Friday, February 24, 2012

New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

OWS has recently published a statement on the “99% Declaration,” an Occupy-inspired group that wants to convene a national general assembly on—you guessed it—July 4th in Philly in order to develop a petition of grievances to be directed to the U.S. state. I have no time for the 99% crew (although I do love their geeky love of the poor relation of the freedoms of speech, religion, press, and assembly—the freedom to petition). But I have less time for OWS’ official response, in which they claim that the 99% Declaration’s plans “blatantly contradict OWS’ stated principles.” Here’s why.

OWS’ response takes the form of a kind of legal reasoning. First, OWS claims that the Declaration contradicts the OWS’ “Statement of Autonomy”—the text of which is binding on all who Occupy if one wishes to be considered as Occupying. Second, OWS cites a resolution of the GA of Occupy Philly, which states, “We do not support the 99% Declaration, its group, its website, its National GA and anything else associated with it.” We thus have two reasons for rejecting the Declaration. One cites an empirical refusal, a political decision, to reject a national assembly. The other cites the Statement of Autonomy as if it functioned as a foundational (even constitutive, constitutional) document in order to reject a proposal to constitute a national assembly. A constituted anti-constitution.

It’s in the unevenness of these two modalities and scales of citation that we can see how full of shit OWS is. As cited in the statement, Occupy Philly rejects the 99% Declaration as a local GA refusing to participate; OWS rejects it because it contradicts statements of principles developed at OWS, principles that have spread to and been affirmed by most local GAs. Philly’s rejection is empirical, a local matter; OWS’ rejection is deterritorialized, universalized (for we who occupy the Occupy Universe), and apparently indifferent to the fact of its embeddedness within New York City. Indeed, the locality of OWS is insistently negated as OWS ascribes to itself authoritative speech: “When reporting on stories concerning the convening of national ‘Occupy conventions’…we strongly urge reporters, editors, and producers to vet these stories by contacting the official press relations working group of Occupy Wall Street.” OWS will regulate national public discourse that involves projected national occupations. In effect, the particular group called OWS has fashioned itself as a synecdoche for Occupy in general (that is, to think Occupy is to think Occupy Wall Street); in so doing, the merely local GA of OWS attains bloated significance entirely disproportionate to the amount of voices there represented, participating.

Every rupture—say, OWS’ rupture with neoliberal parliamentary epistemes—is a repetition. OWS accrual of authority produces the precise circumstances that led to the convening of that proto-national delegation in 1776 that led in turn to the development of the parliamentary modes of delegating power (embedding power in localities while articulating multiple localities) that OWS rejects. Discursive regulation without representation is tyranny! Second, the document’s vacillation between the particular and the general, the way that OWS signifies simultaneously a single GA and the movement as a whole, demonstrates that OWS has not yet unthought the problematic politics of the in general, of the generalizable. Occupy Wall Street’s locally embedded actions deterritorialize themselves and stand in for communities and GAs not represented at OWS. This simply replicates the way that Wall Street (and finance capital as a whole) has generalized its own peculiar (valorization) requirements as being identical to those of the nation—a nation that remains unrepresented on Wall Street.

Like Wall Street, OWS has not yet unthought its privilege—it treats its utterances as having immediate general significance. As such, its structural privilege is denegated: the sovereign refusal of a delegated national assembly simply shows that, within Occupy, Wall Street remains king, declaring which locally made statements are generally valid and which are generally repugnant to all of Occupy (repugnancy, by the by, was a crucial jurisprudential concept for the mixed British imperial legal regime…)

How could this have been avoided? I’ll give you some hints, OWS, and I do it with love. First, be clear in language: Let OWS refer to a single GA, and let Occupy refer to all of us who occupy together. Second, don’t let these two scales collapse into one another: recognize the limits of your utterances. Third, recognize the authority of other GAs: the statement might simply have highlighted the fact of Occupy Philly’s rejection, and expressed solidarity with this decision. If you had done that, OWS, you would have avoided the impression that OWS stands above other GAs, as if OWS is the final authority ultimately deciding on what is repugnant to Occupy in general. You also would have avoided the appearance of jurisprudential positivism, the need to cite to decide. You could simply have cited the decision of others, decided yourselves, and let that be that.

Finally, stop acting like Wall Street. Refuse the movement whereby a local particularity synecdochalizes itself into a generality. Understand your privilege: Just because the national public conflates Occupy with OWS doesn’t mean that you have to do so. Resist that conflation! Develop, with all of us, alternative grammars of the political. Stop bringing me down.

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