The Walking Alive (Occupy This Blog)

Any initial confrontation with the totality of political life, addressing the fundamental assumptions of culture and society, will tend toward the diffuse and inchoate, and will always seem on the verge of dissolving into its constituent pieces.

Still, though demonstrations come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, and may represent ideas and intentions that the demonstrators themselves as well as contemporary observers are incapable of fully articulating, they all represent warnings.  They all implicitly threaten more and, potentially, much worse.  They are embryonic insurrections, musterings of forces on a political stage that may next time provide the setting for a riot, a battle, or, on occasion, a victory celebration.

In short, political demonstrations always “demonstrate” among other things that continued failures from within the political system must lead to civil disruption and other unpredictable events. If the United States and the world system it formed and that it still, however shakily, leads and organizes, are in the same place or worse politically and economically a year or two from now, the protests will likely be bigger, and eventually there will be other and escalating signs of frustration and anger from the badlands – a lot of it ugly and even incoherent: “The hungry chew their words.”

A movement of the sort perhaps represented, perhaps merely imagined by Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Everything will also inevitably attract some unseemly characters.  OWS is, after all, centered in a major urban area, surrounded by opportunists and cranks, all with access to magic markers and poster-board, some of them employed in counter-cultural media. Yet what ought to be even more clear to anyone in the political center to the far left is that all of the right people despise the phenomenon – Republican demagogues running for President or pretending to be congressional leaders; Tea Party hypocrites forgetting their origins right on schedule; and opinion journalists and bloggers figuratively wrinkling their noises and gesticulating angrily, as though hoping to attract the attention and approval of their betters. Our Don Miguel, el Zombie del Derecho, a dependable exponent of the far right line, has been fuming over… all the same stuff he’s always fuming about:  Green jobs boondoggles, George Soros, bank bailouts (as a liberal-fiscal error, not a sign of skewed values and unfinished business), the fall of Batista… Like many of his ideological allies, the Don has also pointed to stray embers of anti-semitism that were, predictably, fanned into imaginary Third Reich bonfires by the Podhoretzian Commentariat and their alumna at the WaPo (she’s now been dubbed the “the conservative pundit equivalent of Peter Travers” in a deft response column from Jonathan Chait).

Greg Sargent argues that OWS has been intentionally misunderstood by such right-wing assailants. In the process of explicating their counter-countercultural Nixonian strategy, Sargent also happens to cover initial data on what the protestors seem to believe, but I’m not sure how conscious this strategy is or needs to be, and in any event it’s not just pollster-pundit Doug Schoen and everyone to his right crying “Eek!” at the leftwing mice.  PM Carpenter, for example, who usually writes from a social democratic perspective on current events, has been coming across like an editor at the New Republic other than John Judis or Jonathan Cohn, faulting the demonstrators for demonstrating nothing at all.  Yet the presence of assorted malign weirdos and twinkling airheads and the lack of a clear program are actually the least interesting or unexpected features of the protests.  Like the reaction against them, they are entirely predictable. The only question is what took them so long, and the answer there is easy, too.

The 2008 financial crisis, whose shadow is readily visible both in the Zuccotti Park party and the earlier Tea Party, happened to coincide with an election year and the complete exhaustion of Bush Republicanism – thus the ticket of has-been McCain and never-to-be Palin.  The Dems therefore came into power, or the semblance of power afforded by the American consensualist system, with boosted majorities and a popular, symbolically appealing leader. Any left-populist reaction to the financial collapse was diluted and diverted for a time – channeled into the political system.  The corresponding energies on the right were, however, released, to the point that by now they virtually define the right.

If O & Co. had been half the revolutionary socialist ultra-progressive anti-constitutional traitors the talkradio and chain e-mail wingnuts took them to be, and that the Republican presidential candidates are required to pretend they are, they could have taken a much more confrontationalist, Samson-in-the-temple approach that the far left always seems to think is not just a great idea, but the only idea. Instead, whether by choice or a lack of resistance against co-optation, Obama followed a centrist path. Going on three years later, with the political system visibly paralyzed, and the President himself at a political nadir (only having begun, perhaps too late, to risk a different strategy), that squelched reaction is finally bursting forth.

In the usual way, the panicky Republican pols blaming Obama for inciting the protests are just about exactly half-right.  What they are of course congenitally unable to recognize, at least publicly, is their own role in shaping and provoking a response that is in effect being shared by Obama and by the protesters.  You might say it was historically pre-coordinated, with Tea Party conservatism co-producing the show.  Given the widely felt, arguably comprehensive, possibly worsening, and indeed longstanding failure of the political and especially the economic system, it’s been the absence of any left-populist upsurge up until now that was difficult to explain, and that might have made us wonder if something fundamental really had changed – if the historical left-right dynamic of Western Civ was so deeply in abeyance that it might be beyond revival in our lifetimes or at least for a few more economic and electoral cycles.

It’s easier now, at possibly the beginning of the first major upsurge of popular leftwing economic protest in the U.S. since the fall of the Soviet Union, to conclude that it’s naturally taken a little while for such a movement to gather itself together and take its first incoherent, fractious steps.  (If it’s in some major sense “anti-capitalist,” well, again, what did you expect?  Maybe it will at least be an anti-capitalism, a socialism, finally back from the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist long march to Hell.)  If Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Everything does not and cannot yet represent a plan, a path, or a way, it at least presents the idea – chorally, in the manner of an incantation – that the time for remaining absent from our own cities, our politics, our lives (zombie time, death-in-life) has come to an end.  Could be I’m an incurable romantic when it comes to protest movements.  Could be I was born on “the fringe” – though polling suggests, in the words of Will Oremus, that OWS’s fringe is “pretty big.”  Whatever the unique or intrinsic potential, good or bad, of this movement being born, it qualifies as a sign of vitality in our political culture, and I can’t help but welcome it.

19 comments on “The Walking Alive (Occupy This Blog)

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  1. Since the demands are basically unanswerable, I see it degenerating into the violence of Athens, and London and most recently Rome, why do you think Ahmadinejad and Chavez are cheering them, from afar. I’m surprised AQ hasn’t got into
    the act. Comparisons to Coxey’s March or even the Bonus Marchers, really don’t apply.

    • CK did title it and he title it well. Of course. And to be clear, my “right on” was in response to CK’s post, not Don Miguel’s comment. Of course. In respect to Miggs’ comments, the truth is that he sees everything “degenerating into violence,” which is why he advocates it. The “demands” are answerable. See “where the money is…”

  2. I would be surprising if an attempt to enforce some necessarily super-sized version of Greek or British austerity on Americans didn’t result in resistance. If it followed the advertised Republican lines, then the odds of major social disruption would be increased, and, human beings being what they are, the violence of such systematic larceny would be repaid in kind, sooner or later. But I’m repeating myself.

    What difference should it make if A-jad and Chavez cheer? Does it make any difference to you, Don Miguel, when unsavory characters cheer on your causes?

  3. I don’t wish it, but I see what the likes of Fox Piven, cheered earlier this spring in Athens, and what happened in Great Britain, before the austerity measures took effect, but subsequently after two years of downturn, I don’t really have to remind you in L.A, the costs of such unrest, do I?

    • What cost Britons more – the austerity or the popular protests? I think the answer is clearly the former, by several orders of magnitude. Since, unlike Piven, you don’t care about the welfare of the poor, but more like Herman Cain and the Republican base, think people should just blame themselves if they come out on the bottom, I’m not surprised you think that people should just roll over and pipe down when the social contract is torn up and the pieces thrown in their collective faces, in order to preserve a system rigged against them.

      A lot of Euros are well aware of how Iceland has fared since it invoked the fuck-it clause, as compared to the Baltic nations which have been in large swathes literally de-populated as ultra-austerity refugees have fled elsewhere. If the survivors start entertaining all those thoughts you hoped were gone forever, you’ll probably blame them for that, too. Whatever goes wrong, in your world it’s never the fault of the wealthy and powerful, right?

  4. I’m surprised you took driftglass to task, as the same recognition of the aimlessness of the protests was seen from different degrees.

  5. Occupy This Blog was a great title btw. Could have given it to my piece if you weren’t such a anismismistic meanie.

  6. interesting. someone who missing being enveloped in an anise-flavored miasma?

    I’m glad that you didn’t raise the usual complaint about the Tsar being up to his neck in admiration for the pentacosiomedimni

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