The Thing Speaks for Whatever

I don’t often protest, but when I do, I Occupy Vancouver on #15Oct.

In Because fuck you exploiters. Fuck you., Because I Think I Deserve It, Bezuidenthustra, Don't Tase Me Bro!, I read this entire post and all I got was this lousy T-shirt, Uncategorized on October 15, 2011 at 9:08 am

October 15, 2011.

Today’s a big day.

Today I am rolling up my sleeves, cracking my knuckles, and drawing a line in the sand.

Today I am Occupying Vancouver.

Wherever you may be in the world today, you should join, too. This is the protest of our generation.

I should note I typically don’t like protests as a vehicle for change. This is not to say that I fundamentally disagree with the tactic — protests have their time and place, sometimes necessary to build revolutionary fever among the dispossessed or disenfranchised and occasionally effective as the final step in a wave of mass discontent. This recently proved the case across various parts of northern Africa and the Middle East in what has become known as the Arab Spring.

Here in North America, however, protests so often carry with them this aura of sanctimonious university students trying to make themselves seem enlightened and/or venting their vicarious rage into thin air. Of course, some protests are more equal than others, but even then there are tons more reasons why I typically shun protests out here in “the West”. Better reasons. Strong reasons. Debatable reasons. Reasons I won’t bother listing here. You and I can put up our dukes on those some other time.

A great start.

So, yeah… Bezuidenthustra and protests don’t normally make good bedfellows. But the Occupy movement? This is different. I was taken with it from the start. At first I couldn’t put my finger on why, but over the past few weeks I’ve had time to fully digest this instinct to throw my weight behind the cause, even to the point where I considered just abandoning Vancouver and setting up shop on Wall Street.

This protest works for me because this protest works for all of us.

This protest works for me because, at its essence, it’s a movement of the masses at a time where there is no longer anywhere else to go. It is notice to the world that we can only go this far and no further.

It works for me because it is NOT partisan. It works because it is NOT overly academic — complicated or abstracted to the point where it fails to appeal to the common person. It works because it is NOT dependent on privilege for adherence or participation or impact. It works because it is NOT the movement of any one person or thing.

I find it funny that a large part of the criticism of Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) has been that there isn’t a unified message. How can a movement demand change, critics charge, if it doesn’t have a specific message in mind? That’s just it, though. This movement works precisely because it does NOT depend on a single message. It can’t be trapped in logic or reason. It can’t be shanghaied or piggybacked. It is a tidal wave, not a laser beam.

This protest rides on an ocean of human misery. It works because it is an expression of a Zeitgeist, a way for each and every one of us, the collective “we” around the world, to sit down, cross our arms for whatever myriad reasons we may have, and say, “Things are going to hell and now we’ve had enough.”

Just one message of many.

That’s not to say the Occupy movement is without message. Although there is probably no specific focus, the multiple grievances are fueled by some consistent basic principles, many of them beautifully laid out by Slavoj Zizek in a speech to the protesters on Wall Street. Such grievances and messages have been (and are being) documented across multiple media sources on a continuous basis, so I’m not going to bother rehashing them here. The facts are quite clear, though: in so many ways, we are getting fucked.

In the meantime, many cautious well-wishers are suggesting some sort of distilled rhetoric, and while I don’t generally approve of this approach (as you can probably tell), I do like the following shortlist of demands recently suggested by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, even if most of it is aimed only at the United States:

1.  Break up the monopolies. The so-called “Too Big to Fail” financial companies – now sometimes called by the more accurate term “Systemically Dangerous Institutions” – are a direct threat to national security. They are above the law and above market consequence, making them more dangerous and unaccountable than a thousand mafias combined. There are about 20 such firms in America, and they need to be dismantled; a good start would be to repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and mandate the separation of insurance companies, investment banks and commercial banks.

2.  Pay for your own bailouts. A tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all trades of derivatives would generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts, and still have plenty left over to fight the deficits the banks claim to be so worried about. It would also deter the endless chase for instant profits through computerized insider-trading schemes like High Frequency Trading, and force Wall Street to go back to the job it’s supposed to be doing, i.e., making sober investments in job-creating businesses and watching them grow.

3.  No public money for private lobbying. A company that receives a public bailout should not be allowed to use the taxpayer’s own money to lobby against him. You can either suck on the public teat or influence the next presidential race, but you can’t do both. Butt out for once and let the people choose the next president and Congress.

4.  Tax hedge-fund gamblers. For starters, we need an immediate repeal of the preposterous and indefensible carried-interest tax break, which allows hedge-fund titans like Stevie Cohen and John Paulson to pay taxes of only 15 percent on their billions in gambling income, while ordinary Americans pay twice that for teaching kids and putting out fires. I defy any politician to stand up and defend that loophole during an election year.

5.  Change the way bankers get paid. We need new laws preventing Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront for deals that might blow up in all of our faces later. It should be: You make a deal today, you get company stock you can redeem two or three years from now. That forces everyone to be invested in his own company’s long-term health – no more Joe Cassanos pocketing multimillion-dollar bonuses for destroying the AIGs of the world.

Another message I can get behind.

Those demands are great. I approve of them. But such demands are not necessary. Its myriad diverse messages do not dilute the impact of this rolling wave.

Regardless of how our frustration is vocalized, I support the Occupy movement because it strikes at all forms of exploitation. It points millions of middle fingers at loopholes in an unbalanced global system and directs an overwhelming psychic scream at the fact that we humans are pawns in that system, one which logically must treat everything as an expendable resource, all labor as a reducible bottom line.

If nothing else, the Occupy movement brings disparities to light to many who would not normally be aware of them. In one of the articles I read, someone wrote, “We’re all journalists. We’re all the media.” Damn straight. This is change in the age of the Internet. This is solidarity in a world where corporate globalism has effectively neutered governments. It’s breaking beyond the boundaries of “raging liberals”, of “jobless hippies”, reaching all walks of life because, quite simply, we are all suffering. We are 99%. This is not jingoism. It is truth.

We are legion.

And I’ll admit that I love that slogan. It has a nice ring to it, sure, but I love it even more because of its stark statistical beauty. This is now a world where 1% of humanity controls nearly all facets of our existence. And the rest of us? We really are the 99%. To some degree, we are all affected. Either you’re in or you’re out. There can be no in-between. If you continue to put up with the way things are, you will continue to be exploited. There is no other outcome to the status quo.

You should be frustrated. No. Wrong. You should be righteously pissed off. You should be fucking fuming. You should be ready to draw a line in the sand. You should be saying, “To here and no further!”

Some say simply taking up space doesn’t solve anything. Some will tell you that you won’t get anywhere, that the fat cats you’re raging against aren’t affected by you and don’t really care and why don’t you try something that might work better, instead?

Oh yeah? Like what? What else will work? Nothing. Many of these same fat cats saw their houses of cards come crashing down in the fiery apocalypse that was the financial crisis of 2008, and yet, like hardy cockroaches, they managed to crawl out of that nuclear winter even fatter than before.

So to those who question our approach I say, WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE? Where else can we turn? What other options do we have?

We have run out of options. I’m joining this protest knowing it’s just a start. There’s a long road ahead. This is the fever building. This is the tsunami on the open seas.

I’m joining this protest because it speaks to us all.

I’m joining this protest because there are no other options left.

I’m joining this protest because what the fuck else can I do?

I’m joining this protest because fuck you, exploiters. FUCK YOU. 

Join me!

I like math enough to recognize I'm an important fraction of 99 percent.

Read more of my stuff at JohannesBez.com.

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  1. Interesting – I have a lot of thoughts, as per usual, but I guess the first two to leap to mind are a good enough place to start:

    1. As someone enamored of language (and perhaps given some of the issues I know you’ve worked on in the past), I’m surprised you don’t find the discourse of “occupation” more fraught. Not, “that’s a really problematic name, and thus I’m out” fraught, but when you say “this is the protest of our generation” then I think there has to be some discussion of a name that, though catchy, is rather a bit fucked if this is to truly be a unifying movement. (I mean, it’s MANHATTAN, for goodness sake.)

    2. I’m (apparently) a much bigger fan of the protest mechanism, when it works, than you are; I’ll own that from the outset. The Occupy movement has faced some issues of divisiveness already in regards to the, shall we say, scale of revolutionary fervor. While I appreciate the non-partisan nature of the Occupy movement from populist standpoint, and have no problems, at least for the moment, with the lack of cohesive demands (the commentary on which I also find interesting, yes), the politics can’t help but concern me. Why? Because the most prominent issue is money. I necessarily wonder what happens to this movement if the (in this instance US) government throws it a bone re: corporate regulation and/or the so-called War on Poverty. There are any number of fucked things about American society (says the girl who wrote the “we’re not so bad” post) that aren’t going to be solved simply with decreased corporate influence in government, kinds of exploitation and privilege 99% of people may *not* be a party to, things beyond the scope of a fundamentally classist lens.

    I wonder about staying power if/when the people for whom economics are the major issue get what they want. I wonder if this is “our” movement, a sea-change moment, or simply a moment and a movement I support. “I support the Occupy movement because it strikes at all forms of exploitation,” you say. I have to disagree. In fact, I think it’s vital to disagree with that statement. While it would be awesome if it did, or if it evolves to do so, it really doesn’t now. (Disagree? See #1.) It addresses some forms of exploitation, and that’s great; however, for Occupy [Place Name] to truly address “all” of anything as you’ve claimed it does, you’d have to give up the slogan. Not to get all Oppression Olympics about it, but while 99% of people may be being exploited based on class (to varying degrees), there are any number of other ways in which people get screwed by society that are not near universal*** – I should hope that a conversation about exploitation and occupation can fold in a discussion of privilege, comparative and otherwise, that doesn’t rest on the notion that 1% of people do the worst things, that can acknowledge and engage the question of complicity, that can survive to recognize that, if people are being unfairly fucked over, one’s willingness to stand up and speak out shouldn’t rest on if it’s 99% of people (almost all of us), or 9% (them), or .0009% (that one dude over there). The rhetoric is one – fundamentally – of self interest, and many protests over the years engage that same instinct, for obvious and entirely valid reasons (who else will protest on behalf of the injustices you face if not you?). For me to herald this incarnation specifically as the The Movement, for us to do as well and maybe even better than those who came before, that populist instinct has to go beyond class, has to be willing to engage creating change with more than “occupying” a location.

    I don’t seek to denigrate what’s being attempted and accomplished here; having the courage to stand up to the 1% is great, yes, and worthwhile in its own right. However, having the conviction to turn the mirror on ourselves? If this is the fight of my generation, I want some that lasts longer than the fire and fervor of youth (s’up Boomers?), that depends less on temporarily strong-arming businesses into straightening up and flying right (oh hey union rights and federal regulation of the early-mid 20th century); at least in the States, if we don’t want to have to fight, over and over again, for the lion’s share of ground previous generations supposedly already attained, it can’t just be “them.” It’s us too.

    3. If I were to do a brief cohesive summation of (1) and (2), and fold it into this movement I very much do appreciate (though I may not embrace it quite as fully and enthusiastically as you do), it would likely be this:

    Occupy Privilege. Occupy Entitlement. Occupy Culture. It’s more than a place.

    I maybe should’ve just written a not-quite-counterpost.

    ***For instance, the conversation about police we had a couple of weeks ago – cops are unquestionably in the 99%, but let’s be real – as an of color child of activists, I very infrequently recognize a conception of the police in any sort of “us v. them” mentality that has us on the same side. (And yes, I’ve met police officers who seem perfectly nice. This is not meant to be a personal generalization, but a cultural one.) I can accept and appreciate that, economically, the popo are part of the 99% even as I can make an argument for them, indirectly, being enforcers (willingly or not) for the 1% in the case of these protests. That’s not too complex. But if the language of this movement is such that I am to be united with police officers against exploitation and oppression, then I’m going to need those police officers to look to the corporations and the government, yes, but also to themselves. It’s an obvious sort of example, I realize, but the point is the same – to protest for a just society extends beyond class, and we aren’t all always the 99%.

Whatever, yo.

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