A few words on Occupy Wall Street

by jdavidcharles

The Occupy Wall Street movement has, at times, been painted as an incoherent, unstable, and a ‘mob-like’ movement. Social movements are, after all, easy to dismiss when it seems like just a bunch of deluded people running amuck. Others have lamented how unclear the political goals of such a movement are, what sort of clear point this movement is trying to make. Yet others have denounced the lack of revolutionary gusto (violence?) involved in these protests. Some have complained about the inescapability that we ultimately just have a bunch of people being exploited by a few complaining to those few to hurry up and stop it already. Some have even pulled the few knows best, that’s why they’re the few card.

What I find irritating about these critiques is that they are fucking old. Seriously. Really, really old. If you think for one moment that these are not the very same critiques levied against the Civil Rights movement (sit-ins, March on Washington, Chicano movement, etc.), Women’s Suffrage, Gay Liberation (pride marches, Stonewall ‘Riots’) and more, than you have another thing coming. Gay Liberation didn’t exactly have a particular proposition or bill that the whole of the movement was behind—namely because no such bill or action existed. This is what we mean by oppression, by exploitation, by silencing. These various movements weren’t about voicing complaints within the systems in place, but rather about establishing that the voice they had wasn’t represented at all, that they were being systematically silenced. Peaceful protesting is precisely that—PEACEFUL PROTESTING–NOT a revolution—and for all those in the blogosphere thinking that’s the only way to get things done, wake up and smell the history of countless peaceful social movements.

Granted, Occupy is not exactly a Civil Rights movement like the aforementioned. Totally, I admit this. But I think the same general urge to have a voice, to give voice to things unsaid, the desire to create a condition that things can be said in, is the same. This is what protest is—not the actual political activation itself. Systems are not yet in place for this to happen. Just as deciding, “no, it’s okay to have a space where people can be open about their orientation” doesn’t exactly enact any policy or legal advances in and of itself, it creates the condition for this political discussion to happen (see Stonewall ‘Riots’). Occupy Wallstreet is currently ‘successful’ precisely in that all these silly people critiquing it are critiquing it.

Does this ‘success’ mean everything is fine and dandy though? Of course not. The task before us, to right inequality, seems impossible. But you know what, The March on Washington and other such protests seemed impossible too—when able white men have all the power, why in the world would they decide to give it up? Because those being abused by that power want them to? Pshhh. But you know what amazing, miraculous thing happened? People talked. They critiqued. They discussed. And sooner or later the old generation of asshole bigots died and younger (hopefully) less bigoted people and activists and peaceful protesters took their place. But this only only only ever happens if these concerns get voiced. No exec or owner or principal of some business is going to even consider being ‘fair’ to his or her workers and consumers and such until people are fucking pissed about inequality.

How does a group of people who are oppressed by other people complain to those people and in so doing gain liberation? What steps have to be taken? What policies should be proposed? What programs should be axed? I haven’t the foggiest. But you know what, it happens. It’s amazing. Perhaps I am shot through with peaceful ideological fluffiness but I have this crazy belief that if enough people voice their concerns long enough and loud enough, things can change. People can change. And this doesn’t mean we aren’t left with shit to clean up—racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and so many other –phobias and –isms are alive and well today it makes me sick. We are still slogging through this shit day by day. Occupy is doing a similar thing with the great inequality throughout the U.S. of America–it’s trying to get things underway and get people talking. Trying to hold those in power responsible (geewhiz almost like it’s a democracy or something!). So, it’s time to be aware that inequality in the States is terrible right now. It’s time to realize how it affects people. Time to finally start changing things.

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