OWS: The Prospects

OWS: The Prospects

(A version of this article was published in Blogcritics on November, 2011)

I

We’re two months and two weeks into the OWS and running, far too early to foresee the many possible futures of what still has the potential of becoming a full-fledged movement. And yet, I think this has been an ample time to develop a perspective, however partial, so let’s try.

II

It’s my considered opinion that unless OWS becomes injected with a new life force or spirit, it has pretty much exhausted itself by now. And no, I’m not referring here to the winter season that’s upon us, which will surely make the physical occupation of public spaces logistically prohibitive. Nor am I precluding the possibility of an occasional jumpstart or a boost. What better cause for incitement, I might add, than episodes of unprovoked police brutality, as exemplified by the recent pepper spray incident at UC Davis? 

No, I’m afraid that my negative assessment of the OWS’s potential, my reasons for pessimism run deeper than that, and they’re far more perturbing.

III

Let’s consider the positives:

  1. Reportedly, OWS has already shifted the focus of public debate from our budgetary wars and super-committee deliberations to income inequality despite little or no coverage from the mainstream media. It may profoundly affect the 2012 elections, both local and national, and future policy.
  2. It has become a viable platform for campaigning on many diverse issues, from Wall Street greed and widespread government corruption to environmental concerns. Or from our selling teargas to Egypt (while condoning the people’s revolt) to rising tuition costs and the inner city stop-and-frisk practices by some of our finest. And all that, mind you, without putting forth any specific demands and thus risking the danger of becoming co-opted by the political mainstream.
  3. Many analysts point to General Assemblies (GAs) and their overriding emphasis on reaching consensus as some of the OWS’s greatest and lasting accomplishments. And here, we’re supposed to believe the people are finally getting a real taste of what a genuine participatory democracy is like. And it boils down to a lifetime experience they’re just bound to take home with them once they return to their communities and start applying the newly learned principles and skills on the local level. It’s then, we’re assured, the hard work will begin, and the movement will have come to fruition. 

I’ll address this eventuality shortly. As to the rest, I have only one thing to say: Humbug!

IV

We don’t need OWS to remind us that our political system is broken or that Goldman Sachs runs our government and everyday lives. And we certainly don’t need OWS to become aware of the ever-growing income inequality in America. To any astute observer, the writing was on the wall even in the sixties, which saw the inauguration of LBJ’s War on Poverty. Indeed, to those who’ve always borne the greatest brunt — the African-Americans, the people of color, the women –it’s been there all their lives.

Nor do we need OWS to bring our attention to rising tuition costs and mounting student debt. These are but aftereffects of corporatism and push towards privatization which have come to pervade our institutions of higher learning, churches, and corridors of power. Again, the signs were all there since Reagan’s deregulation and the merger & acquisition era.

And lastly, we don’t need OWS to remind us that we’re a militaristic and rogue state insofar as our neighbors are concerned and a rapidly approaching police state to boot. Our ill-fated War on Drugs, which incarcerates a great many of our citizens for minor offenses, or the more recent War on Terror, speak for themselves.  

Justified or not, the Patriot Act, nearly guaranteed to become a regular feature of American life henceforth, is all the proof you’ll ever need. So yes, if that’s the size or the scope of the OWS’s message, if that’s all it brings to the table, then no, thank you. We can do without!

V

Perhaps the most ominous telltale of OWS’s abject failure is its apparent inability to reach out beyond the immediate, expressed or unexpressed, concerns about the state of the nation — beyond concerns about rising tuition costs or Wall Street greed or what else have you. Except for the faithful few, the message has fallen on deaf ears thus far. Indeed, those who still consider themselves middle class are certainly out of the loop, as evidenced by record sales every Black Friday.

The movement had virtually no impact on our black communities and our poor — the ever-growing segment of our society that deserves our utmost attention. It made no impact whatever on our Right, the Tea Party types who, at least in part, subscribe to the OWS message, especially insofar as “antistatism” is concerned. It failed to convince! Indeed, even this little forum, populated by our resident politicos, no longer shows any active interest in OWS now the novelty has worn off; and the momentum had shifted to rehashing the same old topics that lead nowhere. 

As to the remaining “one percent,” I don’t give a damn!

VI

A comparison with the Tea Party is instructive. 

Despite its relative successes in mainstream politics, it fell short of becoming a populist movement by not embracing all who were no lesser victims of government malfeasance, high and low, and who suffer no lesser indignities at the hands of a corrupt and dysfunctional system. 

Well, OWS is likely to suffer the same fate, the fate of becoming irrelevant.

VII

If there’s anything that’s conspicuously absent in the present configuration of the so-called “people’s movement” –our OWS — it’s a voice. What’s desperately needed is a strong and powerful voice, the kind of voice with which Martin Luther King Jr. – and Gandhi, Lincoln, and Jesus Christ before him – all spoke. The kind of voice that would invariably bring a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat, a voice that would always disarm, never estrange!

And it would make no difference whether you were black or white, or what your ethnic origin, sex, or gender happened to be. It’s the strength of the universal voice and universal type of message, a message which speaks to what’s universal in all of us, that it’s irresistible. And no, I’m not speaking of a politician here, black or white, for politicians and statesmen come a dime a dozen, only of a voice.

Thus far, Cornel West has been the only voice that matters.

Long live Dr. West!

VIII

How do you suppose our community activists will fare once they return home and start organizing? How will their message and work resonate with those who’ve been excluded thus far? 

No better than it resonates right now. It’ll be perceived as just another one of the white man’s fool’s errands, as another pathetic example of the privileged white man’s last hope, that’s how! 

The time to win hearts and minds is now, not after the dog and pony show is over!

IX

An astute observer has recently remarked that OWS is just “one event, one stage in a long process of working out certain social forces, such as the desire to escape from slavery,” and I can’t help but concur. 

But that’s a rather long view by the all-seeing eye of God, and on that view, everything will work itself out in the end. Besides, it’s somewhat naive. My honest opinion? All I see here is rationalization prompted by the white man’s guilt, by his unquenchable desire for atonement for sins past.

Well, I can’t wait for the universe to set itself aright. I don’t want to wait. Waiting is synonymous with the refusal to take responsibility, a kind of Taoist-Buddhist philosophy whereby human agency is of little or no account, a philosophy I’m not ready to embrace just yet. 

In any event, an African-American would tell the white man he’s two hundred years behind the curve. There’d be no sympathy there, only amusement, amusement and pity. 

“Tuition costs, student debt? Get off it! 

“Come talk to me when you’ve got something to say.”

X

All meaningful communications are about sharing. And sharing demands a requisite level of empathy, a state of mind and heart whereby none is better than the other, where all are on an equal footing because we’re subject to the same forces since we’re all human. 

And personal relations come before all political relations if only by setting the tone. Indeed, I’m beginning to think that most of our political discourses are but a subterfuge. They’re but a defense or a face-saving mechanism that allows us to ignore all those with whom we’re in contact day in and day out while doing our damnedest to try to convince ourselves and others that all our actions and thoughts proceed from the ultimate concern.

XI

It’s one of the recurrent themes in Akira Kurosawa’s unforgettable works of art, Red Beard, for instance. The people tend to flock to however slight a show of affection, gentleness, and kindness. Likewise with The Idiot — another example of how even the most recalcitrant will respond to the goodness in another’s heart.

I find it significant that Kurosawa takes his lead here from Dostoevsky, as he had done earlier with Maxim Gorky (The Lower Depths and Shakespeare (Throne of Blood) — which makes one almost wish they were born Japanese. But I digress.

XII

All of this goes to show that all manner of loyalty, allegiance, commonality of purpose, without exception, is the natural, organic outgrowth of personal relations. Politics comes later! 

And this places all forms of political thought and action in a rather precarious position because all political talk is cheap for being at one remove from the personal — more perhaps. 

We’ve got to do better!

XIII

In light of these remarks, I find it ironic that the very people who ought to have coalesced to form an affinity of sorts have only drifted apart. 

I can’t blame our forum for this. It contains its usual share of contrarians and miscreants, no more and no less, I suppose, than any other comparable discussion site. I do blame my friends, however, or those at least I’ve always considered my friends. 

It’s almost as though since the revolution kicked in, they all seem to have opted for finding their kicks in the General Assembly. It’s almost as though they’ve lost all their marbles since the event or were one-dimensional from the very start, having had no life, no life whatever, not until OWS materialized to make them whole.

XIV

But then again, who am I to complain? After all, I’m just a pixel. 

Be that as it may, bell hooks, one of the most radical black feminist writers I admire, ended her diatribe against the white (and black) supremacist male with a rhapsody to love, Love as the Practice of Freedom.

Go figure!

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