Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's the #Occupation That's Sweeping the Nation

There was a time when timidity kept me from joining things.  As time goes on, it's become more curmudgeonly distaste than fear that keeps me flying solo. There are a number of political and social issues that move me, but I always end up disinterested in aligning myself with the official movements that support  my positions.

There are a lot of reasons for that, but at the top of the list is my overwhelming aversion to the doctrinaire thinking and the kind of accidental complacency that creeps in when people align themselves under a philosophical flag.

Which is why I really like the #Occupy movement.
Given the respectful, dignified and diverse face of the this movement, the opposition's at a bit of a loss to find a critique that gains traction, but the standby seems to be the lack of coherent message, the old, "but they're not accomplishing anything," attack, which really misses the point.

For starters, there may not be a list of demands but guess what? This is a protest movement, not a hostage negotiation.   As far as there not being a message...isn't a little bit farcical to pretend the message is indecipherable?  The bottom line here is that the American public has become a marginalized minority by its theoretical representatives in government and the undue influence of corporations on same.

At this early point, the over-arching goal of this movement is to win the hearts and minds of the American public.

Because while morally dubious political decision-making and corporate malfeasance are the direct roots of our current malaise, we, the 99%, need to take a little bit of responsibility here too.  I'm not talking "you can't complain if you don't vote," because voting is a pretty bare minimum of involvement and is, as we've seen, pretty ineffective.  It's not enough to check a box on a ballot if elected officials know there'll be no consequences if they let us down.  The corporate/political complicity that #Occupy stands against didn't happen suddenly, it happened incrementally and as a nation we were a) not paying attention or b) too lazy to respond beyond bitching to our friends. 

There were people protesting, the proverbial canaries in the coal mine but average Americans were either a) not paying attention or b) too lazy to think critically about what they were saying.  The message that corporations have a dangerous hold on politics is not a new idea.  We've watched G8 summits and IMF meetings turn into chaos and rioting and we've seen a steady stream of furious hippies and punks railing against the man and his money and the control it has in our lives.  The thing is, they were preaching to the choir, or at the very least to lapsed members of the congregation.  The people who heard the message were the people who already understood the dynamic.  The people who needed to hear it saw a bunch of very angry people with weird hair and insufficient personal hygiene with whom they had nothing in common.

So here we are, having fallen rather far into the rabbit hole of economic and social decline and finally, finally waking up and taking a stand.  To my mind the real target of the #Occupy movement (at least at this early stage) is only nominally the 1% and its stranglehold on government.  It's not so much against something as it is FOR a great awakening of the public consciousness, FOR the creation of an educated, engaged populace, FOR a sense of unity to replace the binary us vs. them, liberals vs. conservatives, white collar vs. blue collar narrative that has effectively paralyzed our capacity to act together.  We've spent a very long time misdirecting a lot of dogmatic, impotent rage at each other instead of valuing the things we share and working to achieve common goals.

To change those attitudes, particularly as deeply entrenched as they are, is no mean feat.  #Occupy has made impressive inroads already, and if it keeps on apace, it will have achieved something far more valuable than revoking corporate personhood or prosecuting some crooked CEO; it will have changed the culture that created the conditions for these shenanigans in the first place.

And so I'm putting aside my natural aversion to joining and heading down to New York next week.  I have faith it's going to be engaging and inspiring.  I'm excited to meet people and talk with them about what's going on and I'm sure there'll also be a bunch of people and things that drive me crazy. Which sounds like democracy. It sounds good.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Thing That Drives Me Bats:

When critical theory jargon slithers into the mainstream and runs amok.

With the exception of my gender, most of my demographic info falls in the privileged category.  I recognize it.  I do my level best to be mindful of it. I’m interested in discussions and debate with people who are and are not privileged in the same ways.

But I have to say it really bums me out when the notion of privilege gets bandied around as a way to invalidate someone’s input in these sorts of explorations. I haven’t run afoul of it myself, but I’ve seen a lot of it lately.

If someone’s out of line, rebuttal with a legitimate, reasoned argument is a million times more productive and enlightening than telling them that their race/gender/sexual orientation/what have you means they can’t possibly understand.  It’s belittling, it undermines constructive conversation and it promotes isolation and mistrust.

I recently saw a tweet from someone who often supports arguments that use the concept of privilege as a weapon. In the tweet, she used a race-based colloquialism that is considered offensive to some members of the minority it references and then made a sarcastic reference to the “political correctness” police.  I was disappointed by the lack of respect from someone who insists on respect from others and the realization that she’s less interested in real examination of privilege and difference than in validating her own position. 

Respect is the bottom line.  Privilege and related concepts aren’t intended to be weapons in an arsenal, trotted out to dominate an argument.  They’re tools for understanding ourselves and others and they’re meaningless if respect isn’t in the equation.