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 ( 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?”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 59 - Reason #99 I regret voting for that rat bastard Bloomberg

Yesterday night, Mayor Bloomberg ordered the NYPD to clear Zuccotti Park of OWS protesters. The original call “to occupy”, made almost two months ago, has successfully spread to cities, towns, and universities. OWS is against the unjust distribution of wealth and privilege obtained through racism, war, and unfettered capitalism. These injustices have aggressively dominated and greedily defined the constitution of our social contract for far too long. The banks and various agencies of power that perpetuate the “magical mathematical manipulation machine” are going to do everything in their power to silence this movement.

The eviction of Zuccotti Park has been just one of many “clean ups” happening across the country to disperse and weaken the OWS "99%" movement. Perhaps to prevent some of the inevitable media blow-back, the media was not allowed to film the NYPD’s eviction process (even the news helicopters were blocked from hovering over the shameful scene unfolding below.) Nevertheless, some news did make it through and footage from protesters’ phones show people forcefully hauled away by the jackboots and helmets in charge. My initial reaction to the scene unfolding yesterday morning on the news was anger. How dare these bastards destroy this inspirational moment! Why do the evil haters and greed heads always win?

But the more I thought about these silly tactics, I realized - we are winning.

As yesterday dragged on, the news continued to change and I began to realize more and more, evil has not won. Emergency legal proceedings unfolded throughout the day between the Brookfield Property owners of Zuccotti Park, City Hall, and lawyers or elected officials who truly support our First Amendment and that ideal of "democracy" itself. As of this morning, the protesters have been allowed back into the park; however, the rules of the game have changed: no tents, no tarps, no camping. This has not deterred the protest - OWS is back in Zuccotti Park. The reality of these new obstacles is that the message must spread to “occupy” places outside the initial camps.

Today, I will attend my first New School General Assembly. For the past few weeks, students from The New School have been assembling in the courtyard outside our office window. I plan to attend this General Assembly in solidarity with those continuing to occupy Zuccotti Park. I also plan to attend in hopes others will be doing the same in their own parts of the world. The conversation must continue.

The brutality of last night cannot deter this movement, it will only make it grow stronger. In fact, there will likely be more pathetic attempts at defeating this movement through brutality. The illusion of power that holds its sway over us all, will not go down without a fight.

On Thursday, I plan to walk out of work alongside other students, faculty, and staff of conscience who recognize “the gig is up.” We will march in a general strike. The time to acknowledge the challenges that we all face can no longer be ignored. It is time to take our ideals and values into the streets. “This is what democracy looks like!”

“I put the bastards of the world on notice that I do not have their best interests at heart.”
- Paul Kemp

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Occupy Wall Street - Day 49

Dear Angela (a.k.a. Sallie Mae Collection Agent),

Is there any way to reduce my monthly Sallie Mae payment to $100? I know it's a meager and laughable amount of dough to your company, but it's something - right? Currently, sending Sallie Mae monthly payments of $430.00 is beyond my income means and, in all honesty, will likely be this way for an extended period of time.

When will I be able to finally pay you that $50-60k (give or take with interest) off? Well, unless I get the time to finally write that big blockbuster script or win huge in Vegas, it's going to be a long time coming. Sorry, I suppose we're all going to have to hang on when that next economic bubble bursts! Anyway, instead of kicking the can down the proverbial road and letting the debt (and interest) mount-up more and more to an astronomical amount that I will never be able to pay off - why not just reduce my payment to a fair and just $100 a month?

If I can pay you more, great! But for now, lets be reasonable.

Currently, I work full-time at a university in New York, I also work part-time as an ESL instructor in the mornings, and split the cost of my rent with my loving hardworking wife. Of course, life is invariably full of needs and wants. I "want" to pay my Sallie Mae loan, but I need to eat. I also "need" to pay The US Treasury, ConEd, Bank of America, Verizon, TimeWarner, and the MTA.

Anyway, I'm sure you get notes like this all the time. So throw this one on top of that pile - just another deadbeat student trying to dodge his debt with the loan company sharks. But I can assure you, I am not that person. If you think I'm being insincere, then why not take my offer seriously? In fact, if you can reduce my monthly payment to $100, then I will gladly pick up that next daily call I get on my iPhone from that mysterious (866) number.

You know you might want to consider this a good method for collecting any of that other mounting $$$ from all those other students and graduates out there. Why not agree to also let them pay more reasonable monthly loan payments? In fact, why not ask the universities to also reduce their skyrocketing tuition costs so that students don't need to pay so much in the first place? Hmmm... I think we might be on to something here!

Well, you know what I mean, right? ...Or, perhaps you do not...

We are the 99%,