Snow in Zuccotti Park demonstrates that the Wall Street occupiers are hardy. Sympathy for their discomfort, however, should not delay thinking about the political value of what they’re doing.
You don’t have to be a Canadian or Dylan’s weatherman to fear that winter is coming. And provisions must be made.
The occupiers may not like the words politics, party, platform, media-buys, and lobby, and they may truly believe they’re innocent—and that everything at the top is corrupt. However, for the next twelve months it is representative democracy—not tent democracies of the likeminded—that will determine the climate in which they and we will live for a long, perilous time.
The aesthetic of the OWS movement has been widely reported. Writer Michael Greenberg enthused in the latest New York Review of Books that the nearly all-inclusive catchphrase “We are the 99 percent” has a “galvanizing succinctness.” The occupiers’ insistence that they repeat every word uttered by their celebrity speakers, he notes, created a kind of “euphoria of camaraderie.”
He quotes Adbuster’s protest launch declaration:
“Together lets live a little more on the wild side, launch a few telling cultural interventions and pull off some surprising pranks, jams and other essential mental resuscitations.”
And then he comments:
“The antic, Dadaist tone is telling. This is a movement that addresses the mind, not the belly—‘mental environmentalism,’ the founders of Adbusters dubbed it, an antidote to the ‘pollution of our minds’ by ‘infotoxins…commercial messaging and the financial and ethical catastrophes that loom before humanity. This sounds more like something that was cooked up in a university linguistics class than by conventional grassroots populists.”
The occupiers say they are apolitical. Greenberg faithfully reports that “To them, ‘leaderless’ is not an insult but an ideal.” This is a ruse or a delusion. Squatters occupy places; movements organize their ideas and look for leaders to hasten change.
Their claim that the world has been poisoned by the few is political; it’s a claim against organized society. Their chants are no more above politics than the chants of ultra-nationalists in the '30s who pined to purify the homeland.
Declaring 99 percent of America’s shareholders politically innocent and not responsible for the nation’s shortcomings is dishonest. More importantly, it denies any responsibility for influencing the choices that will be taken in a dyspeptic 50/50 US election next fall.
Let’s give this latest movement its due: it has irony and the Tea Party had none. Its pranks will survive in the culture for a while. However, the Tea Party today is only one step away from accomplishing its declared and antagonistic agenda: enfeebling America’s federal government as an instrument of popular economic and social progress.
The OWS movement echoes the Tea Party’s radical claim: that Washington is working for the bankers—the “others”—and not them. Now having helped diminish confidence in representative democracy, the Tea Party is doing precisely what progressives did in 2008—integrating their resources with another national party to elect a president that’s closer to their way of thinking.
The slogans “Take back America” and “We are the 99 percent” both deny the authority and importance of America’s political center and denigrate representative democracy.
Republicans have figured out that 51 per cent gives you power. Democrats should be in the parks, not with blankets, but membership cards. In a multi-party, mass democracy, neither manipulators nor drop-outs are innocent.