Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities was an influential urban sociological work published in 1996 (though the theory dates back to the early '80s). Its authors, George L. Kelling and Catherine Coles, conjectured about how best to confront and eliminate crime in urban areas.
The theory states that if petty crime and other minor “anti-social” behavior isn’t aggressively curbed then it will escalate into major crime and/or a serious public nuisance.
[…] consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.
The solution is the fix problems when they are small and barely pose a threat. New York City became a laboratory for these strategies during the 1990s under Rudi Giuliani. “Zero tolerance” became the ruling class’ mantra of the day--- subway fare hopping, public drinking/urinating, being homeless, [being a person of color…] meant you were in serious trouble with the NYPD no matter how trivial your crime might be.
The city’s crime did decrease during the 1990s, but most reputable scholars place the onus for this decrease on the end of the crack epidemic, or more dubiously the legalization of abortion decades earlier. (The theory is still in vogue and is being applied in every corner of public administration.)
I could go on for much longer, but this post isn’t about crime, its about how a hundred plus NYPD officers within hours of the New School [re]occupation stormed the building with tear gas and mace, surrounded the streets, broke up the solidarity protest with excessive force and erected barriers to contain onlookers with almost military precision.
At a time when New York City’s hospitals are being forced into making serious layoffs and cuts, there appears to be money for a one billion dollar police academy. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. “Law and order” is more important for stable class rule than public health at the moment.
The “shocking and aweing” of the New School students wasn’t just a plan concocted by the NYPD and the school’s embattled administration this morning, these tactics were thought of months in advance. The plutocrat Bloomberg and the rest of the city's ruling class has made it clear today that just as this “Great Recession” has exposed many of the natural tendencies of capital and the true speculative nature of the finance bourgeoisie, this crisis will also expose the true mission of our “public” police forces and much of our state machinery—to “preserve and protect”… property.
A small sit-in like the one at the New School warranted an inundating use of the ruling class’ favorite repressive apparatus—the police, whereas the last New School occupation saw a far less militarized NYPD interdiction (and ended with a somewhat successful negotiation). Remember the surprisingly favorable and widespread coverage the Republic Windows occupation got in the mainstream media? The NYU students and New School students certainly did not get that and the Stella workers have gotten nothing but apathy from the mainstream media (which is probably worse).
Activists need to see the example of the New School occupation and acknowledge that the stakes have been raised. Sit-ins can’t just spontaneously happen without significant support, they need strong organization, solidarity actions and most difficultly (and importantly) the bridging of the gap between organized labor and the small-but-militant vanguard of the student movement.
Democratic socialist students do not have the aversion for direct action that many liberals do, we don’t over romanticize direct action like many of our anarchist comrades do, and we don’t have the political baggage and the sectarianism that many “Marxist-Leninist” outfits have. Our position in the movement must be to encourage radical student groups to develop stronger ties with other segments of the radical movement. Where was the large contingent of radical New School students and New York University students at the Wall Street demonstrations last week? Were those syndicalist students proudly waving that resplendent black and red flag on the roof the occupied building at any of the solidarity marches for the Stella workers? They might have been there, but I doubt it. I'm not patronizing-- I wasn't there either, but I was out there to support my friends and peers during the NYU occupation. The true irony is that many student activists, including myself, complain that too much of organized labor only cares about bread and butter issues and lack a broad class consciousness, while we often fall into these same traps.
New School supporters got 200+ people out there quickly at 10pm to demand the release of the 22 arrested students, but could they have mobilized 200 people after the NYPD shot dead Sean Bell?
Our movement needs to build some bridges quick, both expanding the radical student movement through the work of organizations like YDS, SDS, the YCL and others, and also by reaching out to the broader left. It seems like major events--- like the Battle of Seattle, the 1968 DNC protests, etc etc, just happen, and to an extent spontaneity does play a role, but these events are more often than not the culmination of months of planning, networking and organizing. We need to play this game to win--- to paraphrase the great Saul Alinsky, “We can’t just yell, kill the umpire!”
To my fellow student radicals--- we’re just a few shards of broken glass in a country where the capitalist class seems like the only organized group of class warriors on the scene, but the landlords are awful nervous at the moment and will do whatever they can to sweep us up. Let’s do what we have to do—even the unglamorous, laborious work, so that in a little bit we have a chance, even if that prospect is fleeting and almost non-existent, to really “occupy everything right now”.