Friday, October 7, 2011

...Do You, Mister Jones?

About Goddamn Time

Via digby -- and with this, we inaugurate a new Blog Category, The Right Stuff:
The New Yorker:

The next target is Wall Street,” an anarchist collective known as Black Mask wrote in its January newsletter, 1967. On February 10th, around twenty-five members of the group, wearing black balaclavas and carrying giant skulls, took to the streets of the financial district and handed out this statement:
WALL STREET IS WAR STREET

The traders in stocks and bones shriek for New Frontiers—but the coffins return to the Bronx and Harlem. Bull markets of murder deal in a stock exchange of death. Profits rise to the ticker tape of your dead sons. Poison gas RAINS on Vietnam. You cannot plead “WE DID NOT KNOW.” Television brings the flaming villages into the safety of your home. You commit genocide in the name of freedom.

BUT YOU TOO ARE THE VICTIMS!

If unemployment rises, you are given work, murderous work. If education is inferior, you are taught to kill. If the blacks get restless, they are sent to die. This is Wall Street’s formula for the great society!

The photographer Larry Fink was there. “They had nothing but their own stealth, and no support,” Fink told me. They hoped to stoke a revolution. “They were working from a massive historic misinterpretation,” Fink said.

Fink thinks that today’s Occupy Wall Street protests are different. “We’ve gone past the time when utopia seemed like a viable option,” he said. “There’s no hope for some kind of Marxist future, so it seems formless. They just know that it can’t go on like this: the greed, the inequality. It can’t go on, so we’ll sit here.”

And, One Of The Smartest Humans In America has a few things to say which Bear Repeating -- 'Over And Over Again, My Friend':
There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people.

When the Occupy Wall Street protests began three weeks ago, most news organizations were derisive if they deigned to mention the events at all. For example, nine days into the protests, National Public Radio had provided no coverage whatsoever.

It is, therefore, a testament to the passion of those involved that the protests not only continued but grew, eventually becoming too big to ignore. With unions and a growing number of Democrats now expressing at least qualified support for the protesters, Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even eventually be seen as a turning point...

In the first act, bankers took advantage of deregulation to run wild (and pay themselves princely sums), inflating huge bubbles through reckless lending. In the second act, the bubbles burst — but bankers were bailed out by taxpayers, with remarkably few strings attached, even as ordinary workers continued to suffer the consequences of the bankers’ sins.

And, in the third act, bankers showed their gratitude by turning on the people who had saved them, throwing their support — and the wealth they still possessed thanks to the bailouts — behind politicians who promised to keep their taxes low and dismantle the mild regulations erected in the aftermath of the crisis.

Given this history, how can you not applaud the protesters for finally taking a stand?

...But Democrats are being given what amounts to a second chance. The Obama administration squandered a lot of potential good will early on by adopting banker-friendly policies that failed to deliver economic recovery even as bankers repaid the favor by turning on the president. Now, however, Mr. Obama’s party has a chance for a do-over. All it has to do is take these protests as seriously as they deserve to be taken.

And if the protests goad some politicians into doing what they should have been doing all along, Occupy Wall Street will have been a smashing success.

The visual counterpoint in the New Yorker slideshow I've provided a link to shows the shift from hesitant, not-that-well-attended antiwar protests of 1966 and 1967, to the mass protests and marches of 1969 and after (Out Now! Set The Date!).

The mid-Sixties through the mid-Seventies were a reaction to the Cold-War paranoia and "button down" consumerist capitalism of the post-WW2 era, in the poetry of Ginsburg, the comedy of Lenny Bruce; the collision between Rock-n-Roll and Soul; in The Naked Lunch and On The Road.

There were a large number of people adrift within a culture based on following the rules, on climbing the ladder and corporate growth (American corporations; this was before the rise of the Multinationals). People were beating their brains out in jobs they really didn't like at the office or factory during the week, getting drunk at backyard barbecues on the weekends, eyeing their friends' spouses; smoking too much, and falling asleep every night in front of the teevee.

And somehow, everyone knew that no matter how swell the Formica counters looked or how dependable that new Chrysler was -- something was very, very wrong. There was a worm at the heart of the rose, and we were being told to ignore it. But eventually, things began to happen no one could fail to notice.

The Cuban Missie Crisis brought the world within a hairsbreadth of an actual thermonuclear war. Americans were just beginning to deploy to Southeast Asia. In his last television interview at Hyannisport with Walter Cronkite, JFK said, "In the final analysis, it's their [the Vietnamese'] war". Then they killed Jack in Dallas, and by 1966, 200,000 troops were sent to South Vietnam and war was once again, as it always has been, Big Business. So many American corporations were, uh, "making a killing".

Meanwhile, people worked at those jobs; drank more liquor and bought more things; what the hell was it all for? Inside themselves, people were checking out: They'd All Gone To Look For America and didn't even realize it. On the teevee every night were scenes of a war half a world away, and men -- mostly in their late teens and early twenties -- were being wounded, dying, in larger numbers every month... not to mention thousands of Vietnamese.

As the war continued and no one listened, those first timid protest Actions became more organized, more visually compelling and rhetorically forceful, and it didn't take long -- the point being, the antiwar movement became the nexus for change already happening in the culture and a real political force to be reckoned with.

Perhaps, just perhaps, #Occupy Wall Street is the equivalent of those early 1966-67 actions, of something larger -- a harbinger of America's Tahrir Square. It's clear this isn't a crowd of students and dirty hippies protesting in New York, and now in more and more American cities; a slideshow of portraits of people attending the protests proves it. This is broad-based; the circumstances that created it affect everyone.

But, much as the Old Red Dog in me would like to think of a protest movement sweeping away old ways of thinking and relating; of shrugging off the Rule Of Wealth; the workers of Greece standing in solidarity with those in England and America and around the world... that's not likely.

And, the Democratic Establishment isn't going to wear tie-dye shirts and talk about "Sticking It To The Man". They're not going to march and rattle the walls. My expectations that Obama, Reid, Pelosi and others will make common cause with the spirit and perspective of #Occupy Wall Street are breathtakingly low.

But, history -- that thing we're all living through, now (a bit different to experience something you just breezed over in a few paragraphs from a Civ-101 textbook, huh?) -- has a way of surprising us. Just look at the past ten years.