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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  1. In the first organized labor in this country older by far than Alinsky or Chavez (whos organization has since been revealed as nearly a cult and who has post Chavez gone from a force for good to a prime example of mass movements being co-opted by the non-profit industry)is more rooted in Socialism, Communism, and Anarchism than it is in the the non socialist community organizing of Alinsky. Go take a look at the Haymarket Massacre, go look at some of what Big Bill Heywood got up to as just one example to see the level of militancy that gave rise to the modern labor movement...or go look at the history of the union I belong to, the ILWU and people like Harry Bridges.

    I don't mean to take away from the brilliance of Alinsky's skills as an organizer but portraying the modern labor movement as having it's roots with him is either ignorant or revisionist history.

    The coalitions that converged in Seattle were brought together by an organizing committee that was explicitly anarchist, to suggest that the anarchist influence was limited to a few rabble rousers from Eugene Oregon smashing windows is patently ridiculous.

    The major turning point in the Battle of Seattle was in point of fact anarchist and radical organizers persuading union rank and file to defy the union bosses wishes for them to follow a state proscribed marching route and help shut the city down. That was the start of what made that protest notable and important...there's plenty of footage of union rank and file marching in locked arms with black masked anarchists during that period...there is some footage of it in the anarchist documentary about those protests called Breaking The Spell (which I believe is available to watch for free on google video)as a proud union worker and an anarchist that footage still makes me teary.

  2. You've called "Occupy Wall Street" a "non-event", and further suggest that it functions as a mirror of ourselves. Might I suggest that it is, rather, a mirror of Corporate America who owns the major media outlets, all of whom have contributed to the "myth" this protest is a "non-event"... the same Corporate America which was the seed for this occupation of Wall Street months ago.

    Don't get me wrong. Your article makes some good points which I've concluded as well. For example, it would be helpful if there were clearer objectives, and it definitely would have been helpful if more protesters had been present from the beginning. When it began on Saturday, September 17th, up to 5000 were in attendance. As of today, the numbers hover between 300 to 500 with more planning carpools from each state.

    Whether those carpools will actually arrive remains to be seen, but one thing I've noticed as I've assisted from my laptop here at home is those who currently remain are serious. And they're not all a bunch of college kids with nothing better to do, either.

    There is a myth you may want to look into more deeply.

    Do I sound resentful? Perhaps. If so, it may be due to so many who seem to prefer to comment upon a movement which, while it may lack the focus some believe it should have, has one hell of a social network going on and that is something which should be examined.

    There are thousands who cannot be there in person for one reason or another, who are assisting the Occupy Wall Street movement via social networking, and they're not all a bunch of college kids either. I emphasize this only due to the repeated comments I've seen on the hundreds of news reports, blogs, and videos I've been tweeting to #owsnews per the request of organizers so they have a way to combat the very myths mentioned many places, and here...

    A non-event perpetrated by a bunch of kids.

    I'm sorry, but that's not what I've been seeing, and working with for the past four days.

    I've been assisting a huge crowd of protesters on the ground in New York City as they deal with some serious problems, making the best of it all, and a world-wide social network assisting right along with me; ensuring the news from underground and indie sources gets out, videos are seen, radio shows are publicized, callers are heard.

    Similar protests are on-going in Spain, Poland, and in Wisconsin protesters have been occupying their own Capitol Square in Madison the whole time. They're still hanging out as well.

    Here's one reason why so many are attempting to gain the attention of not only the media, but the rest of America via whatever method they can (social networking being their biggest outlet at the moment):


    We have a problem. This "non-event" is trying to finally focus attention on this problem. True, their methods could have been more organized, but you certainly can't fault them for trying. With the amount of censorship I've seen (and experienced) this weekend, it's no surprise to me that getting the word out for an event of this magnitude would be difficult.

    Are you aware that Yahoo censored all communication with "occupywallstreet" within the text? Either as a hashtag or with the dot org attached? Yahoo came out with an apology for that one.

    We've experienced censorship on Twitter as well.

    So, give the "kids" some credit.

    This "non-event" is bigger than you portray it here. It's only a "non-event" because you didn't research deeply enough and seem to be allowing the mainstream media to be your mirror.

    I thought ModernMythology was better than that.

  3. Well, you caught me. I dropped that sentence in there as a bit of bait.

    Here's the thing: I've seen a lot of instances of the media playing it down as small, and also harmless. No confrontation, etc.

    At the same time, you see videos on YouTube of something different. I put both sides in the post, just in different places. I didn't want to take one position because I don't know enough in terms of firsthand reports (I've only had a few friends on the ground, and ten or twenty more monitored on twitter plus the group feeds) to feel like I get to have a final conclusion.

    Also far be it for me to create some cognitive dissonance in the reader.

    I stick by what I said about method though, at least for myself. Maybe it's just the Taoist in me, but I presently think there's no future in direct confrontation- rather, it's in reducing our personal dependence on corporations and governments. I don't have all the answers about that, I just don't see what the endgame of these protests is really supposed to be. Not what does the protest SIGNIFY, that's the performance art element of protest. (And don't get me wrong, I'm an artist. I don't underrate the value of that.) But what is the objective and do the methods actually match them in the context provided? I just don't see that. I'd love to see my way through to that.

  4. I can't say I've drawn a final conclusion either, but I do feel as though I have a pretty good sense of what's happening since I'm not only monitoring twitter feeds but everything I can find on the internet from every source I can snag. And there's a lot more going on than people realize. That's the kicker.

    And, that's also what is so disturbing to me.

    We currently have one of the biggest grass-roots protests going on in our country since Seattle and the Million Man March to my knowledge (please correct me if I'm wrong), and practically no mention of it in the mainstream press. Why the media black out? And why the internet censorship? Not only internet censorship, but they actually cut off internet and wifi service in the area of the protest for awhile yesterday, and again today, similar to what they did in San Fransisco in August. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officials shut down cell service in the area when Anonymous protesters ammassed there to protest fatal police activity.

    I have a problem with all of this. We all should.

    In theory, I fully agree with your thoughts that direct confrontation isn't really the answer to anything and that reducing our own personal dependence upon corporations is the way to go, but cutting our dependence on government? For some, that's not an option.

    In addition, honestly, how many Americans... how many humans... are going cut their corporate IV's without a wake up call?

    Too many people are sleeping. Something needs to wake them up and from what I'm seeing, the government doesn't want them to wake up.

    Okay, so call me silly and all wrapped up in a conspiracy here, but I know what I've seen the past four days and it isn't pretty. It's down right creepy. I'm beginning to think it's going to take one of those poor folks on the ground in NYC getting hurt, and more than just a cut on the leg or an asthsma attack; hurt, like dead, before reports start hitting the mainstream media and the country begins to take things seriously.

    And for what it's worth, there's a ton of people who feel the same way as those who are there protesting, but the problem I see is that none of them truly know how to graple with the situation.

    How do you get them to understand that they need to cut off their corporate and government IV's, especially when some of them truly do depend on the government IV at a minimum?

  5. And here we are talking about it on Blogger, owned by Google.

    It's hard to say really. The only thing I'm not at all surprised by is that the major media wouldn't give the story a whole lot of support. What would be in it for them?

    I have a hunch a lot more people would get involved in a hurry if it was more organized and made sense. Most of us are just trying to keep afloat. Learning survival skills is something I'll do next week after I pay my cable bill, y'know what I mean? ;)

    Right now my answer is to write, read, communicate, prod a bit, ask questions, and god willing, watch that process go somewhere. I put some of my concerns about a naive revolution down in http://www.PartyAtTheWorldsEnd.com by the way, if you're curious.

  6. Indeed! Blogger, powered by a large corporate entity. You ready to unplug? ;)

    Point taken regarding mainstream media. Nothing would be in it for them, but that's the scary deal from my perspective, and I believe, from the perspective of many who are now dubbed the 99 percenter's. Journalism used to be "fair and balanced". It used to be a journalist's job to report the news, all of it, with an unbiased eye. That doesn't happen anymore because, hey, what's in it for them, huh?

    I don't know your age, but just curious if you remember the golden days of "60 Minutes" and Walter Cronkite. Real journalism. We don't have that anymore and that's what I've noted most about the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. The disparity... the lack of "fair and balanced" reporting; hell, the lack of reporting at all.

    And we may have to disagree about the people getting involved. Sure, they can't all make their way up to NYC to protest in person for the very reasons you mention. I can personally vouch for that. ;) But that was the point I made before; how many are getting involved via the internet regardless of their situation. They're signing petitions, taking photos of themselves with writing on paper explaining their situation and adding it to a project associated with the movement, they're writing blogs, they're re-tweeting, they're gathering intel and news reports.

    They're even sending pizza's to the protesters from all over the country. The pizzaria next to the occupied square ran out of supplies, named a pizza after the protest movement (the OccuPie), and the owner was interviewed by a local paper.

    I definitely appreciate your answer. Mine is to continue supporting and assisting by re-tweeting news, blogs, etc to #owsnews, chatting to the folks at revolutionradio, listening to those on the ground, and passing on what I find out to those who want to know. It's the only way I can be there.

    I gotta get myself some beauty rest, so I'll be sure to check out PartyAtTheWorldsEnd in the afternoon tomorrow. Great discussion. :)



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