“Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.”
"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
David Seaton's News LinksHow can any movement function without leaders? Dumb question, a much better question would be: how can any movement function with leaders, when all leaders will immediately get purchased with corporate money?
The danger of having a "leader" is staring at us from our TV screens every night: Barack Obama, the enthusiasm he aroused and the paucity of his achievements.
Watching president Obama floundering around in the middle of the biggest financial meltdown since the 1930s after all the expectations he raised, has turned out to be the final proof that the political system is no longer connected in any significant way to the needs of the people... And that is a frightening thought if ever there was one.
In many ways, the United States, which is not a defined ethnic or religious group with centuries of common history, only exists as a political system. Some countries have had several different regimes in the space of a hundred years, each with a different constitution, and still have remained perfectly recognizable. What would glue together the people who populate today's United States if something similar happened in America?
The challenge then is to take or retake the system from outside the system, without destroying the system.
Lets take a stroll down memory lane and see how America's clearest thinking political mind sized things up just after Obama got elected:
Obama's organizers regard the network they constructed "as a mass movement with unprecedented potential to influence voters," the Los Angeles Times reported. The movement, organized around the "Obama brand" can pressure Congress to "hew to the Obama agenda." But they are not to develop ideas and programs and call on their representatives to implement them. These would be among the "old ways of doing politics" from which the new "idealists" are "breaking free." (...) In earlier periods of American history, the public refused to keep to its assigned "function." Popular activism has repeatedly been the force that led to substantial gains for freedom and justice. The authentic hope of the Obama campaign is that the "grass roots army" organized to take instructions from the leader might "break free" and return to "old ways of doing politics," by direct participation in action. Noam Chomsky - November 25th, 2008
Regular readers of my blog may remember that back in 2008 I predicted that Barack Obama would bitterly disappoint the young people who worked, and hoped, so hard to get him elected and that I also feared that this would tragically turn off an entire, heretofore supposedly apathetic, generation of American young people from politics forever. I got the first part right, but fortunately not the second part, but of course, Noam Chomsky - may he live a hundred years - got both parts right.
We are looking at a sea change brewing here. For the first time we have the educated middle class being proletarized… The business of “99% vs. 1%” is baby talk for “class struggle”. This is a radically new feature, not seen in America for generations.
Americans normally have tolerated more inequality than the people of other similarly developed countries because they thought that anybody who worked hard could better their situation and that their kids would live better than they did. That was the deal and the deal has been cancelled. The American dream has been called off because of rain.
I think that we are looking at the very timid beginnings of a real critique of the whole system by those, who up till now, have been the very pillars of the system. It is very exciting to think about and it could change the whole world if it continues to develop. The Democrats and the Republicans could end up in the attic gathering dust with the Whigs.
Chomsky speaks of "direct participation in action". What sort of action? What should be the immediate objective of that action?
In my opinion the retaking of the system from outside the system, without destroying the system can only be effected by changing the consciousness of the American people in large numbers. That is what OWS is on the threshold of doing right now: changing the way the American people see themselves, individually and as members of a collective.
What would the changed consciousness finally look like if it happened, and how would it change the system without destroying the system?
Here is a brutally simple example of what I mean. Imagine if a majority of American came to view certain types of financial transactions with the same visceral disgust that they now view the sexual abuse of small children. No amount of corporate money could change that opinion, just as no amount of corporate money and lobbying could justify child pornography or create laws to protect it, because the culture of the people would simply not tolerate it.
How can that change of consciousness take place?
The answer is to continue what is going on now: occupations and assemblies, the creation of a vast national conversation, symbolized by the occupations, a conversation carried on over the Internet and around kitchen tables, where all the participants compare their experiences and research together and consensus grows organically in contact with their objective realities, so that individual experience becomes a collective experience. This has happened before, witness the civil rights struggle.
Other types of direct action such as foreclosure defense and student debt strikes serve to attract public attention to the "conversation", which is symbolized by the occupations. The important thing is the un-intermediated conversation. The fundamental thing is not to "waste the crisis" and to use it to change the consciousness of the American people.
What America needs now and this crisis may provide, is hundreds, thousands, of citizens who can analyze the reality of the nation with the acute vision of Noam Chomsky, like him, peeling back the layers of media induced mental fog and hypocrisy and communicating what they find as clearly as he does. That is why I entitled this post "let a hundred Chomskys bloom". Today with tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, a spontaneous and viral creation of countless teaching "cells" can channel the energy the American people showed in the Obama presidential campaign toward real "change they can believe in".
As Gordon Lafer writes in The Nation, this is a very special moment, one where a critical mass of the people realize that there has been some sort of corporate coup d'etát that impedes any meaningful change:
This is not because the agenda is unpopular—54 percent of Americans support OWS, with only 23 percent opposed—but because the system is corrupted beyond repair. This slowly dawning realization is both invigorating—an invitation to engage in the kind of bold, blue-sky strategic thinking that leftists have not entertained for decades—and disturbing, a harbinger of just how nasty the future may get.
Make no mistake, as this change of consciousness gathers momentum, this is bound to turn ugly. The defenders of privilege's traditional answer to the natives getting restless, is to start wars and foster fear and paranoia. The Tea Party is only a tame lapdog compared to the wolves they might be prepared to turn loose. For some reason this behavior is called "conservative".
For what is being mislabeled "conservative" in the USA is no longer any rational political option. Its basic goal is, in fact, to make rational thought as difficult as possible, because those who sponsor it rightly fear that if people could think straight for even a moment... they might come to the same conclusions as the OWS. You can easily understand why people like the Koch brothers would happily spend millions and stop at nothing, however vile, to keep that from happening.
But this is a struggle that can be won. Americans are first and foremost children of revolution.
I opened this post with Archimedes boast, that given a fulcrum and a lever he could move the whole world.
Because of America's unique position in world affairs, the Occupy Wall Street movement is a chance that the American people have found for themselves to change their own lives, and while they do, change, move, the whole world with them. For nothing will ever really change until America does. DS