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The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement

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  • Posted April 12, 2013

    At the risk of being diagnosed with tunnel vision, I want to con

    At the risk of being diagnosed with tunnel vision, I want to concentrate on a single topic in a wide-ranging book. That topic is one about which I've written a book of my own--Occupy Oakland: The Little Revolution That Couldn't.

    Mr. Graeber mentions Occupy Oakland several times and infers from it conclusions about the larger Occupy movement. The problem is that he gets the details wrong. No matter how clever one's reasoning or skillful one's presentation, one cannot arrive at the truth by proceeding initially from false premises.

    Citing left-wing journalist Rebecca Solnit, Graeber gullibly repeats the "astonishing" canard that, in Solnit's words, "While the [Occupy] camp was in existence, crime went down 19% in Oakland." Writing three months after police forcibly evicted the camp, Solnit demands, "Pay attention: Occupy was so powerful a force for nonviolence that it was already solving Oakland's chronic crime and violence problems just by giving people hope and meals and solidarity and conversation."

    Blithely oblivious to the correlation-causation fallacy, Ms. Solnit fails to note that the citywide 19% reduction in violent crime occurred during only one of the five weeks of Occupy's 2011 encampment outside City Hall, or that during the camp's final week the same rate shot up by 47% (including the murder of camper Kayode Ola Foster, allegedly by a fellow camper).

    Nevertheless, David Graeber is indignant. "Needless to say," he says needlessly, "no newspaper headlines loudly proclaiming 'Violent Crime Drops Sharply During Occupation' ever appeared." For the record, no Bay Area headlines loudly proclaimed 'Violent Crime Rises Sharply During Occupation,' either--although that would've been an equally accurate description of single-week results.

    Graeber is similarly slipshod in responding to the February 2012 criticism of Occupy by left-wing journalist Chris Hedges. "The Black Bloc anarchists," wrote Hedges, "who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement. ... Groups of Black Bloc protesters, for example, smashed the windows of a locally owned coffee shop in November in Oakland and looted it."

    Graeber pooh-poohs such concerns over what he calls "a single café window that may or may not have been broken by an activist associated with a Black Bloc in Oakland." He conveniently omits Hedges's reference to looting, and maintains a tactful silence about the numerous other instances of vandalism, burglary and arson associated with Occupy Oakland.

    Graeber likewise evades Chris Hedges's most salient point: "The Black Bloc is serving the interests of the 1%. These anarchists represent no one but themselves. Those in Oakland, although most are white and many are not from the city, arrogantly dismiss Oakland's African-American leaders, who, along with other local community organizers, should be determining the forms of resistance."

    In questioning David Graeber's methodology and integrity, I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not to trust the rest of his book. But I do suggest that if Graeber is willing to play fast and loose with the facts regarding Occupy Oakland, there's at least the possibility he does so in other areas as well.

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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