Friday, September 30, 2011

Why We Should All Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street. Or occupy a city near you in solidarity, if you can't.

So some people have suggested that the Occupy Wall Street blackout doesn't exist, and that reporters and the media just don't care cause it's not like Egypt where people are being killed by a brutal dictator.

So if you wear a pretty charcoal Valentino suit that costs more than a Smarte Car and sip champagne from a Trump balcony while installing, funding, and arming the genocidal dictators, then it's ok. Not to mention the billions who aren't just unable to find a job and healthcare but are actively dying, moving to violence and/or scarcity-based wars in other countries thanks to food commodity speculation and other instances of serial bubbles. One Arab leader killing a citizen is a tragedy, a WASP eradicating 1/4 the planet and extinguishing the potential prosperity of its own country is a statistic better suited for the CNBC marquee. Maybe we should gather all those recently futureless college students, Iraq vets, laid off cops teachers and firemen, and people with stomach cancer who can't afford or have been denied the care to get even the pain-relief meds, ask them all to sit on The Charging Bull, one by one, douse themselves in gasoline, and set themselves on fire holding a copy of Audacity of Hope in one hand and Obama's campaign contribution pie chart in the other.

Apparently, they're just some people with signs sitting in a park, not stopping business, not doing anything at all.

Rosa Parks was also just some lady sitting in a bus, if we remove the blinders of hindsight. It may not be big enough to draw attention yet (although there is definitely a degree of censorship going on which is undisputable re: Yahoo Mail and Koch-funded internet "independent" sock puppets abound so I'd be wary of any info about these protests) but in the domesticated, hypermedia-anesthetized United States, you can't just out and run a marathon. You've got to start with just a couple leg lifts. But as any personal trainer will tell you, the hardest part is just getting off the couch and getting into the gym.

Perhaps in the case of the brutal dictator and the ruthless financial mogul, one of these evils just has the resources, money, and connections to hide his skeletons in distant closets, whereas the more mangy counterpart has to do all the wetwork himself, forced to shit in his own backyard.

At any rate, the Mubareks and Gaddafis are just symptoms, lone-wolf psychopaths, the bottom-rung straggling ends of a very deep, very complex, very fucked up web. The Occupy Wall Street protests, however idealistic, uncoordinated, and perhaps premature, are going after the deeper root. Wall Street is the financial center of the universe, and the epicenter of the global pain and suffering caused, the Death Star core. Even if it was only 200 protesting, the symbolic weight globally cannot be underestimated, and it may very well turn out to be a key galvanization point. And in the US, at least now we're aiming at the right spot, instead of getting off on the left-right artificial WWF politics, cheering on Keith Olberman or Bill O'Reily as they slug it out, forgetting that their meal tickets are coming from the same source.

Obfuscation, hiding heinous crimes by embedding them in complexity so people say, "Well, it's not like the bankers just took out a gun and shot some Ethiopians or mugged you for your wallet" is exactly one of the plutocracy's major strategies. The under-educated Bronx kid, who doesn't have the con-skills and robs $300 from the 711 gets life in prison. The red-tied banker who steals $30 billion from 401ks, police and fireman salaries gets coddled by the president, a bailout, and doubles his bonuses the next year. Probably get a seat at the SEC or in the oval office if he keeps up the "good work". Maybe, since he's so good at hiding the truth, he can get a job systematically destroying records of its preliminary investigations for the SEC.

The protest was essentially a giant flashmob, a rainstorm coalescing from a rainbow of nascent and growing groups -- The initial grain was Ad Busters, but later snowballed to include Day of Rage, Anonymous, and even Christian and Vietnam Vet organizations. The diversity was truly heartening, and a harbinger. The fact that there was any American out on the street, sleeping for more than one night in tents, to protest anything other than cancellation of Jersey Shore or the election of a "nigger President" should be considered a major victory.

And, granted, this is just the beginning. The austerity and real depression hasn't even begun to kick in yet, and already we've got people complaining, civil unrest. And we, our political system, our president, and we the people still haven't even begun to face the multi-trillion ton gorilla in the room, that the financial h-bombs are still hidden deep in the Hal-sized HFT supercomputers of the numerati.

It's not a "If you break it, they will go" thing for sure. It's a web, woven of money, connections, and thanks to the world wide wonderful internetz the shadow cancer is more fluid and non-local than ever. A garden is never finished, justice is an eternal process, not the end-state of some equation. Wall Street just happens to be, at this point, the largest nodal point of money, the greatest of great attractors of excess, the Gomorrah of wanton greed -- and, thus, the largest source of power abuse and corruption, to the extent that that megacorporations, ubermegabanks, and the blue blood dynasties still put their foot down on any given geography. It is also thusly the largest reservoir of symbolic juju; the way the Civ Rights groups coalesced around King and Parks, the reason why Osama aimed the 747s at the twin towers and the White House. Even if the heads of AIG, Goldman Sachs, he rest of the financial-industrial cabal, Bernanke, Paulson, half Obama's cabinet, McDonald's, Exxon Mobil, and the Boogeyman were served up on a platter at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, for each that fell, two more would take their place, two more backstabbing sociopaths aiming for the corner office securing their megalomaniacal pissing match King-of-the-Hilldom.

If the country does actually wake up, descend pitchforks and shotguns in hand for the blood of the banksters and the billionaires start getting really burnt by the heat down in Hell's Kitchen, then they will of course be on the first Gulfstream out to London, Beijing, or wherever the "economic climate" is "friendly for business". Cue the pained brows of traders plastered aon CNBC and Time Magazine covers, mass handwringing whining about "brain drain" and "America losing its competitive edge". Politicians banging their shoes on podiums in pretend-outrage as they no longer get their thousand dollar lunches and revolving door opportunities on the boards of major banks. Mass exodus of toxicity, probably a drop in "productivity", which was all falsely inflated hot air consisting of the long skyrocketing price of homes, healthcare, and college which noone can afford anymore. A loss in Gross Domestic Product but a gain in General Happiness Quotient.

Whatever the case, the uber rich would just touch down else where, set up shop in Mumbai, somewhere. We can't stop people being greedy self-destructive assholes short of diving under the hood of our brains and rewiring our neurological reward-feedback pathways, or coming up with some cure for sociopathy and psychopathy. Either is superduper unlikely. But perhaps the thing that's really scaring them is the fact that the global unrest and active resistance is spreading now like wildfire, first from the Arab Spring, then to Greece and Spain, to the US. Already, viral co-protests are breaking out in California, even in Kansas. London heads of state and banks are getting wary of similar movements breaking out across the pond. Will the wildfire create utopia? Probably not. But if you're going after a hydra, it's best to hit all the heads at once, full-on scorched Earth.

And it's not like these people are idiotic glass-shattering anarchists. So far the only violence has been coming from the police,

Some have suggested that these are just a bunch of kids interested in partying, finding something fun to do for the weekend, hooking up and getting their faces on TV.

I'm not sure that's fair. Certainly they're not being shot in the street or lynched up by the dozen, but these people (not just kids but blue collar and middle class who have lost their jobs, homes, healthcare, despite what Fox and other mainstream media continue to spin them as) are out there with their tents and pizza prepared to squat the financial center of the universe for months according to Day of Rage, and the other key organizing sites. Many have even given up well-paying jobs -- those vanishing jewels in this economy -- to travel thousands of miles with almost no money to take part in this movement. They're out there for very specific, personal reasons in most cases, varying from chronic unemployment despite overeducation, absence of basic services, and connecting that with the complete failure of the political and business establishment to do anything about it or even *listen*. You'd discover this if you bother to go deeper than the co-opted US lamestream media. are generally better informed than the average American about the heinous crimes and issues involving Wall Street and the financial-political complex, and are protesting smart, not starting scuffles with police. Granted, not everyone will or can afford to be out there that whole time, but to say 'they're just out to have fun and get famous' when there are people being attacked, having their cameras and tents ripped away by police. And -- thanks to bailout-driven "austerity measures" -- these primarily overeducated yet underemployed aren't exactly 'loaded', and most probably aren't taking "paid vacation time" as that crown jewel of the labor movement is quickly becoming a myth as workers rights are continually eroded.

But beyond that, I think sci/speculative fiction writer William Gibson onced summed it up nicely when asked about his decision to leave the US for Canada during the draft:

"It had much more to do with my wanting to be with hippy girls and have lots of hashish than it did with my sympathy for the plight of the North Vietnamese people under US imperialism. Much more, much more to do with hippy girls and hashish."

And I think that goes for most major, global movements. They're as chaotic, insane, and ultimately unpredictable as war, despite the way historians and academics like to tidy up all the black swans into a nice neat movie-script narrative full of protagonists, antagonists, arc and drama. Movements are not legislated into existence, they are not outlined in a boardroom by central planners or sprung fully formed from the dissertations of anthropology professors. They just happen. Sure, the Civil Rights Movement had a core of dedicated individuals in the NAACP, ACLU. But much of that movement, as a subset of the whirlwind that began in the 60's, was also fundamentally about young people doing something fun. Breaking away from the leash of Disneyfied parents still shellshocked from WWII trying to create suburban happy Stepford land. Country kids bored of shoveling hay and listening to uninspired sermons, seeing pictures on this new "Tee-Vee" thing of a place over the rainbow called "San Francisco" where everyone seemed to be having a really great time partying and doing this "mary-wanna" happy stick. And maybe somewhere, running through tear gas away from the cops in New York and a long hot night on the street with a black dancer-turned-demonstrator who’d spent her life under the boot of racism, maybe they found their new selves, came to understand and embody the “cause”. Came to discover the meaning of sacrifice.

I think it goes without saying that without the Beat forefathers of the 50’s and the preceding countercultural movements including the hippies and the whole JFK era awakening, the America we know today would be much worse off, and indeed, the Civil Rights movement would have had much less social traction and political will it needed to take off. As is illustrated most recently in “The Help” and virtually every story where the barriers of color, sex, and religion and other artificial divides between people have been broken, there is always a necessary courage on both sides, the minority (blacks in that case) and majority (whites). So maybe some people came out cause they really believed “the Capitalist Establishment” had to be abandoned for the communes. Maybe some people came out after reading way too much William Burroughs and wanting to blast their minds with every drug available into the Interzone. Maybe some people just followed the busload of hot young hippy chicks. Maybe some people were just bored. Probably for everyone it was a mix of all those, but I doubt even the people there can know their original intents. The important thing was they didn’t just sit around and pontificate to themselves from their armchairs, discuss in committees what “the perfect post-capitalist utopia will look like”, and hold readings of back issues of Das Kapital; no, they got out there and actually DID something. 90% of life is just showing up. I have to applaud the people who occupied, and continue to occupy Wall Street for that, even if they don't immediately accomplish their goals with the first of many legs of protest.

And then we have the complaints, snarking naysayers of the Occupy Wall Street movement along the lines of, "bunch of lazy hippy kids," "too disorganized, incoherent" "these kids have no way to engage at anything close to parity with those they are angry at."

Perhaps only those furthest afield in Marxian LSD land are deluded enough to believe that a few hundred regular occupiers spiking to a few thousand at peak traffic hours are going to topple Goldman "Officially Rules The World" Sachs and the fuckedopoly that metonym represents. Give them at least the benefit of that much self-awareness. Of course the unions will need to get involved; that’s the point. The unions, the watchdog groups, the closet-good investment bank employees, the journalists, the whistleblowers, the doctors, the nurses, the teachers, the parents who care at all about their children’s future, the children who can’t multiply thanks to gutted public school funding but know, somehow, that this is the right thing to do. The cops themselves, who arrested 80 protesters knowing they’re going to be losing their pensions,p possibly jobs, along with the firefighters, and the rest of the public sector. This is just the first verse in a very long song of the movement. These first couple weeks of protest on Wall Street and 35 other cities have been the call; now they’re awaiting the response from all of us.

"Man, those crazy deluded, childish brown skinned Punjabi flinging salt around, how can they expect to ever change anything?" "What's with this stupid negro lady refusing to give up her seat on the bus; what, she think she's going to tear out the crooked ugly veins of North American racism single handedly?"

An external movement is fundamentally a manifestation of the internal zeitgeist of a people, and though it must always start from some small event, if the fuel is there then all you need is the match; If you build it they will come. The political objective of the Ferdinand assassination might have been to peel away Austria-Hungary's south-Slav provinces that they might be combined into a Greater Serbia or a Yugoslavia, yet it wound up setting off the powder keg. WWI, from the spatiotemporal vantage point of the beginning of the 20th century, was a Black Swan event; there had been no major hot war for nearly a century, historians had been writing about “The End Of War”, “The Great Peace” (Not unlike our current Fed Chairman’s crown-jewel paper: “The Great Moderation” of the modern economy). Long before millions occupied the gears and cogs of Libya, chased Gaddafi to Algeria, there were the ninety five theses, long litanies of resentments the mounting piles of nascent jihads had been accumulating. The Libyan people retraced the steps of endless breadlines, the long walks of executed dissidents, trails of tears welling up like years of debt, left unpaid. And if debt goes unpaid long enough, as any honest mathematician will tell you, there will be meltdown; financial, social, or ecological.

Glenn Greenwald from Salon captures it poignantly:

Most importantly, very few protest movements enjoy perfect clarity about tactics or command widespread support when they begin; they're designed to spark conversation, raise awareness, attract others to the cause, and build those structural planks as they grow and develop. Dismissing these incipient protests because they lack fully developed, sophisticated professionalization is akin to pronouncing a three-year-old child worthless because he can't read Schopenhauer: those who are actually interested in helping it develop will work toward improving those deficiencies, not harp on them in order to belittle its worth.

Another case-in-point of the old koan about history rhyming rather than repeating can be vis'ed here:

Well, at least someone's stripping the emperor.

Anonymous hit the CEO of JP Morgan Chase. Wouldn't want them to feel left out.

Oh hell, why not just start a whole arm dedicated to corporate securities fraud research hacktivism.

Digital warrior groups like Anonymous perhaps have the ability to hit the corporate world where it hurts the most: in their balance sheet. Also, they've got the highest leverage, return on investment: a small group of elite hackers surrounded by a miasma of spontaneously coalescing attackers from anywhere on the planet can with a few hours on their laptop strike serious blows at behemoth targets. Cyber-asymmetrical warfare waged by starfish-like decentralized cells, but rather than the violent suicide bombers of the radical Islamic groups who kamikaze physical planes into the physical epicenters of the global financial oligarchy, they're driving virtual connection requests by the billions into servers in distributed denial of service attacks, drilling trojans and worms into the cold machine heart of the largest banking megafauna. Eating them from the inside out using their own weapon of mass economic destruction; the computer network. The internet in particular and digital revolution in general is also a major differing factor between what's going on now and the Civil Rights movement. It's been acknowledged often enough as well that social media and other net-enabled communications tech were instrumental in at least enabling and accelerating the Arab Spring, lubricating the gears of revolution, and that phenomenon applies equally, if not more so to Occupy Wall Street, organized almost entirely, originally, online with Twitter et. al.. Half a century ago, those few hundred protesters laying around the park would likely have gotten perhaps a single odd mention after the obituary page in a major newspaper, and not even a nod from the 20th century TV news network empires whose cameras would've turned away, indifferently. Occupy Wall Street would've died before you could say, "dirty hippie." But the increasingly decentralized, multilateral, and "read-write" rather than just "read" nature of the internet has allowed a kind of trickle-up, democratic media saturation, via tweets, posts, livestream video footage of events (including voilence against the nonviolent), and is a knell of the change in the way we gain information about the world and how not merely the richest broadcasters but anyone with a phone (70% of the planet) can co-mediate reality. And after the digital grass-roots had spread the story wide enough, the mainstream was eventually forced to pay attention. We have perhaps what Baudrillard called hypermediation, but we also have co-mediation, and open-mediation from the entire population. It's a whole nother playing field, a whole new unmapped territory whose fog of war remains thick, and whether it tilts the odds in favor of the 99% or the richest 1 remains undecided.

Granted, these new uses for tech which the street has found are not going to bring about Shangrilah in and of itself, but we need as many prongs in the attack as possible, given that we're dealing with long-tentacled, evasive shadow-banking squid who reallocate funds, offices, and personnel at the speed of the internet. There needs to be an assault with similar post-geographical reach. Perhaps that is one of Occupy Wall Streets greatest contributions disguised as an incoherency weakness: the protest not just about negotiating a contract this month or ending this particular war or asking this particular CEO to resign or trying to kill the fed; none of these will actually affect the global ecology of mass underclass destruction. It's finally getting to the bottom of things. The movement's message is "The problem is endemic, global, at the very heart of our society, and every single one of you in the 99% are involved."

We may look back one day on this time period, go on actually *paid* vacations from our non-menial service industry, non-slave labor jobs. We'll buy plane tickets to New York with the savings we've accrued as the college-housing-car loan ponzi is finally extinguished and the fruits of our increasingly productive labor comes back to us rather than being stored as zeros and ones in Zurich mainframes, high-frequency-traded by Blue Gene/L-powered algorithms. We’ll stroll down through Zuccotti park with our kids who have health care and a future to look forward to, sweep the LCD screens of our Genius Pads that we can afford without turning our homes into ATM machines, and replay old Twitter bookmarks. Holding up the screen we’ll see geotagged locative installations; the translucent tulpa of Anonymous, bullfighting the Wall Street Bull. Spectral throngs of Occupy Wall Streeters, schooling past, 99%ers of all backgrounds and ages, chanting and pumping fists alongside leisurely patrolling NYPD. Eventually we’ll reach East 12th Street, the new Manhattan Ground Zero, of the World Class War detonation. The Ground Zero that was the World Trade Center and the swamp of financial-political malignancy they once stood for will have long faded like last month's #trending topic from the radars of our collective subconscious, "occupied" and overshadowed by the psycho-social gravitas of the revolution begun on Wall Street. The focal point of Gibson novels will shift from the long shadow of the two towers to the supernova of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The time will cease to be the post-911 world, instead the post-Global Awakening world. The Al Qaeda boogeyman and the War on Abstract Concepts it spawned will all seem like a bad dream, like the rest of the “Lost Decade”, the premise of some near-future sci-fi dystopia rather than anything that had ever been reality. There, at East 12th, we’ll see her ghost, the one people around the world read about in history e-books; the innocent female college student, bawling as she is shot in the face by a mad whiteshirt officer, and remember that shot, heard and seen around the world, as the Ferdinand Assassination moment, the Ghandian nodal point, the Rosa Parks of economics that finally became the Civil Rights Movement of the 21st Century. The world will still be fucked up, people will still be greedy, self-destructive, narcissistic assholes, but maybe things will be a little more like Sweden and less like a cross between a Shenzhen suicide factory and Wlliam Gibson’s hyper-Reaganomic Sprawl.

One thing is for certain: no one will remember those that complained, “They’re just lazy hippy kids” or “They don’t have a coherent set of demands” and then kept calm and carried on. If you don’t like the particular brand of activism you’re seeing, then by all means get down there with the people fighting on your behalf and engage in some proactivism, rather than reactivism. Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall.

Or maybe this will all pass, premature. No one knows the moment of revolution. Until then, we’ll just have to keep marching, occupying, tweeting, crowdsourcing pizza, and dialoging, as we are. Keeping as many flames alive as possible that the keg might be lit when it reaches threshold and blows up on the Banksters and their puppets on the left and right, that Empire of Champagne Toasts and Cooked Books, and the kindling of that Fahrenheit 451 might just be those brave people of the 99% down at Occupy Wall Street right now.

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