Posts Tagged ‘Protest

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.

28
Feb
11

The Common Evil

Last post I mentioned the opening scene in The Boondock Saints, in which it is declared “We must all fear evil men, but there is another kind of evil that we must fear most, and this the indifference of good men…”. It got me thinking.

A couple years ago, I saw a documentary called The Corporation– an excellently done critique of the issues of globalization, neo-liberalism, and Capitalism in general. One particularly interesting segment was devoted to looking at heads of corporations, with commentaries added by Noam Chomsky and ‘Sir’ Mark Moody-Stuart, the former chairman of Royal Dutch Shell (better known simply as “Shell”). Moody-Stuart recounts a demonstration that was held at his house, in which protesters hurled accusations at him and his involvement in the Shell corporation. Moody’s wife (the event was recorded on film) retorts “Who is the corporation?”. Moody-Stuart continues on in his narration to say “But then we sat down and talked to them… in the end what we found in that discussion was that all the things they were worried about I was worried about as well… climate, you know, oppressive regimes, human rights…”. Now Chomsky, on the other hand, had prefaced that segment with some commentary on individuals within corporations. He argues “When you look at a corporation, just like when you look at a slave-owner, uh, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual… slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny are inherently monstrous, but the individuals participating in them might be the nicest guys you can imagine. Benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves… as individuals they might be anything- in their institutional roles they’re monsters because the institutions is monstrous.”

And there’s the issue. GAP clothing is made by sweatshop labor in South-East Asia- who should be put on trial? Who is responsible for the atrocities that are committed? We look at the people doing the actual work- the sweatshop managers and owners and they point up asserting that they were only following orders, and that they don’t have any real power. At the top the CEOs and Executives are pointing down, declaring that they only deal with the big figures- that they’re not aware of anything that goes on at the ground level and can’t be held responsible for the treatment of workers or the environment. It’s the lynch mob scenario- because no one person does the entire murder, figuring out which one person is to blame is tricky.

Personally, I say take ’em all. Just because the guilt is spread around doesn’t mean it’s at all diminished. If Person A brings the rope, and Person B grabs the victim, and Person C points out a convenient tree, it doesn’t mean that each person’s committed a third of a murder- it means that all three are responsible. Same seems to go for a corporation- at any point someone can throw up their hands and say “**** it- I’m not going to do this anymore!”. The sweatshop overseer can walk away, the middleman can walk away, the CEO can walk away. Even if no one person can put a stop the unethical practice, at the very least they can remove themselves from it. We would expect a single German officer in the 1930s to bring down Hitler but a resignation of his post and a denouncement of the Nazis would be in order.

Of course, it’s easy to bash corporations, but guilt reaches far beyond the boundaries of corporate HQ. We, as consumers and workers alike, have to stand back and with scathing objectivity look at ourselves and question our involvement. Am I being party to exploitative or unethical systems? Am I doing all that I can to remove myself? Am I part of the problem?

And it’s not easy- we think of evil as being committed by Bond style villains with maniacal laughter and white cats, or by sadistic concentration camp guards and doctors. The idea of common evil- evil weaved into the very fabric of modern society- is an idea alien to us. However, as theologian and writer C.S. Lewis once asserted “The greatest evil is not done in those sordid dens of evil that Dickens loved to paint but is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”. In short, there is no single person who commits the atrocities that plague us. The evil is within the system- and the system has to go.

26
Feb
11

I Agree With You But…

A few weeks ago, I and some friends were protesting an unfair policy at my college. Exactly what the policy was isn’t important, suffice it gave the student body unequal treatment, depending on which class you belonged you. So as I and my friend stood in hallway, holding homemade signs, the students getting the special treatment began to file past us. Some ignored our calls for them to refuse the preferential treatment they were being offered, a few stopped to talk to us, and some even listened to us and turned around and left. For the most part, however, the students smiled at us and said “I agree with you but-“. Exactly what there justification was isn’t really important either- it tended to be something along the lines of “-but I don’t want to stand in the other line…” or “-but my friends are waiting for me in there…” or “-but they’re going to give your class something nice as well…” and so on. As I said, the justification isn’t really important- it’s the “I agree with you but-” part.

 

Now I wanted to tell them “Hey- you either agree or you don’t- you’ll either take our side or you won’t”. If you agree that killing kittens for sport is unethical (don’t panic- that not what the college was doing) then you won’t kill kittens- if you don’t agree, then you’ll have no issue with it. However, you can’t ever say that “I believe killing kittens for sport is wrong, but [insert excuse here]”. Again, you either agree or you don’t.

 

And the issue I have isn’t with which side people take- it’s with attempt to hold two conflicting positions. In the words of one of my favorite rappers, “Hypocrisy- it bothers me” (Lowkey- I recommend his song “Terrorist”). You see, this “I agree with you but…” scenario is reflective of a much greater problem we have in society. On one hand we say we believe something- most of the time we believe that we believe- but when it comes to acting on our purported beliefs we’re nowhere to be seen. I saw this issue earlier when I was going door to door collecting signatures for a boycott of Coca-Cola. I’d ask if the residents believed that sweatshop labor was wrong- they’d say “Yes.”. I’d ask them if they thought people should boycott sweatshop made products- they’d say “Yes.”. I’d ask them if they would boycott Coke and they’d say “No- we agree with you but-“. Again I want to yell at these people “No, you don’t agree with me! I don’t care if I get your signature or not- just don’t tell me you agree with me but you won’t do anything!”.

 

Maybe it’s a post-modernist thing- values are held for the aesthetic qualities, not for their application. When you get a poster of Picasso’s Guernica, it’s because the picture fits well with the general decor of the room you’re hanging it in- not because you espouse an anti-war view. In the same way, you might have (or rather, claim to have) an anti-war view because it looks good- not because you’d ever act on it.

 

Or maybe I’m over thinking it. Maybe the “I agree with you but…” is just a human problem.

 

Not too long ago, I was listening to a Socialist give a lecture on human nature. She made the claim that in times of disaster, humans didn’t immediately turn on each or hunt each other down. Melodramatic, yes, but her point was that even when you strip away government, the police, the army, and all social constructs for the protection of humans against each other, people didn’t start murdering each other left and right. She argued that this disproves the belief that human nature is inherently evil. Of course, while the points she offered are correct, the conclusions she drew are all wrong. Humans aren’t basically evil because we do terrible things to each other- humans are basically evil because we do nothing. One of my favorite movies, The Boondock Saints, opens with a priest giving a sermon on the murder of a young woman who was killed in public, with no one responding in any ways to her calls for help. The priest declares “We must all fear evil men, but there is another kind of evil that we must fear most, and this the indifference of good men…”.

 

Maybe the problem is here. Maybe we’re just too egocentric to imagine anything as unfair unless we’re being affected. Maybe we’re just naturally apathetic.

 

Of course, that’s no excuse. Just because we have a proclivity towards selfishness, hypocrisy, and laziness doesn’t mean we should get away with it. Is it right to tolerate injustice and oppression? Of course not. Should we resist, engage, dissent, and fight for what is moral and right? Naturally. So we’re going to shake ourselves out of apathy?

 

Well, I agree with you, but…