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Whither Occupy Wall Street

Right now Occupy Wall Street is filled with a bunch of moderate baby-snatchers.

Whither Occupy Wall Street? No, not “wither,” as in “shrivel and die.” You’d be an idiot to wish that, considering that, as far as anti-establishment rebellions in America (and parts of Canada) go, it’s currently the only game in town. Whither, as in “to what place or state,” where is it headed? Will it become a full-blown insurrection (implying a violent uprising of some sort), or will it remain a shambolic, undisciplined, hippie-dippy free-for-all, distinguished by neither intent nor style?

Angela Davis argued in the 60s, in terms of the black struggle, that a society that embraces a philosophy of non-violence is a society that embraces the philosophy of suicide. She argued that if your baby is in a burning house, you do not snatch that baby from the fire gradually. You do not snatch that baby from the fire moderately. You fucking snatch that baby. She was a brilliant and persuasive rhetorical speaker (something that has been noticeably lacking among the Occupy Wall Streeters), and perhaps she had a point: OWS, at this stage, anyway, is definitely made up of a bunch of moderate baby-snatchers.

Now I’m not advocating violent revolution (necessarily), and I’m certainly not saying that violent revolution is sexy. But so far, OWS is definitely not the sexiest revolution I can think of. It’s a grass roots, populist protest (more like a complaint, really, which is never sexy) made up of all kinds of people, from laid-off autoworkers to irate grandmas who can’t afford their medication to debt-ridden students with no prospects for the future. But this is hardly the stuff of hardcore militancy that brings down fraudulent governments or blood-sucking financial institutions. It may be a little late in the game to be playing the “We Are the World” card. The people in the financial sector – the Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers and the corporate media barons - who have forced out the 99 percent have demonstrated themselves over and over again to be textbook sociopaths, and they’re not about to give up power and privilege so easily. And the political system that they have so thoroughly influenced and corrupted for their own nefarious purposes is not going to be changed from the bottom up by a motley crew of well-intentioned liberals.

Occupy Wall Street, of course, started not in America in the fall, but in the Middle East with the Arab Spring, followed by the Greek and Spanish summer, where tent cities sprung up in cities such as Barcelona as early as May. (Leave it to New York to take all the credit.) Now the Arab Spring seems to be on permanent summer vacation, with power being shuffled from one neo-liberal entity or entrenched military institution to another, and the spontaneous complaints choirs of southern Europe seem to be languishing a bit too, probably owing to protest fatigue.

The real, heavy-duty occupations that, strangely, no one in America seems to be talking about, took place in France in 2009 when unions started to occupy factories and hold oblivious corporate bosses hostage in order to have their demands met in scenarios straight out of Godard’s labor liberation epic, Tout Va Bien. In fact, there were much bigger and more violent worldwide demonstrations than OWS, many of them labor-oriented, after the economic collapse of 2008, but they were largely ignored by the mainstream media so you probably didn’t notice. All I’m saying is you’re going to have to ramp it up, people. Rome wasn’t burnt down in a day. The impending general strike in Greece protesting the severe austerity measures that threaten to shut down the country is certainly a step in the right direction. General strikes are always sexy.

Charismatic leaders might help, and so might a bit of attention paid to styles of radical will. (Sorry to cite Sontag, but you must admit she did have good titles.) It’s easy to dismiss a bunch of unwashed, directionless ragamuffins chanting time-worn protest slogans like “the whole world is watching” (that is, if they’re not watching Hollywood real estate porn or Real Housewife franchises) or “shame on you” (which sounds a bit too much like a disappointed mother, especially when directed toward a cop in full fascist attire violently macing a clueless co-ed). It’s a bit more difficult to dismiss someone who has a fistful of brilliant manifestoes and a manifestly militant, stylish posture.

I was roundly pooh-poohed when I tweeted this week that style is an essential component of any revolution. I said it with a certain amount of flippancy, but deep down I believe it to be true. One only has to look as far as the Red Army Faction or the Black Panthers to understand the power of style. (And I’m not talking about fashion, because as we all know, fashion is counterrevolutionary.) Of course the former was an extreme left-wing terrorist group that blew up buildings and killed people, and the latter a militant, insurrectionary, black nationalist Marxist organization that armed themselves with Colt .45s and shotguns, but let’s not split hairs. Actually, when you look at the political platforms of both the RAF and the Panthers, they really weren’t that far from what the OWSers are asking for: a more equal distribution of wealth, support for disenfranchised minorities, and an end to the corporate control of the government and media. The difference is they believed they were at war, and that their aims had to be obtained by any means necessary. Plus, they were more stylish.

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