On Occupy, Anarchism, & Corporatism: A Response to Don Smith


By Democratic activist Don Smith recently published a column in Op-Ed News entitled, “Why are so many Occupiers attracted to anarchism?” Don’t they appreciate the wonders government has wrought, such as the internet, Social Security, and seatbelts in cars? he asked.  Don’t they value the role of government in checking the power of corporations through regulation?  “We need hierarchy,” he concludes, “and we need Big Government that serves the People.”

At first I thought he couldn’t possibly be serious.  The words “Occupy” and “big government” conjure images of escalating state violence against activists as the movement gained in numbers, recognition, and public approval.  From the earliest weeks of OWS, police physically assaulted peaceful protesters, legal observers, and journalists alike, by shoving them against walls, slamming them down on the pavement, striking and jabbing them with billy clubs, kettling and pepper spraying them at close range.  Later, police donned riot gear and added firing bean bag projectiles and tear gas canisters to their arsenal of repressive tactics.  They even fired on protesters rushing to the aid of Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, after he received a severe head injury from a tear gas canister.  Ultimately, with advice and support from the Department of Homeland Security (which continues to surveil Occupy activists), police brutally evicted Occupiers in a number of cities, tearing down tents and shelters and destroying what few personal possessions some Occupiers owned. What’s not to love about the big government-enabled security and surveillance state? \

But Smith insisted that he would really love to hear from folks; that he desired dialogue.  Perhaps he is sincere, I thought, just woefully ill-informed. However, as the day wore on, Smith added a subtitle to his post, to ask, “Are Anarchists in Occupy Aiding Grover Norquist?”  By the end of the day, he dropped the original title that asked why some Occupiers are attracted to anarchism, leaving just the question about Norquist.

Smith’s first question appeared to be an honest attempt at dialogue; the second a passive-aggressive attack on people who refuse to get on board the Democratic party bandwagon for another go round.  The rambling stream-of-consciousness essay included a number of assertions and generalizations unsupported by discussion or analysis.  Thoughtfully responding to, for example, his assertion that we “need” hierarchy; his lumping together of Tea Partiers, libertarians, and anarchists; and his assumption that inventions like the internet are an unqualified benefit, would take an entire essay each.  Nevertheless, as a long-time Democratic voter, now anarchist sympathizer, I want to respond to what appear to be the central issues raised by Smith:  the relationship between anarchism and Occupy; and big government as a check on corporate power.

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