Monday, December 5, 2011

All the World (and the Media) is Your Stage: Occupy Wall Street, Act II

from my friend Richard Metzger at DangerousMinds:
The clueless conservatives chatterboxes on Fox News and AM talk radio cheering on the evictions of the rapidly dwindling in number Occupy sites around the country have another thing coming if they think that the fun is over. It’s not the end of anything, no matter what smug frat-boys like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh or Eric Bolling claim to “think.”

The Occupy movement isn’t waning, it’s mutating into something different now. Something we can’t predict yet. The rightwing echo chamber acts as if standing around in freezing cold public spaces with the intention to annoy the “job creators” was the movement’s sole aim. I think these Marie Antoinette Republicans are… wrong.

Here’s what respected historian Todd Gitlin told Associated Press:
The Occupy movement is beginning to follow a familiar pattern, said Todd Gitlin, a sociologist at Columbia University and an authority on social movements. He noted that the 1960s anti-war movement grew gradually for years until bursting onto the world stage during the election year of 1968.

He predicted big rallies around the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Until then, “I think there will be some kinds of occupations, but I don’t think they’ll be as big and as central,” Gitlin said.
When the dust settles and the history is written, Zuccotti Park will be seen as a “strange attractor” rallying place, a “temporary autonomous zone” and a very potent symbol of what could be, but that’s all it will be in the final narrative: The First Act.

And what a beginning it was. People in Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Michigan, in Los Angeles, in Oakland, previously apathetic Americans are starting to wake up to the stark and shitty realities of life in our times in an unprecedented manner and actually fight back. I’m someone who thought “the revolution” would have taken place by the end of the 1980s. I’ve been predicting something like this for 30 years. Even a stopped clock has the right time twice a day, I suppose, but it was getting ridiculous.

As everyone who was there knows, something really special happened in lower Manhattan. Now, no matter where you live, it’s time to use the winter months to organize for next year’s election. There is a chance to gain a lot of ground in 2012. The Reichwing is in a state of preposterously comic disarray with no savior in sight. It might even be possible to push Obama and the Democrats truly leftwards for a change (stranger things have happened, see also FDR; see also what REALLY happened during Great Depression). No one knows what is going to happen next, but I do suspect for there to be a lot of it about, to paraphrase Spike Milligan.

To get too bogged down in trying to hold on to some real estate would have merely become a distraction and as time went on, the “visuals,” as so many in the media like to say, would have taken on a different semiotic and not done the movement any favors in what is, essentially still a war of images. All things considered—and this is just one asshole’s opinion, mine—I think it’s probably the right time for the various Occupy encampments to disperse. It was starting to feel like the first act needed to come to a climax. And what a G-spot barnstormer that curtain-closer was.

Even as I was privileged to have witnessed Occupy Wall Street on three occasions in all of its life-affirming, carnivalesque glory, for anyone looking at the situation as a supportive outsider, the writing was on the wall in October about how long Zuccotti Park could reasonably be expected to be held by the wide cross-section of people who kick-started the movement. As more and more people were going to get peeled off because of the diabolically cold New York winter, it’s a blunt fact that after a certain point, only the chronically homeless would have still been camping out in that freezing cold concrete park. And Fox News would have been all over Zuccotti Park, the open-air homeless shelter.

Lest you think I am disparaging the homeless contingent at Occupy Wall Street, I’m not. In very little of the reporting I’ve seen or read on the OWS encampment, is there any mention of the extremely pivotal roles that were played by the hardcore homeless people and the gutterpunk types in what went down at Zuccotti Park. THEY are the ones who made it possible for the park to be held long enough for the others to join them. Nope, I’m not dissing the homeless participants in OWS, in the least, I think they were amongst the very first frontline heroes of the movement, but it’s just time to move past romancing this idea of the ragtag encampments. go back inside and get better organized. Some people, sympathetic to the movement’s goals are never in a million years going to do something “rash.” It’s time to reach out to them now, so the government knows what size crowd it’s dealing with! (That “silent majority” thing works both ways, as the establishment is finally starting to find out. Americans don’t like “Socialism” but they seem to LOVE socialist ideas, especially in times when their families are starving and they can’t afford to heat their homes. Just saying).

During the past few days, I’ve noticed quite a few more than just vaguely supportive “What’s next for the Occupy movement?” articles popping up in the mainstream media, including the front page of the New York Times, and from the Associated Press and Reuters. There’s also been some worried “What are we going to do about the OWS movement?” type things appearing in the conservative blogsphere.

A pretty good indicator of opinion on the right can be seen in Republican strategist Frank Luntz’s comments to the Republican Governors Association this week in Florida. Say what you will about Luntz—I hate his guts and think he’s made this country a much shittier, meaner, stupider place than had he never been born—the man, like Karl Rove, is an evil genius. But can even the sinister Mister Luntz do anything to stop the tidal wave of history? (To paraphrase the Carol Beer character in Little Britain, “Dialectic says ‘NO’”).

“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” Luntz told the GOP governors. “They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”

In a series of talking points (you can read them all in Chris Moody’s article “How Republicans are being taught to talk about Occupy Wall Street” on Yahoo News) Lutz gave the GOP leadership advice like: Don’t say capitalism.
“I’m trying to get that word removed and we’re replacing it with either ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market,’ ” Luntz told them. “The public . . . still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral. And if we’re seen as defenders of quote, Wall Street, end quote, we’ve got a problem.”
You could read into that statement a lot of different ways. I’ll leave you to your own interpretation.

Another thing I see happening, and I applaud the editors who are sharp enough to get why this would be a good idea, is that people who have actually physically been at the various Occupy encampments and were writing from an “on the ground perspective” there, are starting to get hired by some of the major newspapers to cover current events, and the arts, from the point of view of the Occupy movement.

One of these individuals is Arun Gupta, the founding editor of The Indypendent, who wrote “This is a movement for anyone who lacks a job, housing or healthcare, or thinks they have no future” in a fascinating essay, “The Revolution Begins at Home An Open Letter to Join the Wall Street Occupation” that I read on Naomi Klein’s website. I’ve taken notice of his byline ever since.

He’s now covering the Occupy movement for Salon, but in the pages of The Guardian, Gupta wrote what I thought was a gobsmacking vision of what America has become in the intro to his sensational interview with novelist Arundhati Roy

“This is uniquely American,” I remark to Roy about interviewing her while both in cars but thousands of miles apart. Having driven some 7,000 miles and visited 23 cities (and counting) in reporting on the Occupy movement, it’s become apparent that the US is essentially an oil-based economy in which we shuttle goods we no longer make around a continental land mass, creating poverty-level dead-end jobs in the service sector.

If that last bit didn’t drain the blood out of your face, then read it again.

From the interview with the author of the Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things:
Arun Gupta: Why did you want to visit Occupy Wall Street and what are your impressions of it?

Arundhati Roy: How could I not want to visit? Given what I’ve been doing for so many years, it seems to me, intellectually and theoretically, quite predictable this was going to happen here at some point. But still I cannot deny myself the surprise and delight that it has happened. And I wanted to, obviously, see for myself the extent and size and texture and nature of it. So the first time I went there, because all those tents were up, it seemed more like a squat than a protest to me, but it began to reveal itself in a while. Some people were holding the ground and it was the hub for other people to organise, to think through things. As I said when I spoke at the People’s University, it seems to me to be introducing a new political language into the United States, a language that would be considered blasphemous only a while ago.

Arun Gupta: Do you think that the Occupy movement should be defined by occupying one particular space or by occupying spaces?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t think the whole protest is only about occupying physical territory, but about reigniting a new political imagination. I don’t think the state will allow people to occupy a particular space unless it feels that allowing that will end up in a kind of complacency, and the effectiveness and urgency of the protest will be lost. The fact that in New York and other places where people are being beaten and evicted suggests nervousness and confusion in the ruling establishment. I think the movement will, or at least should, become a protean movement of ideas, as well as action, where the element of surprise remains with the protesters. We need to preserve the element of an intellectual ambush and a physical manifestation that takes the government and the police by surprise. It has to keep re-imagining itself, because holding territory may not be something the movement will be allowed to do in a state as powerful and violent as the United States.

Arun Gupta: At the same, occupying public spaces did capture the public imagination. Why do you think that is?

Arundhati Roy: I think you had a whole subcutaneous discontent that these movements suddenly began to epitomise. The Occupy movement found places where people who were feeling that anger could come and share it – and that is, as we all know, extremely important in any political movement. The Occupy sites became a way you could gauge the levels of anger and discontent.

Arun Gupta: You mentioned that they are under attack. Dozens of occupations have been shut down, evicted, at least temporarily, in the last week. What do you see as the next phase for this movement?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t know whether I’m qualified to answer that, because I’m not somebody who spends a lot of time here in the United States, but I suspect that it will keep reassembling in different ways and the anger created by the repression will, in fact, expand the movement. But eventually, the greater danger to the movement is that it may dovetail into the presidential election campaign that’s coming up. I’ve seen that happen before in the antiwar movement here, and I see it happening all the time in India. Eventually, all the energy goes into trying to campaign for the “better guy”, in this case Barack Obama, who’s actually expanding wars all over the world. Election campaigns seem to siphon away political anger and even basic political intelligence into this great vaudeville, after which we all end up in exactly the same place.


Arun Gupta: You’ve written about the need for a different imagination than that of capitalism. Can you talk about that?

Arundhati Roy: We often confuse or loosely use the ideas of crony capitalism or neoliberalism to actually avoid using the word “capitalism”, but once you’ve actually seen, let’s say, what’s happening in India and the United States – that this model of US economics packaged in a carton that says “democracy” is being forced on countries all over the world, militarily if necessary, has in the United States itself resulted in 400 of the richest people owning wealth equivalent [to that] of half of the population. Thousands are losing their jobs and homes, while corporations are being bailed out with billions of dollars.

In India, 100 of the richest people own assets worth 25% of the gross domestic product. There’s something terribly wrong. No individual and no corporation should be allowed to amass that kind of unlimited wealth, including bestselling writers like myself, who are showered with royalties. Money need not be our only reward. Corporations that are turning over these huge profits can own everything: the media, the universities, the mines, the weapons industry, insurance hospitals, drug companies, non-governmental organisations. They can buy judges, journalists, politicians, publishing houses, television stations, bookshops and even activists. This kind of monopoly, this cross-ownership of businesses, has to stop.

The whole privatisation of health and education, of natural resources and essential infrastructure – all of this is so twisted and so antithetical to anything that would place the interests of human beings or the environment at the center of what ought to be a government concern – should stop. The amassing of unfettered wealth of individuals and corporations should stop. The inheritance of rich people’s wealth by their children should stop. The expropriators should have their wealth expropriated and redistributed.

Standing ovation!

The interview concludes when Gupta asks Roy if the term “occupation” can be reclaimed: She tells him “We ought to say, “Occupy Wall Street, not Iraq,” “Occupy Wall Street, not Afghanistan,” “Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine.” The two need to be put together. Otherwise people might not read the signs.”

Arundhati Roy: ‘The people who created the crisis will not be the ones that come up with a solution’ (The Guardian)

Look for more of Arun Gupta’s work on Salon. Follow him on Twitter.

Another strong—and often very amusing—new voice emerging from the media on the Left is Tina Dupuy, the managing editor of the mighty Crooks and Liars blog. She’s a powerful and persuasive writer and a sometime stand-up comic. Dupuy gave a fascinating firsthand description of what she saw the other night when Occupy Los Angeles—the largest of all the encampments—was evicted, when she was on Sam Seder’s Majority Report yesterday. I’m glad this woman is out there on the frontlines. Tina Dupuy could be another Rachel Maddow. It can’t be long until Current TV or MSNBC snaps her up (Or The Daily Show for that matter. They could use a real Lefty…)

And then there is this survey, which suggests to me that some of the marks are wising up. At The New York Times blog, The Caucus, Kate Zirnike writes in “Support for Tea Party Drops Even in Strongholds, Survey Finds
In Congressional districts represented by Tea Party lawmakers, the number of people saying they disagree with the Tea Party has risen sharply over the year since the movement powered a Republican sweep in midterm elections, so that almost as many people disagree with the Tea Party as agree with it, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center.

Support for the Republican Party has fallen more sharply in those places than it has in the country as a whole. In the 60 districts represented in Congress by a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, Republicans are viewed about as negatively as Democrats.

The survey suggests that the Tea Party may be dragging down the Republican Party heading into a presidential election year, even as it ushered in a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives just a year ago.

Other polls have shown a decline in support for the Tea Party and its positions, particularly because its hard line during the debate over the debt ceiling and deficit reduction made the Tea Party less an abstraction. In earlier polls, most Americans did not know enough about the Tea Party to offer an opinion.

But the Pew survey shows that Tea Party support has declined even in places where it had been particularly robust.

“We know that the image of the G.O.P. has slipped, but to see it slip so dramatically in Tea Party districts is pretty surprising,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew center. “You think of those as bedrock Republican districts. They are the base.”
Tea-hee! Superb!

More from Reuters:
In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken earlier this month, 76 percent agreed that the “current economic structure of the country is out of balance and favors a very small proportion of the rich over the rest of the country.” In another recent poll, by The Washington Post/ABC News, respondents were asked: “Do you think the federal government should or should not pursue policies that try to reduce the gap between wealthy and less well-off Americans?” A majority – 60 percent – said the government should pursue such policies.

Meanwhile, public concern about the Tea Party’s linchpin issues – taxes and the deficit – has receded. Asked in late October to name the most important issue facing the country, just 5 percent of respondents to a New York Times/CBS News poll named the budget deficit. A majority said jobs and the economy. This same poll included another result that should give Democrats hope: A strong 69 percent of respondents agreed that the policies of Republicans in Congress “favor the rich” while just 12 percent thought the same thing about Obama’s policies.
Actually that poll should do more than just provide the Democrats with some “hope”—it should give them SOME FUCKING IDEAS. Here’s one for free: TAX THE RICH.

And lastly, here’s the New Statesman blog had a look at the numbers from big strike in the UK:
The unions claim that around 2 million people were on strike yesterday, but ministers dispute this, putting the number closer to 1.2 million.
Well they would say that, wouldn’t they? Either way that’s well over a million people striking. And David Cameron calls that “a damp squib”? What number would it take to really rattle the boy Prime Minister? Let’s hope we get to find out soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment