What’s missing from the discourse around the Occupy Movement, some thoughts

Posted on October 12, 2011


We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. -Martin Luther King Jr.

I have something to say

After watching Occupy Wall Street unfold weeks ago (literally watching on the livefeed.. a lot), watching it spread across the country and internationally since, and after 4 days of 3-4 hour meetings with the Honolulu General Assembly, and of course reading mainstream and personal accounts of all the above, I have something to say.

I’m sick of people saying “they don’t understand” the Occupy Wallstreet/subsequent “Occupations” happening around the nation.  I feel like a pretty key element of the Occupy Movement is missing from mainstream/public discourse on the issue: the fact that most people don’t agree with/are unhappy with the current state of affairs.  Google Congress’ approval rating.  Why don’t I just use google magic and insert a hyperlink?  Because I’m sick of bearing the burden of proof – reasons for a deep dissatisfaction that demands the action taken by 99%ers globally – when it’s been made incredibly clear, especially since Obama failed to magically produce hope and change (not that I wasn’t in the Obama camp at one point), that most Americans are unsatisfied. People are somehow missing the fact that we are disenchanted with the political process. Disenchanted at best; completely apathetic with a tinge of disgust and a heap of futility at worst.  And then there are the people who are too immersed in the consumerist pop-culture we’re incessantly bombarded with to give two fucks about politics but that’s another story.  My point is to draw attention to the fact that it’s no secret that americans are unhappy for a number of reasons – and yet everyone is scratching their heads about these protests.  I pray that we are not that obtuse.

My second point has to do with the hope and change we were promised by Obama.  He captivated young idealists who dreamed of a better future.  This is also no secret.  I don’t know about you, but millenials I talk to (and some Gen-Xers, and whatever came before them too actually… hmm – see point 1) don’t really “support” Obama anymore.  They’ll still vote for him no doubt (or at least would have before OWS), but i’m getting ahead of myself. So around the Obama campaign we saw huge numbers of young people going out and volunteering, being really enthused about the whole thing. I was one of them though I held a couple reservations.  Then you saw support declining.  Now you see protests.  It’s a pretty linear process.. shouldn’t be that hard to follow (obviously this is a complete over simplification and doesn’t even include everything else re: legislation this last session, the debt ceiling, Wisconsin, bank bailouts, etc which also are part of a continuing narrative of dissatisfaction and distrust of the system).  So all these people were promised something magical (magical in the sense that nobody would have to work for it – hello american laziness) and are realizing that if he didn’t do anything for us the only people who will is us.

There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all. -Mario Savio

We are not being represented and it’s time to represent ourselves.

I think different generations are dealing with the current socio-political climate differently, but the fact that, while youth-driven (at least in Honolulu) the movement contains people of all ages, races (though I have heard of critiques re:hegemony in the protests, which is to be expected to some degree), sexual orientations and genders, religions, past political affiliations, etc. speaks volumes.  Many intersections are present. And how each movement site deals with these issues of overlapping privilege and oppression will be interesting.  I’m happy to say the Occupy Honolulu has done an amazing job around these issues so far.  We’ve learned form each other and grown together a lot over the last four days.  People nationwide want to know what the demand is, why we’re catering to all of these “liberal leftie marginal issues” instead of focusing on the prize.  Well, what is the prize?  To demand the 1% are taxed more or somehow end the Fed will alleviate only part of the unrest which i believe brought people out to the streets over the last 3 weeks or so.  But even those two issues stem from a deeper framework of hierarchy, power and control.  My point is something bigger is happening.

My question to people who scoff, nay-say, express hostility towards, etc. at the Occupy Movement is this: can you say you are not unhappy?  We are supposed to live under a government of by and for the people – What’s stopping you from doing anything to fix that?

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men. -Abe Lincoln

In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme. – aristotle