“You say you got a real solution? Well, you know, we’d all love to see the plan.”
– John Lennon, “Revolution“
“I’d join the movement if there was one I could believe in”
– Bono, “Acrobat“
I was reminded of the above rock star quotes as I read criticisms of the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protest. No, not the predictably smug mainstream dismissal of almost all activism as the domain of bored rich kids.
Rather, I’m thinking about the smug left wing dismissal of any activism that isn’t inspired by theoretical purity, e.g. Lauren Ellis in Mother Jones, who mockingly summed up the effort as “First make noise, then decide what the noise is all about?”
Not only does such an assessment miss the point that yeah, sometimes it does start with noise but Ellis and her ilk are also falling prey to a familiar Leftist trap. Way too many progressives imply that unless activists expound a specific vision for change, their actions are doomed or, at the very least, naïve and counter-productive
This remarkably unsophisticated reaction misses the essential role critical analysis plays in a society where problems—and their causes—are so cleverly disguised. When discussing the future, the first step is often an identification and demystification of the past and present—even if you have to commandeer an entire public park to start that process.
If nothing else, as Vijay Prashad reminds us, “Those who have decided not to leave their tarpaulin homes, and who are being brutally treated by the New York police department, have an instinctively better solution for the country than those who want to throttle demand further by austerity (the GOP) and those who want to call for a stimulus without any challenge to the financial mandarins who would rather send the US economy into a swamp than lose their own power over the world economic system (Obama).”
Besides, what value would any so-called “solutions” hold while we are still in the midst of myriad global crises? I like to imagine that if we began detaching ourselves from a system designed to destroy us (and all life) and began dismantling that system, we’d create a space in which we could recognize paths and options currently not visible to us.
Perhaps most important of all, if so many sage leftists are cringing at the “too vague” manifestoes put forth at OWS, why not go there and join in? Deconstructing the theory of activists in the midst of direct action is easy. Going there and sharing your thoughts is a far more satisfying and collective act.
For example, when I first visited the people’s commune in Zuccotti Park, I found myself asked to do an interview. In the three minutes I was filmed, I was able to discuss an angle I felt was being neglected: ecocide.
The interviewer asked me about all types of justice but did not mention the environment. So I did. Now that video is on an OWS website for any of the occupiers to peruse…or not. By the time this post has gone live, I will also have returned to donate some of my books to the OWS “library.”
As I saw it, there were two feasible options:
- Write a scathing critique of the “innocents” staging this protest
- Go there in person and offer input, face to face
I chose option #2 and in the process was treated to an occupation far more complex and cooperative than I could’ve imagined. With the corporate media either ignoring or marginalizing the effort and some on the Left looking down their jaded noses at the lack of a unified message, I was unsure what to expect.
What I found was essentially a collective of committed activists—of all ages, ethnicities, abilities, and disabilities—occupying a park with a sleeping and dining section along with specific areas for medicine, finances, arts and crafts, the aforementioned library, and much more.
Was everyone equally aware, equally radical, or equally justice minded. Of course not. Since when is that the goal? Since when is that even possible?
For now, instead of asking if every occupier understands gender theory or rejects speciesism, try these questions on for size:
- Is your home under threat of foreclosure?
- Have you been laid off or “downsized”?
- Are you unable to afford education?
- Are you one of the 40-45 million or so Americans without health insurance?
- Are you barely living paycheck to paycheck?
- Are you angry about corporate welfare, corporate personhood, and tax breaks for the rich?
- Are you tired of 54% of your tax dollars going to the US military?
Simply put: Are you ready to say no to global policies that subsidize the wealthy while promoting war, poverty, oppression, and ecocide?
If you answered yes to any of these queries, congratulations: you’re part of the proverbial “99%” and you might want to get involved in this fight, a fight for nothing less than our future and the future of all life.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Participating in sustained direct action is not always a popular choice. It could put us at odds with our friends, family, and community. It could jeopardize our careers. It could even lead to violent conflict with law enforcement officers. Scary stuff, for sure.
But ask yourself this: What frightens you more, getting ticketed for disorderly conduct or comprehending that every 3.6 seconds, a human being starves to death somewhere on the planet?
When future generations ask what you did to defend all life on earth, will you talk of how effortlessly you deconstructed the impure revolutionary theory of those on the front lines or will you simply and honestly reply: “I did my part”?