KEN KNABB : The "Occupy movement"
On PRASENJIT MAITI : On Civil Liberties and the Civil Society in India
JILL A. SCOTT : Departure
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The On Civil Liberties and the Civil Society in India Departure  
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The "Occupy movement"


"A radical situation is a collective awakening. . . . In such situations people become much more open to new perspectives, readier to question previous assumptions, quicker to see through the usual cons. . . . People learn more about society in a week than in years of academic 'social studies' or leftist 'consciousness raising.' . . . Everything seems possible -- and much more IS possible. People can hardly believe what they used to put up with in 'the old days.' . . . Passive consumption is replaced by active communication. Strangers strike up lively discussions on street corners. Debates continue round the clock, new arrivals constantly replacing those who depart for other activities or to try to catch a few hours of sleep, though they are usually too excited to sleep very long. While some people succumb to demagogues, others start making their own proposals and taking their own initiatives. Bystanders get drawn into the vortex, and go through astonishingly rapid changes. . . . Radical situations are the rare moments when qualitative change really becomes possible. Far from being abnormal, they reveal how abnormally repressed we usually are; they make our 'normal' life seem like sleepwalking."


* * *

The "Occupymovement" that has swept across the country over the last four weeks is already the most significant radical breakthrough in America since the 1960s. And it is just beginning.

It started on September 17, when some 2000 people came together in New York City to "Occupy Wall Street" in protest against the increasingly glaring domination of a tiny economic elite over the "other 99%." The participants began an ongoing tent-city type occupation of a park near Wall Street (redubbed Liberty Plaza in a salute to the Tahrir Square occupation in Egypt) and formed a general assembly that has continued to meet every day.Though at first almost totally ignored by the mainstream media, this action rapidly began to inspire similar occupations in hundreds of cities across the country and many others around the world.

The ruling elite don't know what's hit them and have suddenly been thrown on the defensive, while the clueless media pundits try to dismiss the movement for failing to articulate a coherent program or list of demands. The participants have of course expressed numerous grievances, grievances that are obvious enough to anyone who has been paying attention to what's been going on in the world. But they have wisely avoided limiting themselves to a single demand, or even just a few demands, because it has become increasingly clear that every aspect of the system is problematic and that all the problems are interrelated. Instead, recognizing that POPULAR PARTICIPATION IS ITSELF AN ESSENTIAL PART OF ANY REAL SOLUTION, the New York assembly came up with a disarmingly simple yet eminently subversive proposal, urging the people of the world to "Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone. . . . Join us and make your voices heard!"

Almost as clueless are those doctrinaire radicals who remain on the sidelines glumly predicting that the movement will be coopted or complaining that it hasn't instantly adopted the most radical positions. They of all people should know that the DYNAMIC of social movements is far more important than their ostensible ideological positions. Revolutions arise out of complex processes of social debate and interaction that happen to reach a critical mass and trigger a chain reaction -- processes very much like what we are seeing at this moment. The "99%" slogan may not be a very precise "class analysis," but it's a close enough approximation for starters, an excellent meme to cut through a lot of traditional sociological jargon and make the point that the vast majority of people are subordinate to a system run by and for a tiny ruling elite. And it rightly puts the focus on the economic institutions rather than on the politicians who are merely their lackeys. The countless grievances may not constitute a coherent program, but taken as a whole they already imply a fundamental transformation of the system. The nature of that transformation will become clearer as the struggle develops. If the movement ends up forcing the system to come up with some sort of significant, New Deal-type reforms, so much the better -- that will temporarily ease conditions so we can more easily push further. If the system proves incapable of implementing any significant reforms, that will force people to look into more radical alternatives.

As for cooption, there will indeed be many attempts to take over or manipulate the movement. But I don't think they'll have a very easy time of it. From the beginning the occupation movement has been resolutely antihierarchical and participatory. General assembly decisions are scrupulously democratic and most decisions are taken by consensus -- a process which can sometimes be unwieldy, but which has the merit of making any manipulation practically impossible. In fact, THE REAL THREAT IS THE OTHER WAY AROUND: The example of participatory democracy ultimately threatens all hierarchies and social divisions, including those between rank-and-file workers and their union bureaucracies, and between political parties and their constituents. Which is why so many politicians and union bureaucrats are trying to jump on the bandwagon. That is a reflection of our strength, not of our weakness. (Cooption happens when we are tricked into riding in THEIR wagons.) The assemblies may of course agree to collaborate with some political group for a demonstration or with some labor union for a strike, but most of them are taking care that the distinctions remain clear, and practically all of them have sharply distanced themselves from both of the major political parties.

While the movement is eclectic and open to everyone, it is safe to say that its underlying spirit is strongly antiauthoritarian, drawing inspiration not only from recent popular movements in Argentina, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain and other countries, but from anarchist and situationist theories and tactics. As the editor of Adbusters (one of the groups that helped initiate the movement) noted:

"We are not just inspired by what happened in the Arab Spring recently, we are students of the Situationist movement. Those are the people who gave birth to what many people think was the first global revolution back in 1968 when some uprisings in Paris suddenly inspired uprisings all over the world.

All of a sudden universities and cities were exploding. This was done by a small group of people, the Situationists, who were like the philosophical backbone of the movement. One of the key guys was Guy Debord, who wrote THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE. The idea is that if you have a very powerful meme -- a very powerful idea -- and the moment is ripe, then that is enough to ignite a revolution. This is the background that we come out of."

The May 1968 revolt in France was in fact also an "occupation movement" -- one of its most notable features was the occupation of the Sorbonne and other public buildings, which then inspired the occupation of factories all over the country by more than 10 million workers. (Needless to say, we are still very far from something like that, which can hardly happen until American workers bypass their union bureaucracies and take collective action on their own, as they did in France.)

As the movement spreads to hundreds of cities, it is important to note that each of the new occupations and assemblies remains TOTALLY AUTONOMOUS. Though inspired by the original Wall Street occupation, they have all been created by the people in their own communities. No outside person or group has the slightest control over any of these assemblies. Which is just as it should be. When the local assemblies see a practical need for coordination, they will coordinate; in the mean time, the proliferation of autonomous groups and actions is safer and more fruitful than the top-down "unity" for which bureaucrats are always appealing. Safer, because it counteracts repression: if the occupation in one city is crushed (or coopted), the movement will still be alive and well in a hundred others. More fruitful, because this diversity enables people to share and compare among a wider range of tactics and ideas.

Each assembly is working out its own procedures. Some are operating by strict consensus, others by majority vote, others with various combinations of the two (e.g. a "modified consensus" policy of requiring only 90% agreement). Some are remaining strictly within the law, others are engaging in various kinds of civil disobedience. They are establishing diverse types of committees or "working groups" to deal with particular issues, and diverse methods of ensuring the accountability of delegates or spokespeople. They are making diverse decisions as to how to deal with media, with police and with provocateurs, and adopting diverse ways of collaborating with other groups or causes. Many types of organization are possible; what is essential is that things remain transparent, democratic and participatory, that any tendency toward hierarchy or manipulation is immediately exposed and rejected.

Another new feature of this movement is that, in contrast to previous radical movements that tended to come together around a particular issue on a particular day and then disperse, the current occupations are settling in their locations with no end date. They're there for the long haul, with time to grow roots and experiment with all sorts of new possibilities.

YOU HAVE TO PARTICIPATE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON. Not everyone will be up for joining in the overnight occupations, but practically anyone can take part in the general assemblies. At you can find out about occupations (or planned occupations) in more than a thousand cities in the United States as well as several hundred others around the world.

The occupations are bringing together all sorts of people coming from all sorts of different backgrounds. This can be a new and perhaps unsettling experience for some people, but it's amazing how quickly the barriers break down when you're working together on an exciting collective project. The consensus method may at first seem tedious, especially if an assembly is using the "people's mic" system (in which the assembly echoes each phrase of the speaker so that everybody can hear). But it has the advantage of encouraging people to speak to the point, and after a little while you get into the rhythm and begin to appreciate the effect of everyone focusing on each phrase together, and of everyone getting a chance to have their say and see their concerns get a respectful hearing from everyone else.

In this process we are already getting a taste of a new kind of life, life as it could be if we weren't stuck in such an absurd and anachronistic social system. So much is happening so quickly that we hardly know how to express it. Feelings like: "I can't believe it! Finally! This is it! Or at least it COULD be it -- what we've been waiting for for so long, the sort of human awakening that we've dreamed of but didn't know if it would ever actually happen in our lifetime." Now it's here and I know I'm not the only one with tears of joy. A woman speaking at the first Occupy Oakland general assembly said, "I came here today not just to change the world, but to change myself." I think everyone there knew what she meant. In this brave new world we're all beginners. We're all going to be making lots of mistakes. That is only to be expected, and it's okay. We're new at this. But under these new conditions we'll learn fast.

At that same assembly someone else had a sign that said: "There are more reasons to be excited than to be scared."


October 15, 2011
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The On Civil Liberties and the Civil Society in India Departure  
POETRY requires a mature audience ENTER only if you are 18+ <18Big Fish
PRASENJIT MAITI On Civil Liberties and the Civil Society in India
India faces the prospect of renewed federal tension triggered off by the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) recently promulgated by the Government of India after the Black Tuesday attacks against the United States - the POTO is in fact the brainchild of Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, a Bharatiya Janata Party hardliner. The Left Front (LF) Government of West Bengal, however, has protested against this "draconian" ordinance. According to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the LF coalition leader, the POTO would subvert the federal spirit of the Constitution of India.

However, the Government of West Bengal would itself propose an anti-kidnapping bill in the state legislative assembly that resembles the POTO in its repressive aspects: provisions like imprisonment up to six months without trial and the capital punishment are common to both. This has resulted in intra-party tension [the CPI(M) is against ordinances on principle] as well as inter-party tension between the CPI(M) and the BJP.

Part XVIII of India's Constitution allows the state to suspend civil liberties and the exercise of certain federal norms during the President's Proclamation of Emergency. The Constitution provides for the following emergencies: a threat by "war or external aggression" or by "internal disturbances", a "failure of constitutional machinery" in the country or in a component state and a threat to the financial security of the nation or a part of it. Under the first two emergencies, the Fundamental Rights - with the exception of protection of life and personal liberty - may be suspended along with other federal norms. Any Proclamation of Emergency, however, automatically lapses after a couple of months if not approved earlier by both Houses of the Union Parliament.

The President can even dismiss a state government if it can be ascertained, upon receipt of a report from the state Governor, that the constitutional machinery has broken down therein. This is also known as the President's Rule as the President of India can assume any or all functions of the state government, transfer the powers of the state Legislative Assembly to the Parliament or adopt other measures necessary like suspension, in whole or in part, of the Constitution and its federal norms. However, President's Rule cannot interfere with the exercise of authority by the state's High Court. Once approved, President's Rule ordinarily continues for six months, but it may be even extended up to one year if the Parliament ratifies. In exceptional cases like insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir during the early and mid-1990s, President's Rule had continued for more than five years.

President's Rule has been used ten times during the tenure of Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri, from 1947 to 1966. Under Indira Gandhi's (daughter of Nehru) two stints as Prime Minister (1966-77 and 1980-84), President's Rule was used forty-one times. Despite Indira Gandhi's frequent use of President's Rule, she was in power longer (187 months) than any other Indian Prime Minister apart from Nehru (201 months). Other Prime Ministers have also frequently taken recourse to this authoritarian and anti-federal measure: Morarji Desai (eleven times in twenty-eight months), Chaudhury Charan Singh (five times in less than six months), Rajiv Gandhi (eight times in sixty-one months), Vishwanath Pratap Singh (two times in eleven months), Chandra Shekhar (four times in seven months) and P.V. Narasimha Rao (nine times in his first forty-two months in office).

State of Emergency has been proclaimed three times since India's Independence (1947). The first was in 1962 during the Chinese Aggression. Another was declared in 1971 during the Bangladesh War. The next Emergency was imposed In 1975 to stem the political opposition to Indira Gandhi.

The Indian state has authoritarian powers underpinned by such constitutional provisions for Proclamation of Emergency and President's Rule. The Preventive Detention Act was passed in 1950 and remained in force until 1970. Shortly after the Proclamation of Emergency in 1962, the government passed the Defence of India Act. This law provided for the Defence of India Rules that allow for preventive detention of individuals who have acted or who are likely to act in a manner detrimental to public order and national security. The Defence of India Rules were again imposed during the Bangladesh War. They remained implemented after the end of the war and were invoked, among other instances, for arrests made during a nationwide railroad strike in 1974.

The Maintenance of Internal Security Act (1971) also provides for preventive detention. This was revamped during the 1975-77 Emergency to allow the government to arrest individuals without mentioning charges. Tens of thousands of opposition politicians were arrested under the Defence of India Rules and the MISA, including the leaders of the future Janata Party government. Soon after the Janata government came to power in 1977, the Parliament passed the Forty-fourth Amendment that revised the domestic circumstances cited in Article 352 from "internal disturbance" to "armed rebellion." The Parliament also repealed the Defence of India Rules and the MISA. However, after the Congress (Indira) returned to power in 1980, the Parliament passed the National Security Act authorizing security forces to arrest individuals without warrant for suspicion of action that subverts national security, public order and essential economic services. The Essential Services Maintenance Act of 1981 allows the government to ban strikes and lockouts in sixteen economic sectors that provide critical goods and services. The Fifty-ninth Amendment (1988), restored "internal disturbance" in place of "armed rebellion" as the just cause for any proclamation of Emergency.

The Khalistan Movement of Punjab during the 1980s provoked additional authoritarian laws. In 1984 the Parliament passed the National Security Amendment Act that allows security forces to detain prisoners for up to one year. The 1984 Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Ordinance arranged for security forces in Punjab with unprecedented powers of detention, and also permitted secret tribunals to try suspected terrorists. The 1985 Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act provided for capital punishment and empowered authorities to tap telephones, censor mail and conduct raids when individuals are alleged to pose a threat to the unity and sovereignty of the nation. The law renewing the TADA in 1987 provided for in-camera trials, and reversed the legal presumption of innocence if the government produces specific evidence linking a suspect to any terrorist act. In March 1988, the Fifty-ninth Amendment raised the period that an emergency can be in effect without legislative approval from six months to three years, and did away with the assurance of due process of law and protection of life and liberty with regard to Punjab (Articles 20 and 21). These rights were subsequently restored in 1989 by the Sixty-third Amendment.

Political participation in India has been transformed in many ways since the 1960s. New social groups have entered the political arena and begun to use their political resources to shape the political process. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, earlier excluded from politics because of their position at the bottom of India's social hierarchy, have begun to take advantage of the opportunities presented by India's democracy. Women and environmentalists constitute new political categories while the spread of social movements and voluntary organizations has shown that despite the difficulties of India's political parties and state institutions, the country's federal democracy continues to prosper.

An important aspect of this rise of civil society is the expansion of nongovernmental organizations. To an extent, this has been sponsored by the Indian state. For instance, the central government's Seventh Five-Year Plan (1985-89) recognized the contribution of NGOs in facilitating development and substantially raised their funding. The 1987 survey of 1273 NGOs found that 47 percent received funding from the central government. NGOs have also received overseas donations. Certain NGOs even cooperate with the central government to implement public policies like poverty alleviation in a decentralized manner. Other NGOs like the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights or the People's Union for Civil Liberties act as watchdogs of India's civil society. NGOs also try to enhance the political awareness of different social groups, encouraging them to demand their rights and resist social injustice.

Beginning in the 1970s, activists began to form broad-based social movements that championed social interests so long neglected by the state and political parties. A case in point is the farmers' movement that has organized hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the National Capital Territory of New Delhi, demanding for higher prices on agricultural commodities and more investment in rural areas. Members of Scheduled Castes led by the Dalit Panthers have reasserted the identity of former Untouchables. Women from now interact and exchange ideas in order to define and promote women's issues. Environmental activism like the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the River Narmada Movement) has also emerged, compelling the government to be more responsive to environmental issues and redefining problematics of development, displacemnet and democracy by accommodation of indigenous cultures and sustainable development.

With its competitive elections, relatively independent judiciary, media watch and civil society, India continues as a democratic federal system. Still, India's democracy is under stress. Political power within the Indian state has become centralized at a time when India's civil society has become mobilized along the country's multicultural axes. India's political parties are also in crisis. The Indian National Congress has been in a state of decline. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, although it has a stronger party organization, is yet to transcend the limits of its Hindu nationalist agenda and formulate a program that would appeal to India's plural society. The Janata Dal continues to suffer from lack of leadership and factional warfare.

So the expansion of India's civil society has made Indians less certain of the transformative power of the federal state and more confident of the power of the individual and local community. This development has shifed a larger share of the initiative for resolving India's social problems from the state to the civil society. Fashioning party and state institutions that would accommodate the multiple interests that are now being mobilized in Indian society is the major challenge confronting Indian federal polity in the new millennium.
Poetry endangers the established order  of the soul - Plato


The On Civil Liberties and the Civil Society in India Departure  
POETRY requires a mature audience ENTER only if you are 18+ <18Big Fish

Across the sea grass bordered path gulls' cries greet me once again. Salt mist tastes of departure. Melancholy at the gate, I bid farewell to my Atlantic ablaze with morning sun. I wave goodbye; she waves in turn as the ocean air collects in my lungs, enough to last until next season. If I had known I'd not return.
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