Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Civil War or Smokescreen?

By James Curcio
Wishful thinking
As many of you know by now, #occupywallstreet is going strong. Or, at least, a couple hundred more people are living on the NYC streets for the time being.

An Ampedstatus headline reports, "Full-Blown Civil War Erupts On Wall Street: As Reality Finally Hits The Financial Elite, They Start Turning On Each Other",
"Finally, after trillions in fraudulent activity, trillions in bailouts, trillions in printed money, billions in political bribing and billions in bonuses, the criminal cartel members on Wall Street are beginning to get what they deserve. As the Eurozone is coming apart at the seams and as the US economy grinds to a halt, the financial elite are starting to turn on each other. The lawsuits are piling up fast. Here’s an extensive roundup:
As I reported last week:"Goliath On The Ropes, Big Banks Getting Hit Hard, It’s A “Bloodbath” As Wall Street’s Crimes Blow Up In Their Face"
Time to put your Big Bank shorts on! Get ready for a run… The chickens are coming home to roost… The Global Banking Cartel’s crimes are being exposed left & right… Prepare for Shock & Awe…"
Full blown civil war? Really. How about full blown posturing? Some of the content in that post is interesting, but aside from the link-baiting in the title, little of it seems to have to do with the protests themselves, let alone any sort of civil war, between the banks or anyone else. That is not a phrase to use lightly. Let's take a look at a reasonable opinion from the other side of the revolutionary think-tank...
Anarchists and radical organizers have a bit of collective amnesia with regards to the “Battle of Seattle.” The kids in black bandanas were only a very small part of the coalition that shut down the city in October, 1999. Their acts of childish violence against a Starbucks may have become the lasting public image of the event, but they were hardly representative. The bulk of that anti-globalization protest was composed of labor unions, environmentalists, and other organized progressives. All of those groups have deep traditions based in the community organizing traditions of Saul Alinsky and Cesar Chavez. The real work of organizing bears little resemblance to the attention-grabbing “culture jammers.” The real work involves “talking to one person, then talking to another person, then talking to another.” Organizing is slow, difficult, often thankless, but deeply meaningful work. There are “rules,” you see, even for radicals.
Some of these points should be well taken, both by the enthusiastic, fresh-faced youth and by the older jaded activists that lived through the high-water mark of the 60s that Hunter S Thompson refers to in Fear and Loathing:

Rather than seeing one event, we are seeing our own wishes and fears projected on top of whatever this event may be. This, of course, is the frame of reference regarding the ubiquity of our narrative which is our bread and butter here on Modern Mythology. So let me propose the idea that our reaction to the 'non'-event of the Wall Street protest is a function of ourselves, a mirror. It is ideology itself that seems to drive the almost performance-art aspect of protests. Here's a clip from earlier today, showing a throng of cops and protesters, and the actions leading up to an arrest-

And if you feel resentment because of the views presented here, perhaps it is just a dent in your own hopes of what this protest "could" or "should" be, (says you.) We have to be able to take a critical look at things without it just taking the wind out of our sails. If our ideas are so fragile that they collapse upon scrutiny, then it is high time to grow a new one. (Sunlight being the best disinfectant and all.)

This should be the topic for its own piece, but it is worth mentioning that some of the issue on both sides is that most of us aren't taught how to critique in a productive way. On the internet some people sit around and shoot things down all day without providing a single productive or useful alternative or idea, others look for an excuse to make themselves feel better by being idea bullies, so it becomes even easier to feel like we have to defend our beliefs against such "attack."

But we are not our ideas. We are not our beliefs. Our ideas and beliefs can change and turn like the seasons or the tides if we let them, if we don't hold onto them with a vice-grip stranglehold.

I'd be right at the front of a revolution that sets its sights on the culture that says something only has value if it has $$$ signs on it. Profit is the means, not a motive. The thing is, over the years, I've come to a realization: the effort spent fighting against people who aren't interested in listening anyway (Wall St Execs for instance) would be much better spent doing the truly difficult thing, which is to create something sustainable for you and yours. We don't really need a revolution, an attack. We need sustainable options.

Back to the Occupy Wall St protest,
The protest has so far been peaceful with about 200 protesters marching along Wall Street on Monday morning as it entered its third day. The New York Police Department told ABC News that, while the group does not have a permit for the protest, there are no plans to remove the protesters. (Myfoxny)
Quite a lot of noise over 200 protesters, if that number is at all accurate. (And how does that play when put side-by-side with the YouTube video we just saw? Nothing to see here.) It may be some demonstration of the power of social networking when tied with an operation with some amount of media presence (AdBusters), so we see more of this echo-chamber process at work. But whether or not it is, we must ask: What are the objectives of this protest? How does it intend to accomplish them? Is it preaching to the choir, or will it actually convert fence sitters? ... Forgive me if the appearance of professionalism is shattered by doing so, but I had a conversation with a friend on Facebook that further extends this "thought experiment" analysis:

#occupywallstreet - jameynyc

 ·  · View post · about an hour ago via Tumblr · Privacy:

    • Jamie Lee You there now?
      about an hour ago · 

    • Chris Rahm Wish i was. Feel like a traitor that i'm NOT there.
      about an hour ago · 

    • Jamie Lee 
      I agree pretty thoroughly with the reasoning behind why people are riled up and feel the need to do SOMETHING. But I'm not at all convinced this is the right something. "Right" in the sense that it could possibly lead to intended goals. The people in positions of power will look at this as "buncha dumb kids," and I don't see how this kind of action will do anything but play into that opinion.

      In theory this kind of thing would at least lend more public awareness of a problem. But is it really that big of a secret at this point that this is a plutocracy?

      about an hour ago · 

    • Chris Rahm 
      i think the only reason it could be argued as ineffective is because they didn't get the turnout they wanted, its a 'buncha dumb kids' because theres only a few hundred, maybe a thousand, thats not enough to be noticed. The intent was tens of thousands...See More

      31 minutes ago · 

    • Jamie Lee 
      I've been of the growing opinion that it does better at the grass roots level to evangelize models that work which lead the pack away from supporting (major corporations, or whatever else) rather than a headlong confrontation. But I do think it depends.

      I agree that if 100,000 people stormed wall street and had a sit in it would have an effect. But not before some skulls got cracked. I hate to say it, but it would be a massive over-reaction on the part of the police / "law" enforcement that'd most likely catapault an action like this into a national event. I'm not calling for a martyr, but it's just an unfortunate fact of human nature. When a cause has a body count people get serious. Kent state & etc was a disaster, and I wouldn't hope that would happen again, but I do wonder how many people that were standing quietly to the sidelines got into it when they heard about that happening or saw it on TV. I wasn't there or alive then so I don't pretend to know, but I do know a bit about how humans tend to act in a group. Gotta love how if you ask for a show of hands, one or two hands go up and that makes the people standing in the wings more likely NOT to raise their hands, but get 10% more and suddenly everyone's hand shoots up. Deferred responsibility. (It also matters WHOSE hand goes up - if there were more "respected" "cultural leaders" heading this up I wonder if it would still only be a few hundred.)

      Even then, there is still the issue of ideology: a "war on drugs" or "war on terror" doesn't work in part because it's a war against an idea. (Also because the departments funded by these wars don't want to "win" them but that's another can of beans.) Similarly, a "war against plutocracy" is a pretty nebulous thing. I am the sort that can wrap his head more easily around abstract ideas than specific concrete ones, but most people aren't wired that way. I think a lot of people are just confused about what this "action" is or what it is supposed to accomplish, and it doesn't help things that the turnout isn't exactly overwhelming. In fact, it feeds into the appearance that things are A-OK, which they most definitely are not.

      22 minutes ago · 

    • Chris Rahm 
      Agreed. Its tough to garner sympathy for anything related to classist struggles when labor doesn't appear to have it all that bad, related to how 'poor' people live in a global context. I consistently see that as the boilerplate response to income inequality or classism: you've got a big TV, a cellphone and maybe you're on unemployment - don't complain about not having healthcare or being poor. I also think that theres no clear, common ground on what a solution to the problem is - its another vacuous, intangible thing that no one can answer, no one can demonstrate to the average citizen how it could/should be or what that even means because its insanely complex and multifaceted.

      Doesn't make it any easier that the status quo has seen that vacuum of meaning and quickly filled it up with easy-to-comprehend memes and generalizations. Ex - If you're not into Wall Street, you must be a communist or a fascist. People eat that shit up, ya know? You get into a shouting match with someone who has simple, talking point answers and you can't match the simplicity of that sitting there presenting data, precedent and theory. Its a complex issue that deserves long, complex answers, but no one has patience to understand them. Many, many others liken the struggle to fighting against air and water, that this system we're in is unchangeable, that it is the way it is and any effort to change it is idealistic nonsense - its hard enough staying afloat, let alone trying to swim hard for a distant shore you've never even seen.

      Personally, i think its too late anyway. The only change will come slowly and it will come at a community level and make no mistake, it will get very very ugly for a lot of places around the country. There will always be a few scattered exceptions: huge gated communities and other neighborhoods and rural outliers that manage to pull together early enough, but most of it will have to rise from ashes.

      3 minutes ago ·  ·  1 person

    • Jamie Lee Exactly. As I said elsewhere, I'd much rather see many small-scale sustainable (or even semi-sustainable) solutions rather than any large scale revolution-style "movement."

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