Friday, October 14, 2011
Nowhere have I encountered the social dilemma of Occupy Wall Street so concisely described. The resolution of it will determine whether Occupy Wall Street is the beginning of a new era of radical politics or yet another false dawn. Uncharacteristically the optimist, I'm going with the former instead of the latter, well aware that the odds are against me. If the various strands of the left were able to come together and organize the Bloombergville, then I'm hopeful that leftists and liberals can do the same in relation to Occupy Wall Street. Pressure from the ever expanding population of desperate people demand it.
When you originally arrive at Zucotti, it seems a bit like an anarcho-hippie encampment redolent of Thomkins Square in the 90s. There is always a very loud drumming circle and all the various things that go along with it, except you don’t smell pot or booze, both of which are banned by the group.
Around the perimeter of the park are people doing agitprop – mostly making or holding posters – who run the political gamut of all political tendencies that have been marginalized from two-party duopoly, including a fair smattering of conspiracy theorists and cranks. The park grounds themselves are covered with the camping gear of the actual occupants, which is alleged to be 600 people, though it does not look that large to me. The hive of activity seems to be the food line, and, in fact, from a distance anyway, food and agitprop-making seem to be the focal points of occupation life.
Now the strange thing is, once the General Assembly starts, the prevailing demographics seem to shift rather dramatically. Overwhelmingly the people most involved in the General Assembly – the people who facilitate, who offer reports from working groups and who pose questions, are clearly of the professional classes, which is betrayed instantly by their appearance and communication style, their savviness in directing discussion and giving instructions, and by the preening, extroverted style that marks many of today’s professionals from both working stiffs and their stodgier predecessors. In other words, they look exactly like the kind of people who went literally insane for Obama in 2008 and many, if not most, probably did.
Though I find this class of people extremely unappealing as a matter of personal taste, their predominance, at least at this stage, is not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of them have genuinely wised up and, more importantly, have skills and resources that less advantaged people frequently don’t have, as well as the patience for the grunt work side of revolt. But they also bring the baggage of their conformism, professional ambition and general trust in state authority, as well as religious faith in the inane strains of identity politics that have run interference for the ruling class since the 70s.