Many years ago, a friend of my brother’s sat in a tiny Washington DC living room and said “I’m perfectly capable of contradicting myself. I have a bicameral mind” — the reference, of course, being to our bicameral (two chambers) national legislature. The name of the friend is now lost in the sands of time, but the exquisite level of geeky self-mockery has stuck with me through the years. Because my mind is at least bicameral. It might be pentacameral, or octacameral.
It certainly is (decacameral?) with regards to the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon, which is why I haven’t written about it up to now. I am of far too many minds about the whole thing to come up with anything really coherent.
On the one hand, I certainly agree with the fury that has brought people out onto the streets across the nation — I, too, am furious (click here for just a few reasons why). I am a firm and involved supporter of grassroots activism, and of nonviolent civil disobedience. I believe that the issues involved go to the very heart of the American Idea and, indeed, simple human ethics. I am a person who is greatly moved by courage and passion, and the willingness to stand still in the face of injustice and simply say “Enough.”
At the same time, after years of grassroots activism, I am weary and beyond weary of the watering down of crucial messages by sideshow antics — and yes, I am being judgmental. Perceptions really do matter and if you look like or behave like a bunch of unwashed hippies with nothing better to do, you will not move the masses in the numbers that you need to. Plain and simple. Men need to put on a tie or at least a shirt with a collar, women need to dress in a way that wouldn’t make their grandmas blush, and everyone needs to pull their hair back. If you want people to respect you, you have to look respectable, even though that totally sucks and isn’t fair. (And for the love of God, get more people of color at the front of the crowd!)
I’m further — and more deeply — weary of fucking nonsense. Such as (but one example): There has been some resistance to using the Occupy protests as a gathering point to register new voters, because a lot of people across the Occupy spectrum are ideological non-voters.
Okee-dokee then. A) Thanks for eight years of Bush-Cheney and the current bicameral clusterfuck, and B) It is your constitutional right to make that choice, and I will fight to the death for your right to do so. But there are forces working very hard to deprive you of that right. There is absolutely zero risk that you will be forced to vote or even to register — please, for the love of God, get out of the way of the people who want to try to make our democracy work.
Moreover, some of the nonsense is plainly self-defeating: Occupy Atlanta not giving the mic to civil rights giant John Lewis — a man who survived the Freedom Rides even as friends and fellow travelers were murdered — because his schedule clashed with that of the consensus process, for one.
For two: Acting like if you camp out in a public park, contrary to city ordinances, you will not eventually be told to leave — and, more to the point, not training your people to be prepared for just that eventuality and the inevitable arrests.
Do you think that Rosa Parks was literally, as the Neville Brothers sang, “tired one day/ after a hard day on her job/ When all she wanted was a well deserved rest/ Not a scene from an angry mob”? Dude — Rosa Parks trained for a scene from an angry mob! Like everyone deeply involved in the civil rights movement, Parks had in fact trained to be arrested, and she was chosen to perform that heroic task — in no small part because perceptions matter, and she was deemed a highly sympathetic figure.
And then there’s a personal issue.
Bluntly put: If a group of New York-living Israelis were to show up to join the spirit of Israel’s J14 social protests to that of Occupy Wall Street, they would be met with vociferous, and likely ugly, rejection. Them’s just facts. There have been several remarkable and worthy Jewish-specific contributions to the protests, but should someone decide to self-identify as a Zionist? God help that someone. And that makes me sad and angry, and will likely keep me away, bottom line. I am a pro-Palestinian Zionist with a desire to cross the miles and cultural differences between my two countries’ social movements — but just like I know that my Palestinian flag would get me hounded out of an AIPAC meeting, my Israeli flag would get me hounded out of Occupy Wall Street.
And so: I will watch from the side, and support specific efforts, possibly with direct action. I’m thinking of getting involved with voter registration anyway, whether at a protest or not, as that strikes me as going to the very heart of the Occupy matter: Elections have consequences. I would like to see the next few elections swing a more socially just direction.
But having said all that, there is still much that inspires and moves me coming out of the Occupy movement, such as the shouts of “We Are! The 99%!”, and not least this new Tumblr: “We are the 1%. We Stand with the 99%.”
The above image comes from that Tumblr account, and I highly recommend that you click here to check out the other entries — it’s an exercise in remembering that humanity’s better angels reside at all socio-economic levels, despite what the folks in the following video might lead you to believe.