“leave the park, take the public”

On a few cross-currents re: OWS and where to go now:

-It sounds like some people are missing the point of the occupations and the parks by conflating the park as the point.  The criticism of a rigged system, and the stark contrast shown between people organizing willingly and the load of crap we’re told is “representative” (BTW: onlookers seeing the various assemblies as weird itself tells a story. When most folks’ engagement consists of marking a box every few years and watching the same thing happen regardless of which one they checked, voicing your opinions by voicing your opinions becomes an alien, “rabble rouser” activity.) is the message, while Zuccotti Park and physically being there, along with the other occupations, are symbols.  Hell, Zuccotti Park isn’t even that, it’s a stand-in for a symbol because Wall Street itself was blocked off at the time.  It doesn’t matter where you’re standing if you can get others to stand with you.

-A lot is made of the relative inconvenience of the protests on others, as if that were a decisive talking point against them.  To me, this suggests a lot of people forget what a protest is for.  If you’re easy to avoid, what incentive is there to note your grievance?  The idea is to get people to acknowledge and at least think about what you’re saying.  This doesn’t mean be a jerk about it, just draw attention.

-On a slightly related note, to this by Doug Mataconis, about whether the 1st Amendment applies to installed protests like the one in Zuccotti Park: if anything, the kind of regulations that he brings up remind us of the hidden distinction between truly public property — that is, common areas — and government administered property.  That a city can enforce a rule that the population isn’t consenting to* (and in the actual case of Zuccotti, override permissions granted on non-government property simply to go hippie punching)…well, “whose park?” indeed.   Besides, civil disobedience wouldn’t be what it is without the word “disobedience”.

-By the way: that phrase also contains “civil”.  So, contrary to dumbass here, no that does not include setting a Macy’s on fire.  While obviously this kind of random nuttery is blown up as being representative of the movement as a whole for propaganda purposes, despite the occasional nut being super common to any protest, I would’ve appreciated a simple “dude you’re crazy” punctuating the silence after his mic check broke.

-Will Wilkinson, in the process of latching on to the “ok, now shut up and go be traditional” theme, at least nods at reason for skepticism of the representation myth — if only to dismiss it:

[W]hat if our system is so badly broken that honest democratic politics is no longer possible? This is, indeed, a main theme of the progressive master narrative: the 1% has grown so disproportionately powerful that it, for most practical purposes, owns “the system”. In that case, telling tent-dwelling enthusiasts of participatory democracy to go home and actually participate in our democracy amounts to telling them to surrender to the oligarchs.

Assumption that this is an inherently “progressive” claim aside, he’s only slightly off there.  The 1% referred to hasn’t “grown” to power, it always was in power, from today’s state-corporate alliance and high finance undermining what’s in your pocket, through aristocracy granting each other titles to land that already had people on it, back to when everything was simply run from a blinged-out chair in some stone building: serving connected wealth via robbery was, and is, the purpose of the state.  The uniforms may change, but history repeats itself — at least until we hit Eject.

(* – I remember a poll showing that the residents of NYC actually agreed with the Zuccotti Park protesters at the time.  Not sure now though, tbh.)

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6 Responses to “leave the park, take the public”

  1. Todd S. says:

    Wilkinson: what if … democratic politics is no longer possible

    Actual democratic politics have never been possible outside of very small groups (like family-size). I blame the state education system for giving the world this distorted idea of what democracy actually is. Not that democracy – in the sense that it is a method of rule – is preferable to any other system of rule.

    • Todd S. says:

      Replying to myself… a sign of the apocalypse? Arthur Silber put a piece today that resonated similarly: http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/2011/11/concerning-american-change-in.html

      I like his idea of referring to the American revolution as a “change in management”. I’m going to have to start using that.

    • B Psycho says:

      I remember for awhile some conservatives on occasion would point out negative words the founders of the U.S. had towards democracy. The point that made wasn’t quite the one they had in mind with those references, in looking back at it…

      The more I think about these kind of distinctions on public engagement, the more I’m coming around to a view of the word “democracy” something like the multiple meanings Gary Chartier talked about with “capitalism”:

      * Broken down to a small enough level such that voice is direct and exit is easy, “democracy” could describe consensus without rule at all.
      * Take it as “majority rule, period” with no thought to scale or exit, then you run into the 50%+1 voting to piss in the other 49.9′s orange juice problem. This “democracy” is plainly nuts.
      * The state school interpretation of “majority-by-proxy”. Whatever a majority of a distinct minority that claims legitimacy regardless of the numbers actually agreeing with them on the particular issue or even on their power to address it either way. A better name for this would be Oligarchical-pluralism, yet it sticks.

      One issue with the OWS crowd about this breakdown that’s a thorn: there’s elements with all three interpretations in mind.

      • Todd S. says:

        Broken down to a small enough level such that voice is direct and exit is easy, “democracy” could describe consensus without rule at all.

        This is probably closest to what it should mean. Sadly we as a society have been ingrained with this idea of mass. We can’t seem to accept the end result of disparate individual or even concerted actions – with the result itself being a representation of mass. No, for anything to have legitimacy it must be an effort en masse. This essay really spoke to me when I read it the first time; it clarified a lot of what I had been pondering yet unable to actually give voice to.

  2. Joe says:

    “One issue with the OWS crowd about this breakdown that’s a thorn: there’s elements with all three interpretations in mind.”

    This is why I’m ambivalent about OWS, and, honestly, about mass movements in general. On the one hand, I’m all for civil disobedience and people airing their grievances in non-government-approved ways. On the other, these kinds of protests seem to always be accompanied by laundry lists of all the things government isn’t doing but should be.

  3. Pingback: Beyond Vulgar | The Jefferson Tree

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