Saturday, October 1, 2011


A few days ago my good friend Mark published a thought on his facebook wall expressing his disillusion with the progressive protests that have been ongoing on Wall St. It prompted quite a few spirited and thoughtful responses. I threw something in there as well. Many had challenged Mark, claiming that the protests serve to at least bring media attention the group's efforts. But after a few ideas back and forth, Mark posted his final reply to the discussion.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm outside flying a high fist when they roll by my building chanting. They have all my support when they're DOING something.

They're not interrupting my commute in the least bit and maybe that's the problem. Walking by and seeing something so lifeless is depressing. Nathan, you would be in the fierce minority down there, with your ability to articulate such a vision. There is a soul-sucking lack of passion and connection. I want to walk by and feel compelled--I want to feel the urge to stop and stay and not go to work that day.

That Chomsky quote (‎"The courageous and honorable protests underway in Wall Street should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.") smacks of obligation and inspires nothing. Media attention is indeed the least we can hope to come of it and it's the most we will get when the focus is so much on the people claiming to shed light on the calamity and not on the calamity itself. The intention is misguided and therefore misdirecting the attention. “There are people who wouldn't normally spend time in the Financial District spending a lot of time in privately-owned Zuccotti park,” says the news. “Who cares?” says everybody. I appreciate the symbolism but to call it direct action is quite a stretch. Horizontal, process-based and leaderless is how virtually every project I’m involved in operates but it only works when it is actively in service of something. I don’t see that service.

Call me a corporatist (again) but where's the takeaway? There is someone in Omaha who sees it on the news and would love nothing more than to be there, but has to stay home and work the job they probably feel lucky to have. What can they do? I’ve walked by it or through it a dozen times and never once been engaged or really even looked at in the eye. Just being there isn’t enough. Really. I want a little more “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore” and a little less hacky-sack.

I’m certainly knocking it a little too hard. I’m on the same team and I care. But it’s not a heroic feat and I think maybe it’s doing more harm than good. Also, routinely invoking the Arab spring is a corporate-minded kind of co-opting of the cheapest and most self-aggrandizing kind. That was probably the thing that pissed me off in the first place.

From what I can tell, Mark's disappointment with these protests is that they do nothing to give Wall St. anything to fear. The people in those buildings absolutely know that a bunch of Kumbaya-singing progressive pacifists have no means by which to inspire real change in either the financial or legislative arenas. No one's afraid of hippies anymore, and I would argue no one really was. Real social change requires something a lot more aggressive and dangerous; it always has. Progressive thought without active, vocal, and immediate engagement breeds a message that is misshapen and non-committal.

And that ain't doin' no good.

I may be wrong and if I am, Mark will certainly correct me. If so, this will be updated accordingly.


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