance, but it is far from defeated. Hard work is ahead of us. And yet, a window of opportunity to get creative, to grow our numbers and stand tall with the 99% is here. Let's open that window wider.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Rebecca Tumposky is an organizer with the Catalyst project and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, and currently living in Oakland, CA, Becca has been active in Palestine Solidarity, anti-war and worker organizing for the past ten years. She was a member of the anti-racist/anti-imperialist Heads Up Collective in the Bay Area that bridged organizing for economic and racial justice with global justice and anti-war struggles.

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