27 December 2011

Was Albany's Christmas Occupied?

"Just do the math," a middle-aged Albany woman explained to her fellow bus passengers yesterday, "On December 22 the city evicted those protesters from the park. The next night, somebody vandalizes the holiday lights. Just do the math."

The facts are these. Someone sneaked into Washington Park after hours on the night of December 23-4 and destroyed or defaced a number of the light displays erected there for the holiday season. It's been a holiday tradition for the park to be lit up and carloads of people to pay so they can drive through and see the colorful displays, many of them corporate-sponsored. The money goes to youth programs sponsored by the Police Athletic League. The vandals left behind signs and graffiti with anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist slogans. You can see one of the signs here; it reads "The commons are not for sale ... Stop shopping." To my knowledge, none of these tags identified the vandals with the Occupy Albany movement, yet people are drawing "mathematically" obvious conclusions, for the most part. Many people assume that the vandalism is revenge for the eviction of Occupy Albany from Academy Park, while a much smaller number make the equally predictable case against an agent provocateur seeking to further discredit the movement. The perpetrators remain at large, repairs have been made, and people can continue to visit the lights through the end of the year.

I haven't found any evidence of anti-Christmas vandalism anyplace else where an Occupation has taken place or been evicted, though some incidents of generic vandalism, usually graffiti, have been blamed on Occupiers. Vandalism doesn't seem to be part of the m.o. of the Occupy movement, but the Occupations have been a movement of movements, inevitably including people of an anti-consumerist bent. Anti-consumerism is the party line, if you'll excuse the phrase, of Adbusters magazine, the publication that allegedly inspired the original Wall Street Occupation. But not everyone who participated in an Occupation responded specifically to a call from Adbusters. Anti-consumerist vandalism predates the Occupations of 2011 by quite a while, most notoriously taking the form of arson against car lots. Vandalism in Washington Park also has an apolitical history of its own, past miscreants having massacred the flowers for which Albany's annual Tulip Festival is named on at least one occasion. This incident, however, strikes me as more than mindless vandalism. Whoever did it either sympathizes with the anti-consumerist movement or is familiar enough with it to imitate its rhetoric. I can't really see anyone feeling motivated enough to perpetrate this vandalism just to blame it on someone else, i.e. the Albany Occupiers, now that the Occupation has been dispersed. I doubt that anyone in authority in Albany feels sufficiently threatened by the movement. My guess is that an Occupier or group of Occupiers did this -- but blaming the Occupiers or the Occupy movement as a whole is probably way off base. The movement's component members are no longer bound by general-assembly discipline, as far as I know, to require each other's approval before taking fresh action. In fact, I'm actually somewhat surprised that nothing like this has happened in an Occupied city previously, and that a counterattack hasn't taken an even more drastic form like pulling or cutting down an official Christmas tree.

If an Occupier did the Albany job, he or she probably won't win any applause from the rest of the movement. The vandalism only confirms the worst impressions people have had about the Occupations -- which is why some people would like to see the episode as a frame-up. The Capital Lights were a lousy target because they entertain children for the benefit of a children's charity, no matter how infuriating those corporate logos may have been to some people. I'm tempted to close with a warning about the anger provoked by municipal repression in the perceived service of corporate domination, but I'm still not entirely convinced that the Washington Park vandalism is much more than a vicious prank, and that even the slogans were written in a pranking spirit. If a warning would prove useful, however, then be warned by all means.


hobbyfan said...

I'm inclined to disagree, Sam.

It's not the first time the Holiday Lights have been sabotaged by vandals, and I think it's usually kids, mostly teens and young adults, with little better to do. In the wake of the Occupy Albany group being disbanded by the city, it's easy, too easy really, to assume that someone from Occupy Albany was responsible. It comes down to the usual disrespectful rabble, perhaps on an overnight bender, but with the current events fresh even in their fevered minds, taking action.

With apologies to Mission: Impossible, Occupy Albany should disavow any knowledge of the actions of these idiots.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I would assume it is not a member of the OWS movement, but either a low-class vandal seeking to through suspicion off themselves or, as others have suggested, agents provocateur attempting to smear the OWS name.

For the most part, the OWS seems to be very passive in their resistance. Also, it doesn't make much sense to vandalize a publicly paid for holiday amusement when the "enemy" are the corporations who sponsor, not the public who enjoys the decorations.

No, judging from the various news stories, OWS people seem to be the typical "liberal" cowards who fear any real confrontation. This act of vandalism feels greasy, like a used car salesmen. That smacks of the opposition.