Sunday, October 23, 2011
"Mink Coats Don't Trickle Down"
So how to begin to describe this latest protest movement, Occupy Wall Street, anyway--is it fish, flesh, fowl, or (as my mother used to say) good red herring?
Reactions vary extremely across the board, all the way from it's "the beginnings of a possible second American Revolution" to the crude referencing of "growing mobs that are pitting Americans against Americans" by Eric Cantor. So is this really "class warfare," as the Republicans would have it, or rather "a holy space between the towers of money?" as Naomi Klein describes it? Is what we are witnessing in Zuccotti Park just a few "soggy sleep-ins and warmed-over anarchism" or is it "a wide-open place for people to find each other" during "an inevitable moment for America"?
The answer is that nobody really knows. That is why both Zuccotti Park's cheering supporters and its mocking detractors are all holding their breath in anticipation of how this will turn out. What is yet to be determined is whether we are, finally, in the past 5-6 weeks of an unforeseen occupation, witnessing a brave new world rising up out of the ashes of right-wing nihilism and corporate greed, or the beginnings of a nightmare scenario that will end in chaos and destruction--an updated version of the French Revolution where the streets were running with blood.
So where am I, in trying to assess all of this? Caught, I expect, in the crossfire of my own acute emotions, somewhere between elation and fear. There seem to be as many ways of responding to what is happening as there are protesters out there protesting. No one knows for sure whether the movement can continue (the protesters claim to be unstoppable and insist that they can and will continue indefinitely). So far, what they have accomplished is to annex a park near the New York stock Exchange, hold marches and meetings, fend off eviction, spur similar protests around the nation and even the globe, and set up a leaderless mini-society that functions, so far, in a remarkably orderly way, with working groups that run everything from meals and media technology to sanitation. They have even organized a library, as well as "family sleep-overs" so that sympathizers, who feel that their children's futures have been compromised, can bring them along and spend the night.
No one really knows, however, whether Occupy Wall Street will change anything or has a chance of succeeding, given the entrenched forces arrayed against it. One thing we do know is that when leaders pursue their own agendas and stop thinking about the interests of their people, they lose the support of their people. The movement, with its motto of “we are the 99 percent,” has been criticized by many for its lack of coherent demands, but one of the organizers, Yotam Marom, claims that's silly. "We're occupying Wall Street. It should be pretty well clear what we want changed." OWS is fighting both to strengthen democracy, and to end the domination of the big money interests which are seeking to destroy it.
"I think it is a good thing that the occupation movement is not making specific demands," says George Lakoff, the world's expert on how best to frame your agenda to get the results you want. "If it did, the movement would become about those demands. If the demands were not met, the movement would be seen as having failed." In his essay "A Framing Memo to Occupy Wall Street" published in the Huffington Post, Lakoff proposes that the OWS movement is moral in nature, and that what the occupiers really want is for the country to change its moral focus.
"It is easy to find useful policies; hundreds have been suggested," he writes. "It is harder to find a moral focus and stick to it. If the movement is to frame itself, it should be on the basis of its moral focus, not a particular agenda or list of policy demands." If the moral focus of America changes, new people will be elected, and the policies will follow. "Without a change of moral focus," Lakoff says, "the conservative world-view that has brought us to the present disastrous and dangerous moment will continue to prevail."
For the moment, I'm totally happy with his idea of trying to change the moral focus of our country. Let's see what happens when crosses are painted over with polka dots. If it works--if somehow, against all the odds, OWS manages to steal the right-wing Putsch--then maybe, in some better future, crosses will stand, not for the crucified Jesus, but for some new, emergent X chromosome in our species that will no longer be hellbent on its own destruction.