Protest, Protest Forever!

Protest, Protest Forever!

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

I

“The medium is the message,” so said Marshall McLuhan to suggest “the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.”

No truer words were ever spoken, no better words of advice whenever we’re trying to come to grips with and make sense of the OWS — by far the most significant development in American political history since the counterrevolution of the sixties, the anti-war demonstrations, and the Civil Rights struggle. 

II

Katha Pollitt had said it best in her recent article in The Nation“We Are All Occupiers Now: The Mainstreaming of OWS.” The gist of Ms. Pollitt’s article comes down to four words, “Protest is the message.”

Interestingly, Ms. Pollitt took the lead from a recent New York Times editorial page, that staunch defender of the status quo, liberal edition, and no less beholden to corporate interests than FoxNews, but that’s old news. In its usual, backpedaling kind of way whenever faced with hard-nosed issues, the Times editorial board took back what it first gave away. 

“It is not the job of the protesters,” the editors declared, “to draft legislation. That’s the job of the nation’s leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies.”

The subliminal message is, of course, that we could well dispense with all these marches and rallies and would be much better off without them had the nation’s leaders only done their job and drafted the right kind of laws.

III

Times just doesn’t get it! 

What legislation, what leaders, what rule of law could avert the kind of crisis we’re all facing, economically and politically? 

The glib assumption is that the system works if only?

The unfortunate, if not predictable thing is, Times never spells out the sufficient, let alone necessary, conditions for this thing we call democracy. It simply assumes — it wants you to believe — that America is a fertile ground, as fertile a ground as any. And if democracy can’t thrive here, it can’t thrive anywhere!

All that we’re presented with is the “if only.” And it’s posited as a promise, a Hollywood-type promise with all the signs of cheese but no cheese. It’s to Ms. Pollitt’s credit that she’d taken the Times’ slogan, dispensed with the interpretation, and decided to run with it.

Protest is the message — end of story!

IV

Indeed! The very idea of occupation, of taking over the streets and public squares, all venues in fact which, for better or worse, have been declared private property, flies in the face of private property rights. 

How did we ever consent to have such venues excluded as public spaces in which to conduct a meaningful public debate and to engage in direct participation, the lifeblood of democracy, is a question for another time and place. The ancient Greeks had set a precedent with the concept of agora — a public square in which to conduct public business. Suffice it to say, it’s precisely those very rights that we are reclaiming, which is why the powers that be, from Mayor Bloomberg to the NYPD, are short on responses.

V

In her well-crafted essay, Occupy Wall Street and the Abolition of Public Space, Anarcissie spoke to the dire need for reclaiming public spaces as our inherent right, as a precondition of true democracy.  

I can’t improve on the idea except by saying that protest is the message and the physical spaces under contention, the medium (although, as an old comrade in arms has recently suggested, the proper business of the occupiers is “unoccupation”).

Long live the democratic process and the revolutionary spirit!

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