Kevin (erf_) wrote,

in which kevin reoccupies wall street, part one

So, I caved and finally went down to Zuccotti Park to see what all the fuss was about. I put it off for months because while I agreed with the protesters' sentiments, I didn't see how what they were doing was actually going to address the problems of wealth inequality and high unemployment that incited them to occupy the park to begin with. (If I am going to risk being maced by some trigger-happy cop, I sure as hell want to know what I'm fighting for.) From the movement's own words--not the spin coming from the furiously clacking keyboards of a baffled, narrative-seeking mainstream media--it sounded like the movement was more about raising awareness than finding solutions. And raising awareness is noble and important, but damn it, I was in Zuccotti Park in 2008, sitting on a park bench, quaking with rage, lifting a soggy panini to my mouth, fifteen minutes before even Wall Street knew what happened. (Fifteen minute news embargo, you see. I worked for a 24-hour live financial news wire.) I am done with raising awareness about the greed on Wall Street that led to the implosion of the housing bubble and the ensuing recession. You already know about that, and if you don't, you are employed and live alone in a cave. My then-employer gave you the awareness that needed to be raised in the first place and my role with them is long past over. Goodbye, Wall Street, the world already knows of your treachery; I'll never visit you, not even to protest, and may I never have occasion to speak of you again.

But then I had a lot of conversations with people who had gone to the protests and were genuinely moved by what they saw there, and I read a lot of articles by thinkers I deeply respect (including Slavoj Zizek, Jay Rosen, and my good friend, the technology historian Peter Collopy), who are earnestly optimistic about the future of the movement. My pastor Herb Miller visited the Zuccotti Park camp and described it as "a little slice of the kingdom of God on earth," where people from all walks of life were coming together to build a community around their common conscience. A few friends impressed on me that just showing up, even it accomplishes nothing, is worth something--that all it takes, as I've never believed, for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. That just because I was one of the first to find myself in Zuccotti Park because of the recession, long before there ever was an Occupy Wall Street, doesn't mean that I had to be the first to leave. Considering that I had written thousands of words of furious vitriol about the recession the day the housing market crashed--and that my grandfather, curse his rotting corpse, shot protesters of a similar ilk sixty years ago--I really had no excuse not to be there, friends told me. To show solidarity, if nothing else.

Rhetoric. All just rhetoric. I guarantee you, there is not a single investment bank on Wall (or Pearl, or John, or Pine) that gives half a flying shit what the protesters are saying about them down the street. But I went anyway, to satisfy my nagging conscience, driven by that vague feeling that as someone who was part of the system when the markets imploded I had a moral responsibility to support the people whose lives that system had ruined. (Even if, in the most literal possible way, I was merely the messenger.) Furthermore, as the months went on and the media hype died down, I got the impression that Occupy Wall Street realized it had gotten its message out and was finally starting to talk about stage two--reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, divesting from large banks, and other such things that might actually make a tiny (but encouraging) difference. So I went.

This is the part in every blogpost about Occupy Wall Street where I talk about where the Zuccotti Park occupation totally floored me with their dedication, compassion, and intelligence, and how seeing these bright minds from all walks of life demand a better future, bolstered by the flexibility of not having to know exactly what they're doing, totally changed my perceptions of the movement and its goals. Unfortunately, that didn't happen to me. Because while I did meet bright minds from all walks of life demanding a better future, impressive in their dedication, compassion, and intelligence, bolstered by the flexibility of not having to know exactly what they're doing,

a) I already have faith in these folks and their methods. Once you've seen one non-hierarchical social justice camp, organized by a politically heterogenous group of media-savvy, well-educated social anarchists (a term by which I intend no offense), you've seen them all. And I've read Deleuze too. I know where these ideas come from. (I guess most people haven't?)
b) A few of my friends who have participated in or assisted with Occupy Wall Street protests had already explained to me the more unusual aspects of their ideology, like their refusal to narrow their demands down to a fixed agenda,
c) I've studied the Tiananmen Square protests in excruciating detail, and I followed Tahir Square while it was happening with the kind of fanatical obsession that can only be justified by ancestral guilt. Though I am not a historian, the politics of contemporary large-scale demonstrations are not foreign to me.
d) The threat of coming winter is making Zuccotti seem more like a refugee camp from the kingdom of God rather than its embassy. Also, Valley Forge. (Send blankets, if you have them. Winter coats too--a lot of these folks are from places where it doesn't snow, and didn't come prepared.)
e) For all their resourcefulness, their political momentum, and their noble intentions, without more ideological support from macroeconomists on the academic left, this movement is tragically, absolutely, inevitably doomed to fail.

I will explain why in part two.
Tags: the root of all evil

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