Tuesday, November 15, 2011

So Long Zuccotti

Tough to support this claim, guys.
Last night's collective shower was inevitable. Occupation in the absence of meaningful negotiations with (or even a few demands of) those who hold political power is as empty as violence in the absence of meaningful negotiations. In this, as a chapter of OWS comes to a close, it seems an obvious opportunity to talk about why it has failed so far:

Occupation is a Political Tactic, not a Strategy:
As pictures of sanitation workers cleaning up the newly-cleared Zuccotti park have been hitting the Interwesbs all day, I'm struck by the orderliness and swiftness with which evidence of the presence of OWS protesters has been eradicated. This of course reveals something essential to the "movement" itself: its presence is physical, embodied, and built on only one half of the required tactics to achieve political ends. Occupation has always been a stalling tactic--something that brings negotiators to the table; an opening up of space somewhere else for dialogue. Not so for OWS.

Violence against protesters by the police in the streets is a horrible thing. But in a case where negotiators are working with those in power, it can at least be a bargaining chip. Violence against protesters who have no one speaking for them is a total waste.

The Call to Arms by the Newer-New-Left has been Unhelpful (their reading of the financial collapse is incomplete, and their call for abstract change is counterproductive)

Sweaty, bedraggled, and seemingly trying to hold back a smile during a fiery speech in the early weeks of OWS, Slavoj Zizek lay down the hammer:
Here there is already socialism for the rich. They say we don't respect private property. But in the 2008 financial crash down, more hard-earned private property was destroyed than if all of us here were to be destroying it night and day for weeks. They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think that things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are the awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself.
The first part of this paragraph, which emphasizes the weird cult-like aural landscape induced by the "human-megaphone"--seems right enough, except for the fact that it wasn't as much private property that was destroyed as financial capital. The difference is not unimportant. The intangibility of the crisis itself has resulted in an incoherent (or, at best inchoate) set of demands from protesters.

This might be why the materialist critical response to the financial collapse has been so unsatisfying: it's difficult for thinkers in the Marxist tradition to talk about things like credit. This is especially so when it seems that people are less interested in overthrowing the system of private property and more interested in getting jobs. For the most part, even the most unreasonable sounding protesters at OWS wanted jobs and health insurance--not the overthrow of capitalism.

  • It's not the eradication of banking: it's the privileging of a certain kind of bank (credit unions)
  • It's not the eradication of corporations: it's the eradication of an ineffective corporate tax structure masked as rhetoric that wants the end of corporations
  • It's not the elimination of globalization: it's the perceived democratization of the means of global interchange (side note here, this is why Twitter and Facebook were so much more effectively used in Arab Spring revolts, where these methods of communication were perceived as unsuppressable...they were used in defiance of political powers. Here, it was frequently observed that corporations would never shut down wireless systems to prevent people from Tweeting pics of their drum circles from Zuccotti).
 The failure to articulate a concrete set of demands is, in other words, not just the fault of the protesters. It's the fault of the intellectuals and politicians who exacerbated the problem by fanning the flames of--not really extremist: if you notice, there's nothing that extreme or really new about what Zizek says--totally impractical rhetoric.

If You're Planning on Repopulating Zuccotti, Bring a Warm Blanket--and Also, Read About the Tea Party

There are 62 members of the Tea Party Caucus right now in Congress. There will be ZERO Occupy Wall Street representatives in Congress as of next fall if nothing changes. Elizabeth Warren can't be the only reasoned voice in the room. Period.