Wednesday, September 28, 2011
When the Street is the Sole Deciderator
I know, I know. Even as the Occupy Together web site edges ever closer to the magical number of 100 cities supporting the continuing Occupy Wall Street actions, it would be all too easy to be as jaded and snippy as Ginia Bellafante, telling us in the Sept. 25 New York Times that the protesters in Zuccotti Square were young, aimless, unsure of goals, and as grubby as the Liberal Hawks of the 1960s charged Vietnam protesters with being. It would be easy to place bets that most of these cities with support actions would be lucky to bring out 100 people, let alone thousands. It would be easy to let our sarcasm be as big as our despair.
And yet, and yet ... When I went to the Sept. 27 General Assembly for Occupy Denver, I saw more than 100 smart and attentive protesters in it for the long haul. We could call this a Children's Crusade of a surprising sort, because the backbone of protesters in Denver were young families in their late 20s and early 30s, dragging babies and toddlers in their wake - not a movement dominated by college students, a movement dominated by young working familes. This doesn't imply that power brokers on Wall Street and across the nation need to start trembling in their boots, but the number of people from all walks of life and every state in the nation, writing in to the New York Times to complain of Bellafante's writing, and to complain of Inspector Anthony Bologna's pepper-spraying of New York protesters, indicates that the protesters speak for a whole lot of people who are fed up beyond fed up. Fine, the jaded say, but does that translate to votes? Maybe not.
And yet, and yet.... the students in Spain, Greece, Israel and elsewhere who are bringing traffic and urban business to a stop do not speak for a particular political party. They simply want to make the economy unmovable and their particular nations ungovernable. More power to them. It's no accident that Occupy Wall Street originally was promoted by Adbusters magazine, which doesn't really promote a left or right line per se. It plays the somewhat nihilist refrain that the entire society and culture is ailing, and needs to fall. This attitude was reflected in a big, sprawling front-page article in the Sept. 27 New York Times (perhaps paying penance for Bellafante's terrible hatchet job), in which the author saw the Arab Spring, Occupy Together, and movements in India, Greece, Spain, Israel, and dozens of other nations as a flat and simple rejection of the electoral process in its entirety, and a desire to take back public space.
Let's look at the >75 cities of Occupy Together in the context of the increasingly irrelevant 2012 elections. Obama's approval rating has now dipped below 40 percent and is heading lower. Meanwhile, each new savior from the Republican Party is pilloried before getting to the second level. Bachmann? Still tied to the Palin-Santorum nutter wing. Perry? At turns, too rash and Texan or too flat to be acceptable as a candidate. Christie? Too overweight, let's face it. We need a buff president to take on a Mayan calendar. No one is electable in 2012. Sound familar? That is what Spain, Greece, and so many other countries are finding.
If the Occupy Together momentum keeps up, I'm not anticipating any major urban area shuts down, or that there will be localized general strikes that will even approach the limited ones of the 1930s. But I do see a melding of street-occupation movements worldwide that will make 2012 a modern equivalent of 1968, a year in which politics as we know it simply won't matter. If the U.S. economy continues to tank, if the Euro stops being a unified currency by year's end, then time will be up for central banks and international institutions and political parties as traditionally defined in any nation, not just the U.S. At that point, the street will be the sole remaining source of legitimacy.