The Spirit of Resistance
By Jake Merrell
The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.–Thomas Jefferson
Occupy Wall Street is entering its fifth week of resistance, and the press has had its fun. I know there were Communists there, but it feels like Fox News missed the end of the Cold War. How did we ever come to dub protest class warfare? What makes students feel free to hold a publically-announced meeting solely to ridicule the protesters, at the decided exclusion of liberals? These are lessons from Political Maneuvering 101—check out Nixon’s campaign against Jerry Voorhis—but we can’t keep relying on ideological rhetoric to make our decisions for us. Communists aren’t just the old enemy of Capitalism; they’re the classic sign of deteriorating economies. That feels infinitely more interesting than the observation that hippies attend protests. But it’s not just the media that likes to overreact. Look at our own school; with mention of a dedicated anti-liberal Conservative Club, we should be concerned about how the dialogue of politics is playing out. I checked out the protests with friends last weekend expecting to find it an interesting case of ineffective resistance, but found my presumption to be way off the mark. So we have to be open conversationalists, and here’s where we’ll start.
Let’s take this seriously. Students like us are at an age where we can’t help but demonize as soon as we can criticize. So we have to drop any preconceived notions we might have about the potheads in Zucotti Park (the same potheads enforce a stricter drug and alcohol policy than Taft). Paul Gilding, an Australian environmentalist and author, would say that the decline of the economy is the result of pressing up against the limits of economic expansion. According to Gilding, we are entering a “Great Disruption” where ruthless economic growth has coupled with a weakening democratic process in such a manner that is unsustainable and self-destructive. And as the fuse on Wall Street burns, where do the protesters stand? They don’t provide a solution, and they aren’t unified under one concrete political platform. Gilding calls Occupy Wall Street the child that says what nobody wants to admit: “the emperor has no clothes. The system is broken.”
American media theorist and columnist Douglas Rushkoff points out that this could be the new format for protest, “picking up on the sustainable protest village of the movement’s Egyptian counterparts.” When we went down to the park, the things that impressed me most were the library, the discussion groups, and the “human megaphone.” Like any good protester, an Occupier is vocal, but what’s being taken to the streets isn’t a revolution or a political agenda. It’s a discussion. Protesters are replacing a political platform with an open forum. But we’ve always had political platforms at our protests, right? It’s just how things are done, like with the Tea Party.
The Tea Party comparison is actually pretty weak, because Tea Partiers are campaigners, as opposed to proponents of dialogue. The populace isn’t represented by the Tea Party, which is a partisan organization subsidized by the Koch Brothers, etc. Occupy has marched a force of fifteen thousand students, teachers, union members, and unemployed common men and women on more than one occasion. Fortunately, they aren’t a campaign, because at a time where ideological partisanship is clogging decision-making on every level of government, we really need discussion, not demagoguery. Occupy Wall Street actually manages the kind of discourse that we need to institute in the place of.
The idea of an open forum has provoked debate on its own. I’ve heard a number of students parroting the news’ burning question: why don’t the protesters unify? But they are unified—unified in frustration—and if they succeed in making the world empathize with their struggle, they should be considered credible though they aren’t partisan proselytizers. Our own Constitution was a compromise created by a group of men who couldn’t agree on anything. This country stands on the foundation of discussion, and it’s not a problem that radically different views persist in one group.
The methodology for political discourse has become the following: make your point, wage a smear campaign, send the bill to somebody else. So, in some respects, the protesters are a tough target. If you criticize their demands or claims, you’ll quickly realize you’ve been butting heads with a faction. Some protesters are more radical than others, but the group is collectively a different machine than any of its parts. Protesters have only claimed that the banks are better represented than the people, and it’s true. Looking at the park from their TV sets are FDR’s economic royalists, determined to pick apart the argument of the poor and unemployed. So let’s go back to Gilding’s analogy: who is doing the most for their country? The kid who critiques the status quo or the critic who attacks the child? Trick question: it’s the person who effectively interprets the kid’s honesty and forms a plan. Occupy Wall Street has changed the discussion, so don’t scrutinize them beyond what they deserve. Just join the conversation. They won’t stone you for disagreeing with them. Maybe, your experience will be like mine, and you’ll come to appreciate its value.