The Do-It-Yourself Occupy Movement

Friday night I went down to the first assembly of Occupy San Diego, which included a rally at the Civic Center and a march to Children?s Park, where some people were intending to camp out. Press reports put the number of people in attendance at 1000 to 1500. There was a lot of chanting–?Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!? ?What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!?–and many signs proclaiming that ?We Are the 99 Percent,? and demanding that we ?Tax Wall Street!? and so on.

I don?t know how many readers were schooled in the political demonstrations of the 1980s?anti-intervention in Central America, anti-apartheid, and the like?as I was. But several differences struck me (besides the obvious one that most people were a lot younger than me!). Back then the demonstrations were usually the products of coalitions of left groups, unions, church people, and others planning events in major cities, sometimes with satellite demos in smaller locales. They involved months of debating about the lists of speakers and organizing to get people to turn out. They had stages, agendas, and sound systems. Occupy San Diego had a much more do-it-yourself feel. It seemed to sweep into town quickly. I imagine that news of it spread on the various social networks. Bullhorns were the only sources of amplification, and a drumming circle was the only event once we arrived at the park.

Another difference was in the ideological diversity. The array of Marxist groups peddling their papers were absent (gone?). Instead people were carrying signs for Ron Paul and other right-wing populist causes such as abolishing the Fed. There was a marginal union presence, and a few representatives of the Democratic Socialists of America, Progressive Democrats of America, and the Green Party were on hand, along with a small group of anarcho-syndicalists waving red and black flags.

Perhaps the most striking difference, however, was that it was primarily an expression of anger and disgust at class politics in America. The recurrent theme was that politics was of, for, and by corporate America and that this movement represented an alternative to that. I can?t predict what will become of all of this. Can Do-It-Yourselfness sustain a political movement? It seems doubtful to me. If not, what will it morph into? Or will it just fade away? But it struck me that that if the Tea Party exemplifies a traditional sort of right-wing populist response to elite control in America, the Occupy movement is a welcome youthful manifestation of a traditional left-wing one.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.