Occupy Earth

In the week since the Occupy May Day General Strike, I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of the event.

Friends who were in New York City that day say it was tremendously exciting, especially the permitted march from Union Square to Wall Street, which apparently stretched out strong over some 30 blocks.

As far as I could tell, mainstream media reported only the arrests that occurred, and that fairly grudgingly.  There has been little effort to explain or explore the anger and frustration that propelled hundreds of thousands worldwide out into the streets on May Day.

Maybe that’s because it’s an old story.  Yesterday’s news!  We know that students are unhappy about being $1 trillion in debt; we know that millions of homeowners are unhappy about being “underwater” with their mortgages, or losing their homes due to foreclosures.  We know that there aren’t enough jobs to lift our economy out of the doldrums.  It’s old news, people!  Tell us something we don’t know!

So the question becomes, is a protest effective if it is ignored by the mainstream media?

I would say yes: the fact that the MSM treated May Day as unimportant is more revealing of how out of touch the editors are than of whether or not the protest was real and meaningful.

On social media, May Day was well covered, especially at interactive, citizen journalism-type venues like Livestream and Twitter.

And if you go on the Occupy Wall Street site now, you’ll find that the organizers are already bounding on to the next action.

May Day was just one in a whole series of protests planned. It was an opening volley of what promises to be an intense, engaging spring.

But it opened up a question that is not likely to go away any time soon.

How important is it to actually show up, in the flesh, for a protest?

I was berated by one reader for choosing to stay in my classroom on May Day rather than joining the protests.

Other readers expressed their support for my decision to “occupy my classroom,” where my individual presence was perhaps more important than it would have been as an anonymous member of the crowd on Broadway.

I have been pondering this question in the past week.  As someone who is deeply involved with new media, I have to say that I believe that what happens in cyberspace is at least as important as what happens in physical space.

Maybe it’s even more important.

It is no exaggeration to say that millions of people participated in the May Day protests online, via Facebook, Twitter, Livestream and so many other interactive platforms.

The protests spread around the world, just like the May 5 “Connect the Dots” climate change awareness events.

Through the magic of cyberspace, we were all united in a common goal: expressing our outrage over the cynical manipulation and impoverishment of the 99% by the 1%, and demanding that the interests of the 99% be taken into account in matters of political and economic policy.

Although I have no doubt that face-to-face General Assemblies and marches are important, it is ridiculous to discount the impact of what goes around and comes around in cyberspace.

Are we approaching the weird tipping point when our cyber-selves will be more important than our physical selves?

As I keep reminding people, cyberspace is totally dependent on electricity for its existence.

So if we want to preserve cyberspace as a place of radical openness, communitarianism and oppositionality, it behooves us to pay attention to the real 99% in the current equation: the natural world that has been providing us with the means to create the current that runs the virtual world.

I might be tempted to buck my agoraphobia (fear of crowds) and make the leap from cyber-protest to physical protest if the goal were defending not just jobs or homes or social equality, but the underpinning of it all, the great mother herself, our beloved community, our Earth.

May Day: Here, There and Everywhere

A reader asks why I did not stay home from work and join the May Day protests today, and I feel like this question deserves a serious response.

Partly, I have always had a phobia about crowds, and never willingly put myself into a crowd situation.  I don’t even like to go to an agricultural fair, or a peaceful parade.  In my Manhattan youth, crowds and violence often went together, or at least crowds and the fear of violence.  I am a wimp.

Partly, I felt like I could do more good in my classroom today than anonymously out on the streets.  It is the last full week of classes at my institution; students are finishing up projects that need response and guidance.  If I didn’t show up to work today, it would throw a monkey wrench in the plans I made for a graceful and productive ending to our semester together.

Partly, I don’t have any beef against my own employer, so not showing up for work today would affect the wrong target, while making no difference at all to the intended target, the 1%.

I guess the biggest reason I felt like my presence was expendable to today’s protest is because no one would notice if I was or was not out there on the street, but I would definitely be missed from my classroom.

However, in at least one of my two classes today, I did spend some time talking about May Day and the reasons for the protest.

I was surprised to learn that very few of my students had any clue as to what May Day signified to the labor movement, or why the protests today were taking place.

I don’t know why I assumed that my students would be more politically aware than I was at their age.

Turns out, few of them even realized there were going to be significant protests today, much less what they were all about.  Some also had their doubts as to whether the Occupy approach was likely to be effective.

Well, I pressed them, if occupying public spaces is not an effective means of protest, what would be more effective?  Joining a political campaign?  Writing a letter to the editor?

No one had an answer to that, but I could see the wheels turning.

And that’s why I am glad I decided to stay at work today.  At least with this one small group of students, I was able to foreground these historic May Day protests in their minds, and ask some questions that no one else probably would have asked them today.

Maybe as a result they will be paying attention to the news in a different way, and thinking more concretely about how the issues blazoned across all those posters and banners are relevant to their own particular lives.

Whether working on the small canvas, in the classroom, or the big canvas, out in the street, we are working together to build up the necessary momentum to blast our way to a better world.


Which Side Are You On?

So here we sit on the eve of May Day 2012, and there is an eerie calm-before-the-storm kind of feeling.

The mainstream media is still doing its best to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary is going on.

The only May-Day related event reported in the NY Times today was that a lawsuit was filed in federal court to keep police from using “pen” barricades to hold demonstrators against their will.

Apparently news of the remarkable energy, creativity and defiant spirit showed by the Occupy movement in the countdown to May Day is not fit to print, ie, not important to the intended audience of The Times.

But if you move over to Twitter and search #Occupy, #OccupyWallSt, or #MayDay, you get a whole different picture of what’s going on.

Instead of the nose-in-the-air ho-hum of the fat-cat NY Times, suddenly you’re plunged into a hum of activity, down on the ground with a million twittering mice running around energetically, purposefully and thoughtfully.

There is @OccupyColleges calling for a student strike to protest the debt-bondage of student loans.

#OWS is trumpeting the latest total of 135 U.S. cities where general strikes have been organized for tomorrow.

The Nation, Democracy Now, and Truthout are publishing advance stories preparing for what’s coming.

The media landscape itself bears evidence of the huge and widening gap between the 1%-dominated old guard, napping on its laurels, and the feisty up-and-at-‘em new media webizens, who are vigilant and unafraid to welcome in something new and different.

For make no mistake, the General Strike planned for tomorrow is something new.

International Workers Day has not been celebrated in the U.S. for a long time.  In fact, during most of my lifetime it was demonized as a Communist holiday, which you’d be unpatriotic–unAmerican!–to take seriously.

We’ve come a long way in a very short time.

Thanks to the Occupy movement, being a worker, rather than a boss, is no longer a sign of personal shortcomings, as in: what’s wrong with you, that you’re still only earning minimum wage, bub?  You dumb or something?

Likewise, the Occupy Foreclosures movement has taught us that it’s not that we were stupid to apply for that tempting mortgage, it’s that the banks were predatory and sleazy to talk us into it.

Thanks to the Occupy movement, the onus has shifted to the 1% to prove that what they’re doing is responsible and for the good of all, rather than motivated by naked greed and self-interest.

The rapacious vulture Capitalism that has dominated the U.S., and hence the world, since the end of World War II has been exposed, and there is no going back.

It may be true that many of the strikers are motivated by self-interest rather than pure altruism.  They want jobs, along with affordable housing, education and health care.

But it’s also true that the Capitalist masters of the universe have lost control of the ship and can no longer pull levers to make jobs and other social benefits magically appear.

Unless, that is, the ultra-rich 1% can be persuaded to part with a fair portion of their loot.

History shows that when the gap between the haves and have-nots widens too far, something snaps and the mob takes over to reset the balance.  Think the American, French and Haitian Revolutions.  Think the Communist takeovers of Russia and China.

When it happens, it isn’t pretty.  Haven’t those in power learned their lesson?  Don’t they realize that they can only push the 99% so far before all the police barricades in the world won’t be able to hold us back?

I don’t think we’ve hit that snapping point yet.  But May Day 2012 is going to be something to watch, and something to participate in, too, if the spirit moves you.

Me, I’ll be teaching my classes this May Day, but with a tip of my hat to what’s going on down at the barricades in New York and all across the country.

And you?  Where will you be on this historic International Worker’s Day?

“Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on?”

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Let a million local media outlets and citizen journalists bloom

As we head into the 10-day countdown to May Day, once again the mainstream media is snoozing its way into irrelevance.

Check out today’s New York Times and you will find nary a mention of the busy preparations going on now for the day of action in New York and around the country on May 1.

This seems to just prove the point of media pundit Dr. Alan Chartock, founding president and CEO of the 20-station, seven-state Northeast Public Radio Network here in my neck of the woods.

Speaking last Sunday at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Dr. Chartock depicted a coming media landscape dominated by a few big national and international players, reaching audiences principally through the World Wide Web.

Progressive media analysts have long been concerned about the homogenization of the news that comes as a result of corporate conglomerates controlling vast swaths of the airwaves, as well as almost all print news outlets.

The good news is that at least so far, it has been impossible to impose corporate control over the internet.  Witness the huge outcry over the proposed PIPA and SOPA legislation last winter, which critics said would have limited free speech on the Web.  Millions of signatures were collected on petitions against the legislation, and the proponents backed down—at least for now.

Dr. Alan Chartock

Dr. Chartock is worried about the wholesale media move to the internet for two good reasons.

One, accuracy: it is often impossible to know for sure that the information on a given blog or even larger online media outlet has been carefully and objectively reported.

Two, money: Where is the business model that will support the reporters and editors needed to continue to perform the traditional watchdog role of the press?

It seems to me that his own Northeast Public Radio Network provides a good answer to these issues.  It is supported by local listeners and underwriters who put their dollars behind the station because they recognize a good thing when they see one.  They would start to withdraw their support if the quality of the programming went down.

To counter the drift to a globalized corporate media desert, let’s let a million local radio stations, blogs, vlogs, livestreams, tweets and You-Tube videos bloom!

Let’s not only support our locally owned, locally produced media, let’s start producing it too!

Here in the Berkshires, we not only have WAMC and other Northeast Public Radio affiliate stations, we also have WBCR-LP, which is not only 100% listener-supported but also all-volunteer and open to any citizen journalist who takes the trouble to get trained as a programmer.

We have the Berkshire Record, our hometown print newspaper in Great Barrington, and we also have iBerkshires and various locally produced blogs and small websites.

And let’s not forget the countless Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and You-Tube channels devoted to getting us localized news we can use.

The truth is that the Occupy movement doesn’t need the New York Times to reach its target audience.  The fact that the mainstream media is ignoring the upcoming May Day protests is just one more example of how dominated by the 1% these big media corporations are.

Whose media?  Our media!  Mainstream media?  Who needs’em?

May Day Mutiny: Radical Transformation Rises

Today is our “spring forward” day in the U.S., when we move the clocks forward an hour thus “losing an hour” in the morning, but gaining an additional hour of light at the end of the day.

It’s a beautiful sunny day here in Massachusetts, with birds singing their love songs in the trees, and the sap rising steadily in the thick sugar maple forests.

It’s hard to feel gloomy or pessimistic on a day like today, with our great source energy, the Sun, shining so brilliantly and steadily down on us.

Even contemplating the social landscape, it seems that there are reasons to be hopeful.

Last night I attended a brilliant one-act play by a Bard College at Simon’s Rock senior, sensitively and with almost painful honesty focusing on the relationship between a pair of best friends, 15-year-old girls, as one of them goes through a secretive, excruciating home abortion.

At the talk-back after the play, the author, who also played the lead, said she wrote the play because it was so clear to her that young women’s voices need to be heard more broadly in the theatrical world—not just as love objects written by men.

To me this is a hopeful sign, because as more women’s voices find their way into the great collective unconscious of the human public sphere, they will have an impact on the way we think and act as a social body.

The shame, secrecy and psychic anguish felt by the lead character of the play is so unnecessary, as is the fact that although it took two to implant that fetus, the other teen parent, the guy, was entirely absent from the drama that followed.

If young men were more aware of what an abortion entails, I dare say that many of them would be more responsible in doing their part to avoid pregnancy until they were ready to assume the mantle of fatherhood.

If high school sex ed included sessions on abortion the way drivers’ ed includes sessions on the consequences of driving drunk, complete with graphic images and re-enactments, abortion might become a rarity, and having teen sex without contraception as stigmatized as driving a bunch of friends home from a party dead drunk.


I am feeling hopeful today too because yesterday I read Tidal 2, the second journal put out by a group calling itself Occupy Theory.

The journal, entirely web-based, includes articles by Judith Butler and Gayatri Spivak, written in as accessible a voice as I have ever heard those two formidable theorists muster.

It also includes articles by unnamed CUNY Graduate Center students on a variety of issues, as well as a wealth of other interesting short pieces and vivid photos and artwork of the Occupy movement.

Judith Butler

Butler makes the excellent point, in reference to the call by the political/media establishment for “a list of demands,” that “the appeal or demand that sought to be satisfied by the existing state, global monetary institutions, or corporations, national or transnational, would be giving more power to the very sources of inequality, and in that way aiding and abetting the reproduction of inequality itself.”

Instead, Butler calls for a movement for “radical equality,” the achievement of which would require “the making of new institutions,” rather than trying to push existing institutions to change radically while still maintaining their social dominance.

She also envisions an Occupy strategy that would be strategically “episodic and targeted,” rather than the sitting-duck encampment strategy of last fall.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Such a strategy might build on the historical model of the General Strike, as Gayatri Spivak discusses in her contribution to Tidal 2.

The General Strike, as undertaken by Gandhi against the British, “has always been special because it is undertaken by those who suffer, not by morally outraged ideologues,” Spivak says.  “It is by definition non-violent…though the repressive apparatus of the state has used great violence against the strikers. Although the results are transformative, the demands are usually focused on laws….If one sees the connection between the General Strike and the Law, one realizes that this is not legal reformism, but a will to social justice….Unlike a party, a general strike refuses to cooperate until things change.”

Tidal 2 ends with a bold call for a General Strike on the symbolically important day of May 1, 2012, May Day.

I have no doubt that it will happen, and that it will be big.

I am sure police forces across the world are already planning their own strategies.

The truth is that if the 99%, “those who suffer” from the structural inequality of globalized capitalism, were to come out in large enough numbers on May Day, and refuse to go home until those in power began a serious dialogue on transformative, institutional change that included the retooling of our political, social and environmental systems for 21st century realities—the truth is that we might actually get somewhere.

Somewhere new, somewhere joyful, somewhere beyond the bruising, gridlocked, decrepit and corrupt politics that currently has our entire planet in a stranglehold.

The social and political elites who have inherited the 20th century reins of power and do not want to let go need to be made aware that they are driving us all over a cliff with their refusal to summon the political will and the technological know-how to adapt to anthropogenic global heating.

They must be made to understand that they and their children will go down with the rest of us!

That is the one blind spot in this issue of Tidal 2: there is very little mention of the impact of climate change and human overpopulation on the carrying capacity of the planet.

This awareness shows up more in metaphor than head-on, but metaphor is powerful too.

At one point, the anonymous authors of Tidal 2 describe the 1% as the captain of a ship “who steers while we shovel coal and  swab decks.  He seems to have us headed towards a typhoon.

“The captain stares at the impending doom on the horizon and grins ecstatically.  He’s clearly thrilled to be captain.  He faces down a storm that we can only wincingly glance at with one squinting eye, and he jabbers incessantly about hope and destiny.  We realize that he does not see as a normal person, by passively receiving light through his pupils.  Rather he uses his eyes offensively to project what he wants to see on the world.  He has become so practiced at his fantasia that he can no longer recognize what we, cringing on deck, see as certain catastrophe.”

Well, my friends, it is time to stop cringing on deck.

Mutiny is justified if the captain is a raving maniac and the alternative to mutiny is catastrophe.

On this sunny day, let’s pledge to take a great leap forward this spring, take charge and steer ourselves into safer waters.

See you on May Day.

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