Thursday, November 17, 2011

Are we a nation of two year-olds?

Matt Taibbi wrote a fascinating article titled How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests. As the title suggests, he started off pretty cynical about the whole thing.

But my initial impression was that it would not be taken very seriously by the Citibanks and Goldman Sachs of the world. You could put 50,000 angry protesters on Wall Street, 100,000 even, and Lloyd Blankfein is probably not going to break a sweat. He knows he's not going to wake up tomorrow and see Cornel West or Richard Trumka running the Federal Reserve. He knows modern finance is a giant mechanical parasite that only an expert surgeon can remove. Yell and scream all you want, but he and his fellow financial Frankensteins are the only ones who know how to turn the machine off.

That's pretty close to my initial reaction (although the idea of Cornel West running the Federal Reserve kind of gives me the willies). So I was interested in what changed for him. I found myself resonating with this.

We're all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket.

I say YES to being tired of a culture like that!!!! But that particular feeling takes me inward to explore how I can break out of that money chase rather than to blame Wall Street for luring me in. Taibbi doesn't go there.

That, to me, is what Occupy Wall Street is addressing. People don't know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values...

People want to go someplace for at least five minutes where no one is trying to bleed you or sell you something. It may not be a real model for anything, but it's at least a place where people are free to dream of some other way for human beings to get along, beyond auctioned "democracy," tyrannical commerce and the bottom line.

Far be it from me to question someone who wants to get away from the money-grind for a few minutes. I'm all for that. But at some point don't we have to grow up and face the fact that we don't know what we want and do something more than say "FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different?" That's what two year-olds do...and its where the REAL struggle beings.

Perhaps this is the beginning of that effort on the part of OWSers to grow up and realize that it takes more than simply wanting something different - and feeling entitled to get it (a sure sign of privilege if you ask me). What it takes is deciding what you DO want and then engaging in the long-haul struggle to get it - often out of the spotlight. I'll be interested to see if any of that happens.


  1. (h/t Ebony & Ivory Politics) "The legacy of OWS can be a simple, “they yelled and sat in a park for a while,” or it will be the 99% getting out to vote. Going door-to-door and working for real change."

    IMO the above is far more meaningful than any of Taibbi's malinfomed missives.


  2. ebogan

    Sometimes a personal journey both precedes and informs our politics. Taibbi flirts with that and then misses the mark in letting these young people off the hook for their need to go there if they're going to affect any real change.

  3. You hit it with the comment about the sense of privilege on the part of some of the protesters. I don't question their sincerity, but I do question their naivete. That they think they should get change just because they ask for change is naive.

    Rosa Parks, MLK and Gandhi didn't get change because they asked for it. They *made* the system change.

  4. On Rachel Maddow's show Thursday night, she framed her coverage of the OWS events in terms of "two tracks": one being the protests, the other being the House voting down Obama's high speed rail plan. She wondered out loud if these two tracks would ever come together, then brought in Melissa Harris-Perry. They talked around the main issue so much that I wondered if Rachel even realized she had brought it up.

    It's absolutely important that the people in power realize that people are pissed off, and the base of anger is so broad that it cannot be dismissed. But we are naive if we think these protests are going to force Congress to do anything. The Republican Party controls the Doomsday switch on all legislation, and they cannot and will not listen. They would collectively call their own grandmothers slut crack-whores if they went downtown to protest.

    There is an attitude that the movement is somehow pure and righteous because no politicians have come around to exploit it for their own "immoral purposes" -- heinous acts like getting into office and voting on things the movement cares about. 'Round about September 2012, everyone's going to realize that this is a pretty stupid attitude. By then, of course, it will be too late to harness the momentum of OWS and find a slate of candidates who can run across the country to move toward taking back the House and shoring up the Senate.

    Are there any Progressives out there who want to WIN, or is this just primal scream camping therapy?