Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More Thoughts On the Occupy Movement

The Occupy movement has dramatically and wonderfully seized the political moment, putting Wall Street and its mass media lapdogs on the defensive where they belong.

Predictably, Occupy critics decry the inconvenience of protest, as though protest were not already synonymous with inconvenience. Such antagonists would do well to recall that Martin Luther King was also denounced by his critics for illegal and allegedly immoral behavior. The civil rights movement in its day was every bit as inconvenient as Occupy Wall Street is today, blocking public streets, shutting down department stores, swamping local jails, forcing their unwanted anti-lynching philosophy on an unwilling public. Nevertheless, equipped with the benefit of hindsight, we now know the civil rights protesters were right.

Having said that, the free speech issues would be stark and more compelling if Occupiers were to occupy the major media corporations - NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, - since they monopolize the public airwaves with propaganda on behalf of the 1%. The 99% is flatly excluded from access to large audiences, in spite of the fact that such audiences are composed almost completely of the 99%. This cannot be justified on rational grounds.

Those who don't like public space being occupied ought to ask themselves this: Why can't we engage in real political debate (i.e., not just Democrat vs. Republican) over the public airwaves? Because the private owners of the economy won't let us. We cannot hear social democrats, libertarians, communists, socialists, anarchists, white nationalists, black nationalists, or any other popular grouping engaged in uncensored debate before mass audiences in the United States. Until that changes, public space will continue to be occupied, because that is the only means of bringing the views of popular constituencies before a mass audience.

For those who almost plaintively ask why the Occupy protesters don't express their discontent through the electoral system, one can only say this. How do you target the 1%, (actually probably more like one-tenth of one percent), who own the "private" economy? You can't do it by resorting to electoral politics, as the 1% owns the politicians.

True, a Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, or Ron Paul can run a third party campaign, but the 1% routinely deprives them of media time on the basis that they are merely "vanity" candidates. You can't get elected if you are not seen daily in the mass media, and the mass media is literally owned by the 1%. The last time around Ron Paul finished second in Nevada primaries, a result which was not even announced in the corporate media. The first place and third place finishers were announced, but not the second place finisher. Why? Because Paul is not under the control of the 1%. No populist candidate, whether of the right or the left, can be elected or taken seriously nationally. That's why there's an occupy movement.

Let's stop kidding ourselves about our "democracy." Under capitalism, the business cycle (presided over by the one percent) causes recessions, depressions, panics, and break-downs on a regular basis, after which the perpetrators demand huge public bailouts on the basis that the swindling class is "too big to fail." Only by going well beyond the electoral arena can we do anything about this, i.e., by organized protest.

Was slavery ended at the ballot box? Was child labor? Elections played some role, but a subordinate one, and well after organized protest had re-shaped electoral options (and in slavery's case, the entire society). That's what Occupy Wall Street is trying to do today. All history shows that progress is dependent on popular protest, which is not to say that everything a protest movement does is right. But it is always the midwife of social advancement.

Occupying public space is not the same as destroying it, as occupy critics are prone to claim. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the Black Bloc has a predilection for trashing, but they are not the entire Occupy movement, far from it. We should also recall that those who shout the loudest for smashing and destroying are routinely found to be working for U.S. intelligence when government documents are published years after the damage has been done. The COINTELPRO documents from the 1960s protests are very revealing as to who the real criminals are, and no thinking person ought to be surprised.

To reiterate, Dr. King was subject to very similar criticisms for "violence" and "inconvenience to working people." But it's now clear he was right and the critics were wrong. While popular movements should try to minimize inconvenience to the public, critics should recognize that faulting protesters for inconvenience is the same as faulting all protest. There is no progress without inconvenience.

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