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Thursday, September 29, 2011

I guess I'm just getting old
Posted by Jill | 9:15 PM
Last night Mr. Brilliant and I were talking about whether we should plan to go into the city this weekend and at least for a few hours join the Occupy Wall Street protest, and I realized that I haven't written a single word about it, which makes me not much better than the very mainstream media that has been all but ignoring them (other than MSNBC during prime time). I do support their cause, however, while the media's job seems to be to belittle it and belittle the protest itself, aside from a few brave souls like Lawrence O'Donnell, whose evening ratings against MSNBC's now-nemesis Keith Olbermann are good enough that he can get away with something like this (and as I understand it, he doesn't need the money and could walk away and be just fine at any time):

After living through the last five decades, I guess I've just become disillusioned about the power of street protests. Part of it is that I get irritated with the kind of unfocused, every-fringe-group aspect of them. Of course this is just part of the herding-cats aspect of the left, but yes, I do get tired of seeing "Free Mumia!" signs at every single protest about everything. And don't tell me white liberals don't care about black men on Death Row; witness the attention paid to the Troy Davis case. But when a protest is to try to stop a war, or to call attention to the way Wall Street is sucking what little the middle class has left into their own pockets after causing a near-collapse of the global economy and continuing to enrich themselves, after not one of them has gone to jail or even have to answer questions, the stakes are too high to turn it into an all-purpose litany of, OK, I'll say it, tired-sounding lefty slogans.

Yes, we still believe in ending sexism and racism, and we hate corporatism and fascism and greed, and we still oppose the death penalty. But when a half million of us marched in 2002 to try to stop a war that WE knew was based on lies, it wasn't about racism, sexism, OR the death penalty. It was a cry for recognition by the American people that we were being lied to and THEIR children would be the ones to die. When thousands of people march against a war, or gather on Wall Street and in cities across the country, to provide a counter-voice to the right-wing meme that the wealthy are being persecuted by lazy unemployed people, I just want these protests to focus on that and keep the puppets and the peripheral issue signs out of it, and to be able to talk about what the protest is about without using the words "corporatism" and "greed" and "revolution" and instead cite the many concrete examples that are right out there for the having of how the guys in those buildings have screwed Americans seven ways to Sunday. Yes, you need short, succinct talking points. And yes, I use "corporatism" as a blog tag. But I'm largely preaching to the converted here; I'm not out there sleeping in a park and trying to get the attention of people who roll their eyes at things like this:

I know that this method of communicating is because the protesters are not allowed to have microphones. And my old lefty heart still soars when I watch the passion and the idealism of these people, but at the same time it depresses me, because I hear a lot of buzzwords of the left in what these people are saying and I know that you could plaster this all over every television station in the country and the people in the red states who are blaming immigrants and gays and the black man in the White House would tune it right out. The word "Revolution" spoken by people in Hoverounds, or by guys with NRA hats, is not a threatening word to them. That word spoken by someone who is Black, or Latino, or who looks like what John Cole described yesterday as
.. a bunch of trustafarian nitwits who should be braiding hair and drinking wheat beer in the parking lot of a Phish concert, weaving in a few bong hits and a couple games of hacky-sack. We’re just making it too easy for Wall Street and the money boys if this collection of motley fools is the opposition. It’s so fucking depressing.

...just isn't going to resonate with the guy who lost his manufacturing job three years ago, the bank is foreclosing on his house, and he's blaming Mexicans.

I don't know what the answer is. I keep thinking back to the image of the 1960 lunch counter sit ins. This is Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond, after leaving the first lunch counter sit-in, in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960:

They are wearing suits and ties and tailored overcoats.

Here are demonstrators at the March on Washington, in August 1963:

They are wearing suits and dresses and look as if they are coming back from church.

I can't say for certain that the suits and ties and dresses made the world pay attention, but when the anti-war marches of the 1960's have caused conservative America and the media to regard anyone marching against injustice as dirty fucking hippies, images of what often looks like an attempt to relive the original Woodstock festival, and still doesn't seem to have a clear message and a clear goal, make it hard to see this as working.

I hope I'm wrong.

UPDATE: Go read this post at Reddit. (via Tom in the comments).


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Blogger BadTux said...
Welcome to the old left liberal elite, comrade. Because according to the advocates of this protest, that's who points out that the emperor's children have bad clothes -- the old left, upset that they cannot use these children to make money for themselves. The fact that we've seen these same damned tactics re-invented by a new generation every few years for the past forty years -- and never once succeed -- has nothing to do with our criticisms. Nope, we're just bitter we didn't think of re-inventing the same tactics that the SDS invented almost fifty years ago ourselves...

- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Blogger Tom said...
I don't think you're alone in this, and I'm not sure its age-dependent.

There is an article at Reddit from someone claiming to be 35 who's saying something very similar. Here's the link:


My frustration is different. My wife's union, the Cincinnati State chapter of the AAUP, has been on strike this week. Ohio is gearing up for a vote to overturn a public employee union busting bill that went even further than Wisconsin: this one includes cops and firefighters.

Anyway, the contract came up for renegotiation at just the wrong time and it's pretty clear that orders came down from Columbus to refuse to negotiate. The sticking point is workload, but the administration rejects faculty-offered givebacks that would save them money over a fact-finder's report they accepted. The goal is to break the union, period. And none of the so-called Ohio progressive media (new or old) will cover the story.

I'm not opposed to coverage of the Wall Street thing, but can't we walk and chew gum at the same time? The attitude has been "We'll upset people if we talk about a strike and that might hurt our chances to win an election that preserves the right to strike."

We bitch about Republican narratives. We can't seem to get our own straight. The strike ended about 45 minutes ago. It was always scheduled to be just a week so the students -- who are truly caught in the middle in all this -- won't be overly burdened. And they've been amazingly supportive, by the way. If the administration won't come back to the table -- and they probably won't until after the vote on Issue 2 in November -- the union will strike again for a week at the beginning of a new term. Assuming Issue 2 is rejected and they're allowed to strike, that is...

I have no idea whether or not this was an appropriate comment. I needed to vent. I read this blog every day. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

Blogger CSPANgeek said...
Hi Jill,

You are definitely not alone in this. I'm 29 years old and living in Boston. I went to an anti-war protest in DC on the 5 year anniversary of the Iraq war and, although it felt good to be amongst people as upset as I was, there was a pointless feeling to the whole exercise. We looked like a bunch of dirty hippies. If your goal is to persuade a Republican, that's the last thing you want to look like.

I see the same thing in the Occupy Wall Street movement. I love the idea of occupying Wall Street, and I understand that you are going to look dirty when literally sleeping on the street. But perception is everything, especially on television, and these people would be taken more seriously if they looked like serious people. Instead, they look like they're recreating Burning Man. Did you notice the topless girl?

This was one of the main reasons I decided to fly to DC last month and get arrested with the Tar Sands Action group protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. We had a few hippies but the organizers were very clear that they wanted people to dress as if going to a business meeting at the White House. Dress seriously to be taken seriously. Add a clear goal and 4 hour training sessions into the mix, and you've got a group of people worth following.

I haven't ruled out going down to Wall Street... I may catch the MegaBus down there on Wednesday, October 5th to march with the labor unions, but I won't be going all in and joining this movement. It's a bit too sloppy for me.

Blogger Pangolin said...
How many nuclear power plants were built in the U.S. after 1980....zero that's how many. Is your air cleaner than it was in 1972 in any major city in the U.S.; you bet it is. Are gays now allowed to serve openly in the military and marry their partners in several states; yep. Are you on the internet on a personal computer?

You owe ALL of that to "dirty fucking hippies" who went out and protested again, and again and again even when they were losing for fifty years.

It's not our fault that Union Joe Sixpack decided to strap the racist feedbag to his head in 1980 with the Reagan election and has only looked out since he lost his job when the plant was shipped to China.

The facts are that it has been the dirty _ing hippies who have kept what little checks there have been on corporate power in place over the last 3 decades. It certainly hasn't been suburban office workers; you can't even count on them to vote.

So unless your personal feet are on a street corner holding a stupid sign week in and week out in your nice suit...... you might consider checking your criticism. Because Move On can't even convince Obama to behave like an FDR Democrat or even a Nixon Republican.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I marched in 1967 and 1968. I wore pressed shirts and pants, shined shoes, a brush cut haircut and a tie.

I marched with the older people dressed the same.

The TV and print coverage covered about 20 radicals, never the respectable people. I never once saw the "decent dressed" people pictured.

You got a problem with the way the "occupy Wall Street" people are dressed, blow it out your left ear.