29 September 2011

Occupy America

I'll be the first to admit I do not understand fully what all's going on at Occupy Wall Street. I am old fogey out of place in a Deep Red South, caught up in my own middle-aged life and its parochial concerns. My first reaction is, natch, cynical: Who's counter-organizing here? The corporate-, Koch-funded Tea Party movement managed to stimulate the Right-wing base sufficiently to swing an off-year election in 2010. So, now, the tactic shifts to the other side, and instead of appearing authoritarian and right-wing, the 99%-ers claim to be an anarcho-, de-centralized, left-wing, non-violent, populist, grass roots movement. Is it a movement in preparation to stimulate the Democratic/liberal/progressive base for the upcoming elections in 2012?

Am I off-base so far?

That being said, my natural sympathies necessarily flow to the Occupy Wall Streeters. This goes back a ways: I got kicked out of junior high school in the 7th grade for wearing a black armband in support of the Moratorium against the Vietnam Police Action. The Tea Party tried to capture the magic of the bottom-up style of Sixties' protests, but it became apparent quickly how most of them were useful idiots for oily corporate interests. It was like they had all lived through the Sixties and missed out on all the fun, so they wanted to get some of their own in before it was too late.

I don't—yet—get the sense that what's happening in NY has the flavor of useful idiocy. That doesn't mean it isn't, or won't be, if it's not already, co-opted by The Man. One reason is that the PR machine has yet to latch on to Occupy Wall Street, much less political co-opters. A few yahoos at their local congressmen's town halls made loud national news during the Tea Party summer. Their significance was blown way out of proportion by outsized media attention and, frankly, outright propaganda by FoxNews. Moreover, their signs and slogans felt too glib, too scripted. Neither seems the case with the current batch of protestors. This movement feels like both a reaction to the attentions of the Tea Party and a domestic response to the Arab Spring uprisings. They are being ignored by much of the US media to the same extent as their earlier cousins who marched in the MILLIONS against Bush's drumbeat to invade Iraq.

The Tea Party, also, felt like a 'movement' (let's call it) of stirred-up 'geezers' (let's call them) who never quite got the talking points. Remember: "Keep the Government's hands off my Medicare?" The Occupy Wall Street crowd is young. Their dissatisfaction is against what? "The occupation of Washington by Wall Street" seems to be the best they can come up with. (h/t BDR). Not bad, though. It has an organic feel: where the Tea Party was a corporate-organized and -financed political operation, this is a groundswell against corporate corruption of democratic government—something Mussolini once described as Fascism.

Correntewire (again, h/t BDR) points to this:
"their solution to hacking out a platform knocks me flat with amazement: The group is going to use the next few days to talk about these demands. And then here's what they'll do: on Friday, they will spread blank sheets of white paper all across the park. Some will have topic headings, some will be all blank. Magic markers will then be distributed, and everyone will write, in large letters, the issues and goals they think are most important. If you agree with someone's poster, you can put a "Check".

Fascinating! It is actually rather Chinese in technique. It reminds me of the student Big Character Posters that appeared in Tienanmen Square.

After the writing exercise, they'll collect all the papers and collate them into a larger online manifesto, which can then be debated/modified/changed online in a Wikipedia-style collaboration."

I do question, however, how far such an unorganized, even disorganized protest can sustain itself. Tea Parties thrived because of the influx of money, the congealing of leadership, the coordination with a well-oiled propaganda machine. And because they had co-optative candidates lined up with platforms and talking points ready to swoop into power. How these youngsters fare after the first burst of enthusiasm blows itself out remains to be seen.

If you're curious about the origins of Occupy Wall Street here's, a brief history of "How Anonymous, AmpedStatus, the NYC General Assembly, US Day of Rage, Adbusters and Thousands of Individual Actions Led to the Occupation of Liberty Park and the Birth of a Movement."

In the meantime, though, if you're interested in heading to the frontlines of Occupy Wall Street or Occupy [Your Town's Name Here] or Occupy America or Occupy Together or Occupy International, or whatever they decide to call the burgeoning occupista movement, here's a Survival Guide to get you through.


Anonymous said...

I'd say you're off-base here:

The corporate-, Koch-funded Tea Party movement managed to stimulate the Right-wing base sufficiently to swing an off-year election in 2010.

Everyone sees the devil he fears most. That's not necessarily the same thing as seeing the real devil in the same set of details.

Frances Madeson said...

Thanks for these reflections, Jim. Very helpful. I plan to keep them in mind as I jump in whole hog. I especially love the suggestion to wear denim or leather. As a belle-lettristic occupista fashionista I'll be wearing neither at the Occupy St. Louis event at the Federal Reserve Building on Saturday, 11:00 a.m.--going more for the argyle sweater, pin-stripe suit jacket William S. Burroughs is sporting on his Wikipedia page (though I may need assistance knotting the tie so expertly).

Jack Crow said...

Good read, Jim. I like your contrast, and also share your appreciation for their decision making process.

I wonder - and I'm repeating myself - if it's just a bit too silly, in the end. The fat cats sipping champagne looked too smugly amused, in reaction to the circus of protest taking place at the street level beneath them.

Jim H. said...

@KFO: Are you saying it's a case of post hoc propter hoc fallacy on my part? Curiously, what is the real devil? Were the TeaPartiers the advance guard of Arab Spring? Are they of a piece w/ the occupistas? How else to explain the rise of the Boehner-bane freshman class?

@FM: You go, girl. Burroughs is an interesting grand-fatherly type for the 'belle-lettristic occupista fashionistas". Occupying is spreading.

@JC: Thanks. I think you're asking the right question. One thinks back to Seattle (was it?), and the G7 (8? 12? whatever) protests. There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear. I'm paying attention, though. And so are plenty of others. And that may be the point.

lisahgolden said...

Completely off topic, but in response to your comment about Wilco - Did you hear me whining all the way from Cartersville?

Because I was.

I'm glad you had a good time. I knew they'd put on a great show.



ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Is it a movement in preparation to stimulate the Democratic/liberal/progressive base for the upcoming elections in 2012?

Am I off-base so far?

I'd say you are, because the corporatists that control the Democratic party are as eager to appease and cater to Wall St. as the Republicans. It's the Administration, after all, that it pressuring the NY Attorney General to join in the big deal that will give the banks a pass for their crimes.

Randal Graves said...

If anyone manages to frighten champagne sniffers with a gentle enough nudge, they'll just their asses capped. Or maced, as it were.

Doesn't mean that if someone feels like doing something they shouldn't, they just better expect to lose.

Jim H. said...

@Lisa: During the break, I heard some people behind me talking about driving down from C'ville. Not sure if they were the same ones who 'stunk up' the joint when the band launched into 'Handshake Drugs'.

@if: I don't dispute that, but base-activation moves on many fronts and often inconsistently: complexly—as our friend Jack C. might say. Having been around the block a few times and seen the pattern, I'm just asking if my senses deceive me. Also, expect an unexpected counter-move on the right in the next few.

@RG: Yeah, that video is telling. Corralling is the new tactic: contain the shouters. It's both big and little in scale.

Jack Crow said...

I'm warming to them, Jim. It's not how I'd do things, but I'm from a world which produced bad people with occasionally good instincts. I'm a bad person, a Cynic and a half-nihilist. I want to give vent to my disdain for puppet plays and lily white bourgie protests.


These folks seem like good people with a maybe a parochial misunderstanding of the adversary they've chosen for themselves.

If they were an actual threat, the authorities would identify "ringleaders" and bring them up on an increasingly severe range of charges, until the usual dynamics took hold, and former comrades turned the dime to avoid the prison sentences allowed under the law...

Frances Madeson said...

It's not going to be lily white in St. Louis.

I love the Shakespeare concordance. Though Chaucer probably invented it, Shakespeare used the word "occupy" exactly twice. Doll Tearsheet says it (in quotes!) in Henry IV, Part II and it's a whopper. And Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet.

Jim H. said...

@FM: Feel free to email me privately and I'll put up your report from Occupy St. Louis on WoW's front page. Or you can post it here in the comments. I'd love to hear!

Jim H. said...

@Jack: Yeah, unless as the pros start to mobilize (Michael Moore, Sarandon, Transportation Workers, etc.), the visibility is such that they can't trump up charges.

Naivete is certainly a word that comes to mind, but, on the other hand, big shitstorms tend to start with tiny farts.

Like I say in the OP, I'm not sure where this is going. It could peter out, it could snowball, it could be co-opted (as the Tea Party was from its inception, contra KFO) to mobilize the Dem base in 2012, it could get ugly, it could spread like a virus, etc., etc.

The centrality of money in politics and culture, which is, or should be, the target, is worthy of protest, however diffuse or chaotic.

Frances Madeson said...

Will do, Jim. It's been a fascinating two days. Just came back to get more clothes and supplies and heading back for the duration.