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July 12 2013

There Is No Station 2

There Is No Station 2

For 15 years, I’ve worked as a firefighter for the City of Oakland. You’ve heard of Oakland. We’re the city that had a freeway collapse in an earthquake, 3,500 homes destroyed by a grass fire, and the most aggressive Occupy movement in the country. We also had 131 homicides last year, making us the third-most-dangerous city in the United States. And, my fire department ran 52,321 calls for medical emergencies, fires, car wrecks, sports riots, and all manner of other mayhem.

In the midst of all that, as in cities across the country, our budget tanked. Laying off- 80 cops was the start of our austerity. When it came to the fire department, the city got creative. Our firehouses are numbered from 1 to 29, but that’s a trick. There’s no Station 2. There’s no 9, no 11, no 14. So really, 29 means 25. And then last year, we closed two more, so 29 meant 23. But we didn’t actually close them. We “flexibly deployed” them, which means that no firehouse in the city is closed for good. Instead all the firehouses take turns shutting down for three-day stretches. It’s kind of a brilliant marketing move—the closures are so sporadic that most people don’t even know they’re going on. No neighborhood groups mobilize; no city-council member pounds the podium; and the risk is shared by every block, every school, every grandmother who falls asleep with her cigarette burning.

July 03 2013

Egypt, Brazil, Turkey : without politics, protest is at the mercy of the elites | Seumas Milne |…

Egypt, Brazil, Turkey: without politics, protest is at the mercy of the elites | Seumas Milne | Comment is free | The Guardian

Despite their differences, all three movements have striking common features. They combine widely divergent political groups and contradictory demands, along with the depoliticised, and lack a coherent organisational base. That can be an advantage for single-issue campaigns, but can lead to short-lived shallowness if the aims are more ambitious – which has arguably been the fate of the Occupy movement.


In the era of neoliberalism, when the ruling elite has hollowed out democracy and ensured that whoever you vote for you get the same, politically inchoate protest movements are bound to flourish. They have crucial strengths: they can change moods, ditch policies and topple governments. But without socially rooted organisation and clear political agendas, they can flare and fizzle, or be vulnerable to hijacking or diversion by more entrenched and powerful forces.

That also goes for revolutions – and is what appears to be happening in Egypt. Many activists regard traditional political parties and movements as redundant in the internet age. But that's an argument for new forms of political and social organisation. Without it, the elites will keep control – however spectacular the protests.

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