19 October 2011
Be Reasonable, Demand The Impossible
Arab Spring to the US Autumn? Highly unlikely but the Occupy Movement is prompting plenty of discussion. While I have been down to the Occupy Portland camp on several occasions, I have to admit the cynical old bastard in me has been more interested in 'occupying' my place at the dinner table or 'occupying' my bed. That is not to say, I'm not thankful or excited about what's happening in hundreds of American cities. I just don't know what it can lead to. Too radical to appeal to most of the '99%'? Not radical enough to be genuinely 'revolutionary.' Where does that leave it?
Since I was eighteen, I have thought a lot about street protests and direct actions and how effective they are. I've spent some time masked up, 'occupying' shell petrol stations, taking over bridges the night the US invaded Iraq, marched against police brutality, taken a face full of pepper spray, dodged bean bag rounds on May Day, fled pursuing federal agents, inhaled tear gas, even occupied my employer's office during a labour dispute. Each action, seemed to make sense at the time, but by 2004, the little dance with the police got tiring and seemed increasingly like token gestures with very little tangible impact at best and at worst, alienating a potentially sympathetic public. Everyone, police, protesters, just seemed to be playing the role they were assigned to little avail but the illusion of dissent. Or as Chris Hedges would put it, being allowed to 'let off a bit of steam to keep the system intact' and prevent a genuine explosion (see below). The endless meetings and organizing got even more tiresome. Then the Obama campaign, the great appeasement, really took the hot air out of radical dissent and made the liberal class more impotent than ever.
Now people are back out in the streets and have seemingly been able to 'achieve' far more than most of the street demos in the 1990s and 2000s were ever able to achieve. If, indeed, occupying public space and barricading a street is really achieving anything.
The truth remains, most of the American populace are allowed just the right amount of material wealth to keep them passive enough to prevent an Arab Spring style uprising . They are further pacified by the still widely-held beief that knuckling down and working hard can improve their station in life. And pacified even more, by the endless distractions that tempt us every waking hour, consumer culture, celebrity culture, technology, social media and so on. No hippie with a confused anti-capitalist message is going to dissuade those the Steve Jobs worshippers who lined up for the new I Phone.
But let me turn you over to a far more qualified commentator and optimistic opinion.
Chris Hedges is perhaps one of the more impressive American commentators of our times. His recent article, A Movement Too Big To Fail, is perhaps the best analysis I have read on the Occupy Movement. Hedges analysis of the pacification of America's liberal class is crucial. In a land where political discussion is so binary yet within such a limited and rigid context, Hedges has a way of making radical ideas seem very palatable, logical, appealing and most importantly attainable.
... the liberal class, by having refused to question the utopian promises of unfettered capitalism and globalization and by condemning those who did, severed itself from the roots of creative and bold thought, the only forces that could have prevented the liberal class from merging completely with the power elite. The liberal class, which at once was betrayed and betrayed itself, has no role left to play in the battle between us and corporate dominance. All hope lies now with those in the street. - Chris Hedges
If all this is too much to read on your morning coffee break, then check out The Illusion's take on Revolutionary Counter Culture. This guy is the best thing on the internet these days, offering lots of cosmic wisdom on surfing, skateboarding and enlightenment. Spicoli as Buddha.