Monday, November 28, 2011

OWS: Looking Back, Looking Forward

What’s next for Occupy Wall Street? What will OWS 2.0 look like? This is the $64 trillion dollar question right now (and also, coincidentally, the average amount of still unregulated derivatives holdings of the 5 largest “too big to fail”  banks).  But before addressing what’s to come, let’s first consider what has already transpired. This requires an accurate re-telling of OWS 1.0 and what has been accomplished.

Much has been made of David Carr’s recent editorial about Occupy Wall Street, a tome of self-congratulatory flatulence the rest of the so-called “mainstream media” huffed like model airplane glue.  Let’s debunk some of its choicest moments of revisionist history.

Carr:  “it is inevitable that Occupy Wall Street will eventually become more of an idea than a place”
Actually, OWS was always an idea. The idea was to stage a protest that was impossible to ignore.  It was a misnomer that the Occupy Wall Street had no demands. There was, in fact, a first demand:  Occupy Wall Street demanded that people take it seriously and listen to the substance of its grievances. In order to make the public and the corporate media address that demand required a continuous occupation, something that turned out to be itself a difficult thing to maintain. Through rain and cold and threat of eviction, OWS maintained its occupation until its demand was met. OWS now officially has people’s attention.
Carr:  “Reporters live for spectacle, and for more than two months Occupy Wall Street has provided one at a fixed address. There was the tableau of people living in tents in urban encampments — a powerful symbol in the American historical narrative.”
Except that for most of those two months there were a) no tents and b) no reporters (at least no US corporate reporters) covering the story with any seriousness at all.  
Wait, I know, you’re thinking “no tents?”  Despite what Carr and the other MSM revisionists would have you believe, Zuccotti Park was not a tent city for majority of the OWS encampment.  There was not a single tent anywhere in the park for the first 30 days.  It was a month into the Occupation when Jesse Jackson stepped in to help protect the medical tent from being taken down by the NYPD.  At the time, there were no other tents in Liberty Square. 
For the entire first month, the NYPD continually enforced the city code prohibiting the erection of  “structures” in the park. Even if they saw a tarp draped over a table, the NYPD would enter the park and force people to take it down.
This was all part of the initial strategy of active harassment by the city, which also included arresting (two or more) people wearing masks,  people chalking the sidewalk, and most dastardly of all, attempting to march, i.e. walk, around the Financial District without a permit. It was also why the Occupy movement garnered such popular support. 
There was an earnestness associated with sleeping on the ground with nothing more than a tarp pulled over you like a blanket in the pouring rain that made it impossible for passers-by to be cynical. The countless handmade signs decrying wealth inequality, corporate capture of government and the moral bankruptcy of our status quo society were so powerful that the strategies employed to destroy the movement weren’t working.
The twin-pronged assault of over-policing and under-reporting just weren’t cutting it and the donations pouring in from the general public proved it.  Further displays of police over-reaction, such as the pepper-spraying of young women on the sidewalk by Anthony Bologna and the mass arrest of peaceful marchers led onto the Brooklyn Bridge by the NYPD, caused the media to suddenly lurch into its knee-jerk “if it bleeds, it leads” mode, momentarily replacing its servile duty of ignoring and mocking the movement.
Or from Carr’s perspective:  “The video footage of their clashes gave the story an urgency that policy laden discussions of income distribution generally lack. It made for good television and print coverage.”
As if the messages of corporate greed and the destruction of the American middle class were not compelling?  If the corporate media wanted nothing other than ratings, it could have simply covered individual stories of Americans’ lives destroyed by the very forces OWS was protesting: students with crushing debt; families losing their homes to banks who fraudulently robo-signed the paperwork;  the middle-aged people thrown out of work without the prospect of ever being employed again.  That’s why people were drawn to Liberty Square: to share their stories, to commiserate,  and to collectively heal their battered souls. 
The culmination of this strategy was the presumed eviction based on issues of “sanitation” scheduled for October 14.  Not only was this plan of attack ultimately an epic failure, it only served to further galvanize support for the Occupy movement.
So Bloomberg turned to his wrecking crew for a new strategy. What they seemed to have come up with was a new strategy of  under-policing.  The NYPD suddenly started employing a “hands off” approach to OWS, allowing tents to pop up all over Liberty Square. The idea behind this tactic was to allow OWS to collapse on itself.  To further exacerbate the situation, the NYPD began intentionally sending scores of homeless and mentally ill individuals to Zuccotti.  The corporate media hacks immediately began filling their role in this ploy by extending the narrative that OWS was a crime-ridden blight on the city. 
It was clear that this was the new context in which Bloomberg would try, once again, to make the Occupy movement go away. Bloomberg clearly went to school on the failures of his previous eviction attempt: this time the raid would be unannounced, in the dead of night, and with no media present to cover it.
But this time, it was too late.  Occupy Wall Street had already outgrown the modest confines of Zuccotti Park. The billionaire Mayor once again stepped on the rake and hit himself in the face.  OWS had transitioned from an idea to a catalyst, and a potent one at that.
OWS 2.0
Much has been made of the fact that OWS changed the conversation. While this is true, what really happened was that the people discovered how to overcome the inertia imposed by the cold, ruthless power elite and its propaganda machine. The machine that says this is the greatest country on Earth and if you're not rich, you're just not trying hard enough so shut the fuck up and get back in line.  
A new populism has been activated in this country, like yeast mixed with warm water & sugar.  This activated mix is a catalyst. A catalyst that can be added to any issue, any scenario where there is injustice, and causes it to rise, to bubble, to ferment.

Andy Kroll wrote about Occupy Wall Street's political victory in Ohio.  What was most telling about this victory was that it focused on an issue (the attack on unions) not a specific candidate. Similar victories occurred in Mississippi (attack on women's reproductive rights) and Maine (same day voter registration).
This is the blueprint for OWS 2.0: stay away from identity politics and individual politicians and instead focus on the issues. Instead force politicians--all politicians--to address the issues that really matter to the 99%.  This re-framing of the political dialogue is the only way to combat the propaganda state that will do anything to change the subject.

Liberty Square was merely an example of what happens when you add this special catalyst—in this case to a previously anonymous park in lower Manhattan called Zuccotti.   People become energized. Real issues suddenly come to the forefront.  OWS activated the humanity left dormant by our commoditized culture and refocused the national consciousness.  It reaffirmed a shared experience that is infinitely more powerful than the learned narcissism of consumerism.  

The reason the movement is being met with such brutal force is because the OWS catalyst is largely immune to propaganda.  Americans are now starting to see there is a real choice. (Unlike the Tea Party, which was merely a false choice: the bread and butter of the corporate-owned 2-party system.)
Make no mistake, though, OWS will not become some ethereal messaging organization. The actions must always be in the streets. The OWS catalyst lowers the threshold, but it is still the people that make it boil.

And the pots have just started to simmer.

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