Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 70 - Finding Purpose

“In spite of my rage, I am still just a rat in the cage.” - Billy Corgan

Been going back-and-forth with some friends this afternoon online about “the purpose” or “end result” of the OWS movement; obviously, the discussion could go on and on ad nauseam without ever achieving any real resolutions. Then again, the “movement” itself could also continue along the same frustrating trajectory of never achieving any real change. (Discouragingly, the OWS movement -despite claiming to be nothing like it- seems destined to repeat the same failures of the Obama presidential campaign - lots of initial motivation, but a failure to execute any real follow through.)

I have a large file folder sitting on my desk full of various articles and clippings from the past two-and-a-half months of OWS press coverage. Some of these articles are critical of the occupiers, most are inspiring. I suppose, this is what it was (...is still?) all about - remaining inspired, maintaining the discussion, and recognizing that the struggle will be a long one. Democracy is messy. Still, these articles -only two months later- seem disappointingly nostalgic. Today the major media outlets have grown tired of covering the protests and occupations; admittedly, shots of police pepper spraying college students does not make for good Thanksgiving dinner conversation. Accordingly, much of the population has ‘moved-on’ to more trivial and banal concerns. So, lets face it - we’re an impatient people with a short attention span. Moreover, we’ve not faced the severity of violence and pain as those in Egypt, which is why OWS can stand in symbolic solidarity with those in Tahir Square, but they will never really know the same form of brutality and injustice.

Perhaps true revolution in the West can never be achieved?

Sure, I still believe those who first camped out in Zuccotti Park and continue to hold the flame are, as Chris Hedges stated, “the best among us”; however, it seems like the worst inside the rest of us eventually just blew the flame out by selling out any real values to the usual comforts and conveniences of capitalism. Who among us will ever truly be prepared for the long fight? When will enough become enough? I suppose it is not until we have lost everything that we will be ready to honestly take injustice on.

A week-and-half ago, after the NYPD forcefully evicted the occupiers from Zuccotti Park, the social political movements supporting the OWS movement called for a mass day of action and march in solidarity with the “99%”. Thousands thronged into the streets of New York, blocking traffic and chanting the usual slogans associated with civic unrest - “Whose streets? Our streets!” etc. etc. I could have stayed at work, safely behind my desk answering e-mails and fielding the usual concerns of the office. But instead, I walked out. Admittedly, my “walkout” was the farthest thing from any revolutionary act; in fact, I almost felt like it was to be expected.

Rightfully, this has become one of the major criticisms of the OWS movement - “Where are the poor? Where are the ethnic minorities?” Where are the immigrants? Those who are marching and protesting are standing against the injustices we all experience; however, unless everyone is able to stand together as one, then the movement seems destined to fail. For instance, as I walked-out of work a week-and-a-half ago, I didn’t notice any black and brown workers from the facilities or security staff walking out with us. Would they have been able to as easily walkout of work as myself and the student workers from our office had? Or, what about my wife who works in a retail shop in midtown? Would she still have her job if she had told her boss she was walking out in solidarity with the OWS movement and that she would be back tomorrow morning? No.

Perhaps real revolution will not happen in the United States; however, what is happening is that people are having real conversations about what truly matters most: economic injustice, racism, the influence of corporations on elections, etc. Ultimately, what the OWS movement has inspired is an acknowledgment of our problems and continues to encourage discussions regarding how we may be able to create and maintain a mutually responsible social contract for all, instead of one that only benefits a small percentage of wealthy elites. As we enter a new year (and one with another election sideshow), these discussions should not go away. Although the movement is going to be feeling beaten-up and ignored, it can learn from its mistakes. Thus, I predict a resurgent OWS movement come spring and into next fall. Hopefully, by then, more people will realize the severity of the problems we all face and that more will be able to find their voice and speak-up in solidarity.

If the OWS movement does not make it through the winter, it can at least be thankful for succeeding at one thing - waking people up! Instead of medicating the monotony and boredom away with another round of beers with gossipy friends, we're now having discussions about ways to reevaluate our social contract. Instead of accepting the banality of the chattering television, we shall shut the TV off and assemble to get into all the messy aspects of a true democracy again, and again. and again.

As Slavoj Zizek warned from Zuccotti Park back in October, “There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember, carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.” Remember that our basic message is “We are allowed to think about alternatives.” If the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world. But there is a long road ahead. There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?”

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