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Occupy Wall Street: They cannot destroy the idea nor the ideal

—by Tontongi

Jean-Paul Sartre said he held Gustave Flaubert responsible for the repression of the Paris Commune in 1871 because he didn’t lift a finger to defend it. The same would be said of many intellos of the US intellectual Establishment, both inside and outside Academia, if they continue to be mute in face of the mounting police repression of a peaceful protest that seeks socioeconomic equality and a better quality of life for the people.

Indeed, to judge from the brutal repression of the Occupy Wall Street movement unleashed by many US municipalities, one can deduce that the powers that be take very seriously the potential threat that it represents to the continuation of the status quo—that is the continuation of inequality, of exploitation of others’ work, of racial discrimination, of domination of Wall Street’s greed and ethos. While it has not totally articulated its liberational ideas, to judge from the likes of Michael Moore, Cornel West, and Naom Chomsky who have embraced it, the OWS demands imply also the end of reification of life, of alienation of labor, and of materialization of work’s gratification and finality.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is the single, latest good thing that happens to this country, the United States, a country that has spent the last 30 years in the embrace of cynicism and soulless robotification of the mind. The writer Naomi Klein, in a recent essay in the journal The Nation, has called the OWS movement “the best thing in the world right now,” observing that “today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well.”

It has been painful to see a dynamic country such as the United States operate on itself the putrefying process of sterilization and idioticization. To watch the debates among the Republican presidential candidates, one comes out frustrated that such a great country would have so many illuminated morons—or calculating cynics playing illuminated morons—aspiring to lead it. Many commentators think this epistemological trend started since Ronald Reagan. Or, is it the necessary sign of decline of all imperial and imperialist powers as many others conjecture?

Historical antecedence

The Occupy Wall Street movement—along with the Arab Spring despite the interference of the imperialist powers in the latter—is the embodiment of human vitality and consciousness; it is a welcoming evolution in a country accustomed to the glorification of capitalism’s wisdom and success, and to self-interested myopia that created a functioning malaise, sometimes political dead-end and existential confusion, some inspired idiots even calling it the “end of history.”

The main threat posed by the OWS movement, and the Altermondialist movement in general—that is the collective engagement for alternative, revolutionary change—is their radical repudiation of capitalism’s dogma of transcendental necessity, making the financial speculators of Wall Street and the complicity of class privilege and government corruption and intellectual cowardice, the main culprit—the 1 percent of the population—responsible for the politico-economic crisis, thus the calamity of the 99 percent others.

The OWS movement has certainly not invented protest against malfeasance—that has existed throughout history. Nor has it pioneered the struggle against the New World Order. The distinction of main inspirer of the Occupy Wall Street movement can be fairly attributed to the international anti-globalization, alternative movement that took shape in Western Europe in the 1990s and culminated in the United States in the valorous demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, in November 1999. But not everyone agrees with that antecedence, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson who, in a January 13, 2012, essay in Huffington Post to commemorate Martin Luther King Day, has linked the OWS movement to the civil rights movement of the 1960s: “Dr. King understood that the civil rights movement, having ended segregation and gained the right to vote, had to challenge poverty and economic inequality. In his final days, he was building a poor people’s campaign, planning to bring people to the nation’s capital across lines of race, religion and region to create a Resurrection City and demand economic justice. He was the true precursor of Occupy Wall Street.”

However, given the potential radicality of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the all-encompassing, liberation objectives of the Altermondialist, anti-globalization movement, which, Foucaultian, rejects all relations of power and oppression, the most plausible ancestry of the Occupy Wall Street could be traced to the Haitian Revolution, started in August 1791. This revolution has not only rejected oppression and defeated the military forces sent by Napoleon Bonaparte to restore slavery, it also, more defiantly, affirmed the notion of the universality of the human being, therefore the inherent inalienability of his/her rights.

Anti-slavery and Haitian revolutionaries such as Dutty Boukman, Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines etc., made it impossible for the colonialist powers (and their imitators, as was the United States at the time, especially in the question of slavery) to legitimize their rule while they engaged in anti-human-universality policies, like keeping human beings in bondage.

Suffice to say that the Occupy Wall Street movement is inspired and nourished by multiple sources and energies.

A new model of social contract: Attention to others’ voices and concerns

The greatest contribution of the OWS movement is its breaking of the torpor, fatalism and defeatism that permeated the US-American people’s reaction to the economic crisis and to the government’s timid, if not complicit response. Apart from being an idea to revamp the ossified discourse of normalization that accepts as divine dogma the objective conditions of oppression and inequality, the OWS movement is also an ideal that puts in evidence, through its participatory democratic practices and attention to others’ voices and concerns, the exemplar of a humanistically oriented society that considers the Other as not only an equal but also as a companion in life, an alter ego with whom one faces the tumults and uncertainties of both the instant and the future.

The ideas that inspire the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the ideals they emanate should be supported by all concerned citizens and residents. That’s bad enough to lick the hand of the oppressor, it’s doubly condemnable to help nullify or destroy the means by which you can attain your liberation. The OWS movement represents those means. At least potentially.

In summoning the people to the public space to denounce the injustice that is being done to them and in their names, the OWS movement has shifted the responsibility from private shame for supposed personal failure, as the capitalist’s infallible axiom implies, to public criminality that calls for redress. The pain and the hardship that have fallen on the people are no longer seen as fortuitous or accidental occurrence, but rather as ineluctable consequence of a systemic, sociopolitical order where economic interests of a small minority take precedence over human needs and perils.

Therefore, the solution to the current socioeconomic calamity must involve a reevaluation together of the economic rapport of production and exchange, of the financial transaction and wealth distribution—essentially the old problematic Marx has so well analyzed—and the foundation of a new model of social contract and living together.

Another aspect of the OWS movement that is encouraging—beside its carnival of colors, lyrical songs and poetic emotions that it comes to symbolize—is the important proportion of young people that composes its leadership. Naturally, young is not necessarily good, and any progressive movement needs the wisdom of old militants to help anchor the adverse instances and channel past lessons; but the grand plurality of young people in the OWS movement is a good thing, if only for investing so overwhelmingly in the everyday functioning of the movement, and for helping articulate the ontological meaning of its being and finality, that is both its essence and raison d’être.

The cumulative effect of the multitude

Reality is already too stark and painful for us to want to sweeten it with bullshit reductionism that only perpetuates the status quo, but I cannot gloss over the historical importance of the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially in light of the so-called Arab Spring and other protest movements that topple governments around the world.

Just like Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have demonstrated in their recent book, Commonwealth, how the cumulative effect of the multitude, that is the ultimate power of the assembling plurality of people, can help establish revolutionary change and democratic practices and policies, the OWS movement has shown its potential in building up a mass movement capable of channeling people’s suffering and anger and hope towards a different and better life (especially when they’re willing to occupy the public sphere and space with all their bio-political energy).

That was the idea behind the beginning of the first Paris Commune on July 14th, 1789, when the multitude marched on the Bastille Prison and “occupied” it; they more precisely stormed the state prison, killed the warden, freed the prisoners, and demolished it for good effect. Three years later, they occupied the whole city, and ultimately the entire country.

The multitude’s bio-political power was also operative in the establishment of the government of the Soviets in Russia in 1917, where class privileges and power of the 1 percent trumped the rights and the well-being of 99 percent of the population; it was equally in full blown fashion during the March on Washington in 1963, when Martin Luther King and hundreds of thousands others challenged the nation to end its Jim Crow, Apartheid system and respect the civil rights of all citizens or else.

The power of the multitude was furthermore in evidence when the Haitian people, after days of mass protest in January-February 1986, deposed the 29-year old long dictatorship of the cruelly powerful Duvaliers, defying all expectations.

The OWS occupiers are heroes

I always ask myself, in face of so much injustice and horrible conditions of living in the world, how is it we don’t have a revolution everyday. Interestingly, the deployment of the power of the multitude in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, in the spring of 2011 followed the same script as that of the Philippines and Haiti in 1986, where both countries were transitioning to democracy after decades of autocratic rules whose end was brought about by mass oppositional protest.

There’s no reason for this scenario not to repeat more often. Louis Farrakhan assembled about one million men in Washington on October 16, 1995. This was a powerful manifestation of political reach and influence. Unfortunately, instead of asking the multitude to demand specific redresses and power-sharing, or to storm the White House as his enemies insinuated he might do (and some more radical supporters had hoped for), Farrakhan asked them, the assembled black men, to “atone” for their supposed sins. But the powers that be didn’t underestimate the trouble-making potential of the Million-Man March. That’s why they made certain that its reach and objective didn’t reach beyond the acceptable limits (lines of the Establishment’s attack dogs denounced the Million-Man-March as being anti-women, anti-Semitic and racially inspired, and Farrakhan failed to sufficiently counteract these false allegations of his critics with an inclusive, revolutionary discourse not racially tainted).

In brief, the idea and reality of the multitude—or the commons—are well alive as attested by the so-called Arab Spring and the worldwide resonance of the Occupy Wall Street initiative. All it would take for the OWS movement to turn to an Arab Spring-type upheaval is for the multitude to join it and make it clear that they intend to stay there as long as it takes, and die for it if necessary.

The OWS occupiers are heroes and leaders who set examples for creative, revolutionary actions that are necessary to break the politico-existential apathy. To be fair, not everyone can afford the sacrifice they consented to endure, many for legitimate familial and social obligations The rude fact, however, is that change can come only if the multitude joins the protest and demands qualitative socio-political change.

The Occupy Wall Street movement doesn’t have to confine its ambition to narrow political goals within the two-party system. Indeed, unlike this system, it has a great potential capability to help change the way we’ve been, meaning change the current status quo of inequality, oppression, exclusion, and alienation.

Naturally, the road to political conscientization and revolutionary action is paved with obstacles and self-doubt, especially in the context of the atomization of the individual and the multiple ambient, everyday life’s difficulties that discourage action, and unrelenting State and media propaganda that disqualify critical thinking. Still, it’s been a great pleasure to see that the human spirit and political conscience are alive and well.

—Tontongi Boston, January 2012

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