We’re two months and two weeks into OWS, far too early to foresee the many possible futures of what still has a potential of becoming a full-fledged movement. And yet, this is ample enough time, I think, to develop a perspective, however partial. In any case, we may try.
It’s my considered opinion that unless OWS becomes injected with a new life force or spirit, it has pretty much exhausted itself by now. And no, I’m not referring here to the winter season that’s upon us, which will surely make physical occupation of public spaces logistically prohibitive. Nor am I precluding the possibility of an occasional jumpstart or a boost. What better cause for incitement, I might add, than episodes of unprovoked police brutality, as exemplified by the recent pepper spray incident at UC Davis? No, I’m afraid that my negative assessment of OWS’s potential, my reasons for pessimism run deeper than that, much deeper, and they’re far more perturbing.
Let’s consider the positives. OWS, we’re told, has already shifted the focus of public debate from our budgetary wars and supercommittee deliberations to income inequality, in spite of little or no coverage from the mainstream media. It may have a profound effect on the 2012 elections, both local and national, and on future policy.
It has become a platform for campaigning on any number of diverse issues, from Wall Street greed and widespread government corruption to environmental concerns; from our selling tear gas to Egypt (while condoning the people’s revolt) to rising tuition costs and the inner city stop-and-frisk practices by some of our finest. And all that, mind you, without putting forth any specific demands and thus risking the danger of becoming co-opted by the political mainstream.
Lastly, many point to the GAs and their overriding emphasis on reaching consensus as some of OWS’s greatest and lasting accomplishments. Here, we’re made to believe the people are finally getting a real taste of what a true participatory democracy is like, a lifetime experience which they’re simply bound to take home with them once they return to their communities and start applying the newly-learned principles and skills on the local level. It’s then, we’re being assured, the hard work will begin and the movement will have come to fruition. I’ll address the aforementioned eventuality shortly; as to the rest, I have only one word for it: Humbug!
We don’t need OWS to remind us that our political system is broken or that Goldman Sachs runs both our government and our everyday lives. And we certainly don’t need OWS to suddenly become aware of the ever-growing income inequality in America. To any astute observer however, the writing was on the wall even in the sixties, which saw the inauguration of LBJ’s War on Poverty. In fact, some, to those who have always borne the greatest brunt, the African-Americans and other people of color, to women, it’s been there all their lives.
Nor do we need OWS to bring our attention to rising tuition costs and mounting student debt, which are themselves only symptoms of the corporatism and push towards privatization which have come to pervade our institutions of higher learning, our churches, and our corridors of power. Again, the signs were all there since Reagan’s deregulation and the merger and acquisition era.
Lastly, we don’t need OWS to alert us to the fact that we’re a militaristic and rogue state insofar as our neighbors are concerned and a rapidly approaching police state with respect to our own citizens, whether by virtue of our ill-fated War on Drugs, which incarcerates a great many of our citizens for minor offenses, or the more recent War on Terror. Justitfied or not, the Patriot Act, nearly guaranteed to become a regular feature of the American life henceforth, is all the proof you’ll ever need. So yes, if that’s the size or the scope of OWS’s message, if that’s all it brings to the table, then no, thank you. We can do without!
Perhaps the most ominous telltale of OWS’s abject failure is its apparent inability to reach out beyond the immediate, expressed or unexpressed, concerns about the state of the nation; beyond concerns about rising tuition costs or Wall Street greed or what else have you. Except for the faithful few, the message has fallen on deaf ears thus far. Indeed, those who still consider themselves middle class are certainly out of the loop, as evidenced by record sales on Black Friday.
The movement has made virtually no impact on our black communities and our poor, the ever-growing segment of our society which deserves our utmost attention. It made no impact whatever on our right, the Tea Party types who are partially aligned with the OWS message, at least insofar as antistatism is concerned. It failed to convince anyone, to sway anyone. Indeed, even this little forum, populated as it may be by our resident politicos, no longer shows any active interest in OWS now the novelty has worn off; and the momentum has definitely shifted to rehashing the same old topics that lead nowhere. As to the remaining “one percent,” I don’t give a damn!
A comparison with the Tea Party is instructive. Despite its relative successes in mainstream politics, it fell short of becoming a populist movement, to the point it failed to become more inclusive, to embrace all Americans who were no lesser victim of government malfeasance, high and low, all those who suffer no lesser indignities at the hands of a totally corrupt and dysfunctional system. Well, OWS is likely to suffer the same fate, the fate of becoming irrelevant.
If there’s one thing that’s conspicuously absent in the present configuration of the so-called people’s movement, our OWS, is a voice, a strong and powerful voice, the kind of voice with which Martin Luther King Jr. – and Gandhi, Lincoln and Jesus Christ before him – all spoke; the kind of voice that would invariably bring a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat, the kind of voice that would always disarm, never estrange. It made no difference whatever whether you were black or white, or what your ethnic origin, sex or gender was, it’s the strength of the universal voice and universal type of message, a message which speaks to what’s universal in all of us, that it’s irresistible. And no, I’m not speaking of a politician here, black or white, for politicians and statesmen come a dime a dozen, only of a voice.
Thus far, Cornel West has been the only voice of account. Long live Dr. West!
How do you suppose our community activists will fare once they return home and start organizing? How will their message and work resonate with those who have been excluded thus far? No better than it resonates right now, I can assure you. It will be perceived as just another one of the white man’s fool’s errands, as another pathetic example of the privileged white man’s last hope, that’s how! The time to win hearts and minds is now, not after the dog and pony show is over!
An astute observer has recently remarked that OWS is just “one event, one stage in a long process of working out certain social forces, such as the desire to escape from slavery, (#28)” and I can’t help but concur. But that’s a rather long view by the all-seeing eye of God and on that view, everything will work itself out in the end. Besides, it’s rather naive. You want my honest opinion? All I see here is rationalization prompted by the white man’s guilt, by his unquenchable desire for atonement for sins past.
Well, I can’t wait for the universe to set itself aright. I don’t want to wait. Waiting is synonymous with the refusal to take responsibility, a kind of Taoist-Buddhist philosophy whereby human agency is of little or no account, a philosophy I’m not ready to embrace just yet. In any case, an African-American would tell the white man he’s two hundred years behind the curve. There’d be no sympathy there, only amusement; amusement and pity, “Tuition costs, student debt? Get off it! Come talk to me when you’ve got something to say.”
All meaningful communications are about sharing first and foremost, and sharing demands a requisite level of empathy, a state of mind and heart whereby none is better than the other, where all are on an equal footing because we’re subject to the same forces, because we’re all human. And personal relations come before all political relations if only by setting the tone. In fact, I’m beginning to think that most of our political discourses are but a subterfuge, a defense, a face-saving mechanism which allows us to ignore all those with whom we’re in contact day in and day out, while doing our damnedest to try to convince ourselves and others that all our actions and thought proceed from the ultimate concern.
It’s one of the recurrent themes in Akira Kurosawa’s unforgettable works of art, Red Beard, for instance. The people flock to however slight a show of affection, gentleness, and kindness. Likewise with The Idiot, another, albeit extreme, example of how even the most recalcitrant of us will respond to the goodness in another’s heart. I find it significant that Kurosawa takes his lead here from Dostoevsky, as he had done earlier with Maxim Gorky (The Lower Depths and Shakespeare (Throne of Blood); which makes one almost wish they were born Japanese. But I digress.
All of this goes to show, I suppose, that all manner of loyalty, allegiance, commonality of purpose, without exception, is the natural, organic outgrowth of personal relations. Politics comes later! Which again, places all forms of political thought and action in a rather precarious position; it’s precisely because all political talk is cheap, so cheap, for being at at least one remove from the personal; we had better do better!
In light of these remarks, I find it rather ironic that the very people who ought to have coalesced so as to form an affinity of sorts, have only drifted apart. I can’t blame our forum for this. It contains its usual share of contrarians and all nonesuch, no more and no less, I suppose, than any other comparable discussion site. I do blame my friends, however, or those at least I‘ve always considered my friends. It’s almost as though since the revolution kicked in, they seem to have opted for finding their kicks in the General Assembly. It’s almost as though they’ve lost all their marbles since the event or were one-dimensional from the very start, having had no life, no life whatever, until OWS materialized to make them whole.
But then again, who am I to complain? After all, I’m just a pixel. Be that as it may, bell hooks, one of the most radical of the black feminist writers I admire, ended her diatribe against the white (and black) supremacist male with a rhapsody to love, Love as the Practice of Freedom.