Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street

31
Dec
11

A Communist’s Defense of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Part III)

I wanted to end my defense of the OWS movement by addressing some final criticisms of the protests.  While both the question of “What do they want?” and “They aren’t doing anything” are criticisms that have begun to fall apart, the latest wave of approach has been not so much of the movement, but of the protestors themselves.

 

Not too long ago, I came across this picture:

 

Despite an overall positive response to the message, one of the highest ranked comments was a person arguing that the Klansmen, unlike the protestors, had permits to march, while the OWS movements across the nation were illegally squatting. Because they are on private property, it is only right that the police should respond in the ways they do.

I wonder if that person would’ve reacted the same way fifty years ago, when these young men and women were illegally occupying private property.

That’s the Greensboro Four, occupying private property in 1960 in protest of racial segregation. Ought the police to have pepper sprayed them for refusing to leave? The problem with attempting to make out the OWS protestors as criminals who are attacking social order is that this same reasoning has to be applied to criticize the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, the abolitionist movement, and so on. Even the men and women of the American revolution would, under this blind obedience to the law, be considered criminals and rioters- even traitors. Trying to pretend that the OWS protestors are nothing but vagrants and lawbreakers simply doesn’t work.

However, even if you can’t call them criminals, you can at least call them crazy.

I’m not going to lie, I’m not always a big fan of the crazy outfits some people will wear to protests to make a point. I don’t think dressing up as the Monopoly guy is really all that effective at communicating the messages you want to make.

You're already protesting en-masse, the satire might be a little overkill...

I’m not saying that I’m right, maybe a couple zombie-protestors is just what you need to drive home a point of mindless consumerism. And I’m not against people wearing what they want to wear- I think the Guy Fawkes masks a la V for Vendetta are actually pretty effective at empowering people and creating a sense of unity. Nevertheless, you still hear people trying to discredit the movement because they don’t like the way the protestors look.

Is this what we’ve really come to? Because the OWS protestors aren’t clean shaven or wearing suits and ties (zombie bankers excluded), they’re just a bunch of moochers? Since when does nonconformity to a social “norm” suddenly create grounds for disproving someone’s views? You could take Jesus, drop him the middle of Times Sqaure, and if he’s dressed in the same clothes he would’ve worn two thousand years ago, then he’d be written off as some hobo or crazy ex-hippie.

Get a job, you bum!

But of course, not all the protestors are dressed like something you’d encounter in a post-apocalyptic carnival. You will find protestors cleanly shaven and dressed in suits and ties (who aren’t zombie bankers). What do we call these people?

Hypocrites- or at the very best, spoiled and privileged college kids. That’s right, dress shabily, and you’re a bum, dress sharply, and you’re a naive idealist completely detached from reality. That’s not to say that such people don’t exist- I have a tough time accepting “revolutionaries” wearing Nike or buying from Starbucks, but to attempt to label the occupy movement as a bunch of hypocrites because they aren’t living in poverty is crazy. No matter what you do, you’re either an outcast of society or from the cream of society- either way, you’re message isn’t worth hearing. Perhaps the best mockery of this line of thought is this picture here:

It’s the same problem with criticizing the OWS encampments as being a health and safety hazard. Are all camps nests for vermin and disease? Not at all- in fact, the protestors have done a rather admirable job in developing means for sanitation and maintaining order. But again, these are camps. If the protesters were in a position to be checking into hotels, they wouldn’t be protesting! Arguing that the poor shouldn’t be allowed to protest poverty because they can’t afford showers, razors, and wardrobes of fresh clothes is absolute madness.

Madness?

 Let’s face it, the people employing these lousy criticisms aren’t people who are going to be happy with anything the OWS movement produces. Give them clean camps filled with well dressed protesters and they’ll tell you the OWS is a collection of entitled brats. Give them Hoovervilles (seriously, how has no one made this comparison yet?) brimming with the desperate and the destitute and they’ll tell you the OWS is a bunch of lunatics and malcontents.

In short, there’s just no pleasing some people- so why worry? Keep doing what you’re doing, and, if it helps, refer to the greatest motivational poster of all time:

28
Dec
11

A Communist’s Defense of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Part II)

In my last post, I tried to address the criticism of the OWS that they had no clear or defined objectives or goals. Moving on from “what they want”, I’ll be trying to address today “what they’re doing”.

A criticism that’s hits the OWS movement both from the right and the political left is that the protestors “aren’t doing anything”. I’ve heard conservatives complain that the protestors are simply condemning without offering solutions. I’ve heard a few liberals argue that the protestors have made their point and need to leave, and that continuing to stay will only lead to conflicts with the police and discredit the movement as whole. Even some Communists have (in the early days of the movement) disparaged the OWS as “lacking revolutionary potential”, or in other words, being unable or unwilling to act on their positions.

It’s a common criticism, but hardly a fair one.

First, these criticisms are based on the idea that the protest themselves have no intrinsic value or effect- of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The protests serve as a demonstration, both to the government, the corporate world, and the population in general that people are fed up enough to take to the streets for months. A common outlet of frustration and rage is provided by the movement, allowing people to realize that (1) they are not alone in their anger, (2) that other options beyond Republican/Democrat do exist, and (3) that the medium of protest is no longer a thing of the past or something only done by radicals and weirdos.

Not exclusively, anyways...

And that’s just the use of the protests in general, but there’s much more that the OWS has done. Take for example the OWS initiative to reclaim foreclosed houses for individuals who have been evicted. Over the past few weeks, the OWS has been systematically helping people “re-occupy” vacant houses in almost every major city in the US, from New York to Los Angeles. Not only are OWS activists helping people move back into vacant housing, but are also combating evictions, and helping repair the houses newly occupied. Further still, campaigns of advocacy are being conducted by OWS activists on behalf of the homeless. It seems only fitting that, with the collapse of the housing market arguably touching off this series of financial meltdowns, the front line of the fight be the reclamation of empty homes.

Similarly, OWS protestors have taken action through blockading ports along the west coast (as far north as Vancouver). Protesting poor treatment of truckers working for the ports, as well as attempting to damage profits made by Goldman Sachs, a principal investor in two major port operation companies.

This sign must drive OCD protesters crazy...

 And let’s not forget that the occupation itself constitutes an interesting experiment in leaderless, communal living, as the protestors attempt alternatives to mainstream consumerism. If nothing else, the OWS movement has proven that you can, with a little work, operate a library…

…Or offer basic medical care…

…Or just develop (or at least, rediscover) means for direct democracy and anarchic decision making.

Is it the revolutionary overthrow of the world as we know it? Probably not, but this does not change the fact that the OWS protestors have been active in taking steps towards a new future.

27
Dec
11

A Communist’s Defense of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Part I)

I’ll admit freely- I didn’t expect the OWS movement to take off when I first heard of it in August. Despite the advances made by Egypt and other Arab countries utilizing the same techniques, I never would have expected Americans to have taken to the streets in a unified expression of frustration and desperation. And yet here we are, nearly half a year later with the OWS movement in every major city in the US and solidarity movements across the globe. It would naturally be remiss of me to not to comment on the OWS and offer, for anyone interested, a Marxist take on the whole venture. Despite this, months after the first protestors gathered in New York, there are people who claim to not know what it is the movement wants, and the most common criticism of the movement is that it has yet to produce a concrete list of demands.

 

Now this is something that has always irked me, but after some contemplation, I think I’ve figured out what it is that people aren’t clear on. Many seem to be under the impression that the OWS is not so much a movement as it is a campaign- that the protestors are (or at least, ought to be) after a few specific objectives,and after these have been achieved, the movement will disband. But that’s not what the OWS is- not at all. The OWS is not just a political movement, it is an entirely new political and social perspective. You could no sooner get a list of objects from liberalism or conservatism than you could from the OWS movement. These are not goals in play here, these are values. In a world where Republican/Democrat or Conservative/Liberal have been dominant for so long, its difficult to grasp the idea that there are indeed other views out there on the way the world can be.

 

So what is the perspective? Again, defining the exact content of the OWS perspective would be as difficult and pointless as trying to catalog every aspect of liberalism or conservatism- you’re going to find varying degrees of liberalism/conservatism and you’re going to find arguments about what tenets you have to hold to be liberal/conservative. The same is true of the OWS movement- you’re going to meet everyone from moderates, liberals, and libertarians angry at the behavior of corporations to the most hardline Marxists and anarchists. On the whole, the whole perspective could be argued to be the rise (or, depending on how you look at it, the resurfacing) of the radical left, targeting both the current economic system and ever increasing government power. Take the following general values as an illustration of the mindset the OWS represents.

 

Economic Equity:

Despite the old Capitalist fairy tale that the wealthy are wealthy because they’ve worked harder, or are smarter, or more competent than their peers, the recent financial crisis (or rather, crises) have disillusioned most people about the truth in all this. Further, as countless Americans who have worked hard their entire lives, never making a risky investment or acting irresponsibly with their money, find themselves nevertheless in dire economic straights, the justification for the rampant inequality in wealth is more widely being seen for the lie that it is. Greater economic equality, both in the workplace and in society in general, is a core tenet of the perspective OWS represents.

Democracy:

Similarly, the long list of interferences by corporations and the wealthy in government and democracy have forced many to question whether economic inequality can coexist with democracy. When unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, as well as lobbyists, and a host of former CEOs and corporate lawyers now in charge of regulatory organizations, the credibility of both the current administration and in the current system of government in general is rapidly deteriorating (and police brutality against the OWS isn’t helping much either). Greater representation through greater democratic control is another principal component of the OWS perspective.

Justice/Responsibility:

Arising out of the combination of a lack of faith in either the current economic or political system, many are questioning the exact “fairness” of it all. Returning again to the issue of the actions of a few affecting the vast majority, there is much discussion on how to create a world where the majority are not punished for the failings of the minority and vice versa. The twin values of justice and responsibility, even if their correct implementation is not fully understood, is at the heart of the OWS mentality.

 

Human Dignity:

With increased rates of homelessness and poverty, the issue of basic human dignity is emphasized in the OWS movement. With corporate personhood juxtaposed to the suffering of many actual people serving as insult to injury, exactly what it means to be a member of society is being rethought. Emphasis on the right of all people to housing and employment, regardless of economic circumstances is arising out of rejection of the Capitalist treatment of humans as products and instruments of labor.

Of course, there are plenty of degrees to which you can take any of these points. For some “moderates” of the OWS movement, these values can be achieved through the implementation of political reform, greater regulatory legislation, and taxation on the wealthy “1 percent”. For others holding more extreme views, the current system can be neither reformed nor regulated, and the only way to improve society is through eliminating all economic disparity. No demands can be put forward for the OWS simply because the OWS is not a uniform group with a single plan. It is a mass movement of individuals united under a single set of principals, all seeking together to implement those principals.

You still need an OWS objective? Here it is:

26
Dec
11

5 Personal Annoyances of Being Communist

I’m still working on a larger post for tomorrow, so for today I thought I’d just post five personal annoyances I’ve run into as a Communist- maybe some of you can relate.

 

I. “You’re a Communist, so you must love Russia!”

Upon hearing that I am a Communist, most people assume that, as such, I have a torrid love affair with all things Russian. Vodka must be my favorite drink, the ushenka must be my favorite hat (the big, furry ones), I must always be rooting for the villains in old James Bond movies.

Ok, technically I am- but only because this guy is really, really obnoxious...

Now if the USSR was still around, this assumption  would be more understandable- but the Soviet Union fell apart decades ago- why would people continue to assume that as a Marxist, I’m a fan of Russia? Even the basic logic of this is flawed. Let’s say that, for just a moment, that Russia was the very epitome of the Marxist ideals (it wasn’t). It still wouldn’t make sense. The equivalent of saying “You’re a Communist, Russia is Communist, therefore, you must like Russia” would be arguing that “You drink water, cats drink water, therefore you must like cats”.

And why Russia? China used to be seen as a Communist nation- why am I never assumed to be a big China fan?

A very big fan...

It’s not that I dislike Russia (barring the national cuisine, which should constitute a cruel and unusual punishment), it’s just that I’m tired of my political views being taken to assume that I am, in the end, just obsessed with all things Russian. It’s a false depiction of Communism as something exclusively Eastern European and I can only imagine the Russians are sick and tired of the comparison as well.

 

II. “If you’re a Communist, how come you aren’t poor?”

Now this is something that really bothers me- maybe you’ve run into it as well. Someway or another, the fact that you’re a Marxist comes up, and someone pipes in that “Hey- if you’re a Communist, then how come you aren’t poor?”.

How come I’m not poor?

Look, I get the idea that there are plenty of people out there who complain about the injustice of wealth despair from the more comfortable of the two sides. A common way people will put down the Occupy Wall Street protestors is by claiming they’re just a bunch of spoiled college kids complaining about wealth on their apple computers. Hey, I am a college student (for a few more months, anyways) in my early twenties railing about the Capitalist system- I fit a lot of the stereotypes as well. What kills me though is the lousy logic behind this- you have to be poor to complain about poverty. Yeah, kinda like how you have to be a slave to rail against slavery, or be starving to condemn the effects of famine.

It’s just plain idiocy.

And it stems from this similarly irrational concept that the radical left is, because we’re opposed to wealth inequality, must be advocating universal poverty.

This isn't exactly our vision for the future...

The idea that you must be poor to try to fight for an equitable society, or that you can only choose between a few being wealthy and everyone being wealthy- well, you can probably guess that being tagged with this false representation is pretty irritating.

 

III. “If you’re a Communist, why don’t you have a job?”

A similar argument that gets presented to me sometimes is the question of jobs. While now working part-time as a janitor, I used to get harassed with the question of “If you’re a Communist, why don’t you have a job?”. Now at first glance, this might seem like a legitimate criticism, after all, if Communism is based on the workers rising up, it might seem strange to speak out on behalf of the workers when you yourself don’t work. But let’s run with that logic for a bit, shall we? Using this logic, people who are out of work don’t qualify as part of the working class. Same goes for the homeless, the mentally challenged, immigrants, etc. Effectively, it’s the reverse of the “You’re too well-off to be a revolutionary”, arguing that the most oppressed and alienated in society are “Too poor to be revolutionaries”.

Needless to say, when faulty reasoning is employed to discredit you as a hypocrite no matter what you do, it can feel pretty aggravating.

 

IV. “You’re a Communist, huh? Then that means you have to give me your ________!”

Now I’ll admit, I’ve only ever encountered this with one person (though he did constantly fall back onto this argument), I can’t say for certain whether or not it’s something other leftists run into, but here it is.

This one person, a follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism (aka, Capitalism on PCP) would argue “Hey, if you’re a Communist, then you have to give me whatever you have!”. As I said, I’ve only ever encountered this reasoning with this particular person, but it does seem to be reflective of a larger view on Communism. Only Communism isn’t about handouts, it’s about sharing. Whenever this person used that argument, I’d respond with “No, I won’t give you my _________, but I’ll share it with you if we both participate in a mutually beneficial venture. Again, its a false portrayal of Communism as being about handouts, when nothing could be further from the truth. Equal work for a common reward using tools and resources we share.

Like I said, I’ve only ever had this line of thought explicitly used by a single person, but the general misrepresentation of Marxism as being about enabling the poor to leech off of the wealthy.

Poor People: Viciously exploiting the wealthy since 8,000 B.C.

 

V. “Democrats are Socialists!”

As much as liberals and Democrats hate being called Communists, it pales in comparison with how much Communists hate being called liberals and Democrats.

I think Phil Ochs perhaps said it best with this song:

In case you’re like me, and have an irrational aversion to clicking on YouTube links on blogs, let me break it down for you. The comparison between the radical left and Democrats/liberals/progressives is so annoying is because, despite the yawning chasm that supposedly separates the mainstream right and left in the US, they really aren’t all that different.

"Evil Republicans endorse Capitalism with some government restristictions, unlike the good Democrats who endorse Capitalism with some government restrictions..." -Everyone on AlterNet

I don’t like having to sift through countless pictures equating Obama’s policies to Marxism when I’m looking for Communist-related photos. I don’t like my values and perspectives being put on par with those of Bill Maher. I cannot state this enough- the policies of the liberals and progressives are in no way, shape, or form similar to those of Communists, and it is a pain in the neck to constantly have to try to extricate my symbols and terminology from the “Obamunist” apocalypse foretold by the right-wing. Again, I’m not bashing Democrats as people- I have Democrat friends. What aggravates me is the equation of my ideology with theirs- the relationship simply does not exist.

This kind of junk has got to stop