Tag Archives: Wall Street

Obama Doesn’t Care About Black People(?)

During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when many poor and black residents of New Orleans continued to struggle for survival, rapper Kanye West angrily commented that the current president “[didn’t] care about black people.” A decade later, and the sentiment of the White House doesn’t seem to have changed much. In spite of the overwhelming support given by black Americans to Obama during his candidacy, it often seems that he’s less than willing to return to the favor.

Take, for example, the execution of Troy Davis.

Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 for the shooting of a Georgia police officer- a crime which he denied until his dying day. In the years following his conviction, greater and greater evidence arose suggesting that Davis was indeed innocent. By the time of his death, seven of the nine key witnesses who had helped convict recanted their testimony, many citing police coercion. Of the two remaining witnesses, one reported that he was no longer certain and the other was believed by many to have been the actual gunman.

Support for Davis’s release poured in from across the globe, even gaining such notable supporters as former president Carter, archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former head of the FBI, the head of the NAACP, and congressman and civil rights veteran John Lewis.

In spite of the worldwide campaign on his behalf, Davis was executed on a late September night in 2011- the one man in the world who could’ve saved him not even lifting a finger. In spite of the rumors (swiftly discredited) that Obama had reached out to the state of Georgia, the president, by all accounts, sat idly by during what many labelled a modern-day lynching, the White House only confirming that the president would not involve himself. Continue reading

The Problem With Protest

I thought today I might address the subject of protest.

At the tail end of last year, I came across this picture posted on Reddit:

Despite an overall positive response to the message, one of the highest ranked comments was a person arguing that the Klansmen, unlike the protestors, had permits to march, while the OWS movements across the nation were illegally squatting. Because they are on private property, it is only right that the police should respond in the ways they do.

I wonder if that person would’ve reacted the same way fifty years ago, when these young men and women were illegally occupying private property.

That’s the Greensboro Four, occupying private property in 1960 in protest of racial segregation. Ought the police to have pepper sprayed them for refusing to leave? The problem with attempting to make out the OWS protestors as criminals who are attacking social order is that this same reasoning has to be applied to criticize the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, the abolitionist movement, and so on. Even the men and women of the American revolution would, under this blind obedience to the law, be considered criminals and rioters- even traitors. Trying to pretend that the OWS protestors are nothing but vagrants and lawbreakers simply doesn’t work.

However, even if you can’t call them criminals, you can at least call them crazy.

I’m not going to lie, I’m not always a big fan of the crazy outfits some people will wear to protests to make a point. I don’t think dressing up as the Monopoly guy is really all that effective at communicating the messages you want to make.

You’re already protesting en-masse, the satire might be a little overkill…

I’m not saying that I’m right, maybe a couple zombie-protestors is just what you need to drive home a point of mindless consumerism. And I’m not against people wearing what they want to wear- I think the Guy Fawkes masks a la V for Vendetta are actually pretty effective at empowering people and creating a sense of unity. Nevertheless, you still hear people trying to discredit the movement because they don’t like the way the protestors look.

Is this what we’ve really come to? Because the OWS protestors aren’t clean shaven or wearing suits and ties (zombie bankers excluded), they’re just a bunch of moochers? Since when does nonconformity to a social “norm” suddenly create grounds for disproving someone’s views? You could take Jesus, drop him the middle of Times Sqaure, and if he’s dressed in the same clothes he would’ve worn two thousand years ago, then he’d be written off as some hobo or crazy ex-hippie.

But of course, not all the protestors are dressed like something you’d encounter in a post-apocalyptic carnival. You will find protestors cleanly shaven and dressed in suits and ties (who aren’t zombie bankers). What do we call these people?

Hypocrites- or at the very best, spoiled and privileged college kids. That’s right, dress shabbily, and you’re a bum, dress sharply, and you’re a naive idealist completely detached from reality. That’s not to say that such people don’t exist- I have a tough time accepting “revolutionaries” wearing Nike or buying from Starbucks, but to attempt to label the occupy movement as a bunch of hypocrites because they aren’t living in poverty is crazy. No matter what you do, you’re either an outcast of society or from the cream of society- either way, you’re message isn’t worth hearing. Perhaps the best mockery of this line of thought is this picture here:

This seems to be part of a greater issue with protest that people have- a vicious antipathy towards protest regardless of the content or the method. Let me explain.

A criticism a friend of mine once hurled at the OWS movement was that they “Just don’t do anything. They came, they complained, and now they should go home.” Now you might point out that many of the protestors are at the Occupy camps because they have no homes anymore, or even that one of the actions of OWS protestors is helping evicted families reclaim their homes, but let’s just focus on the protest itself. To some degree he- he and others like him- have a point; there’s only so much marching, chanting, and picketing can do. Take this guy for example:

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Knesset isn’t going to rip down the barrier-walls in the West Bank or put a moratorium on new settlements because this guy demands it. There are very definite limitations to what this kind of protest can do, and as much as it is decried as pointless, do these critics really want to see the alternatives?

 

Let’s talk about civil disobedience hear- still (typically) non-violent, but certainly a step up from rallying. We’re talking about sit-ins, human walls, trespassing, and a host of other activities typically leading to charges of disturbing the peace and disrupting productivity. The kind of actions generally associated with MLK Jr., and his inspiration, Gandhi.

Seductive Gandhi is Seductive…

Of course, there are limits on this as well. For all the disruption a group may cause, there’s always the authorities to contend with- you might recall this particular photo:

There’s a case to be made for civil disobedience, but this does really lead back to the original problem of legality. Even if you want to argue for nonviolent actions against the law, one might point out that this is only effective in a situation where there’s a limit on how much you’ll be beaten, imprisoned, or in cases, even killed. I’m guessing that most people wouldn’t have told Jews, Gypsies, Gays, Socialists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses that civil disobedience would have been the best tactic against the Nazis. Considering that the OWS movement is a form of civil disobedience, one might also simply comment that no effective action is being taken by the protesters.

So what about “direct action”, as certain protestors affectionately call it? Black Bloc tactics. The smashing of windows, the overturning of cars, the setting fire to of public decorations (see the Greek anti-austerity protests), and so forth?

While without a doubt the most confrontational of all the protest methods available to the angry and the frustrated, this is nevertheless the single most universally condemned tactic, even by those who are supportive of the goals in question. “The Black Bloc protestors discredit the movement!” you hear over and over. From the latest NATO or G20 conference clear back to the so-called “Battle in Seattle”, you can hear the authorities railing against these “hooligans” and “rioters” and even the major figures of the protest pleading for non-violence.

 

And while the destructive methods employed by the more extreme elements of any protest are attacked, ranking in a close second in ridicule is on-line petitioning, Facebook sharing, and a host of other activities shoved under the umbrella pejorative of “Slacktivism”. The past “Kony 2012” campaign, while certainly questionable in its content, seemed to receive the majority of criticism by those who viewed the young people involved as arm-chair activists; at best, misled college kids caught up in the latest cause célèbre; at worst, lazy and entitled brats on a tier lower than the Occupy hipsters.

Now let’s take a step back and look at all of this. Marching- doesn’t work. Civil disobedience- either illegal or still ineffective. Violence- something to be avoided at all cost. Petitions- worse than marching. Added all together, the only acceptable option for people who believe that the system no longer works seems to be abandoning that belief. At this point, we really have to consider the idea that the issue isn’t with how people protest, but with protest itself. That these criticisms are all just rooted in the deeper reaction against public disturbance. There is an element of society who, when asked what action we should take, simply respond “don’t take action!”. Regardless of how you present yourself, or what you do, or to what extremes you do or do not go to- they will always be opposed.

And as disheartening as that might seem- there is positive flip-side to this.

If you just can’t please these people, why bother trying? With the fact in mind that there’s always going to be someone scowling from the sidelines, you’re free to do whatever you want to convince those who are actually willing to listen. If that’s not comforting, I don’t know what is.

#OccupyWallStreet: Protesting with Hashtags

So there’s about a thousand people protesting on Wall Street (ish) right now and I don’t really know exactly for what. The movement is #OccupyWallStreet and it started on September 17 and consists of about 1,000 (mostly) student-aged people (My official estimate of the demographic: I’m picturing literary references and lots of beards) just kind of hanging around the Wall Street area. Sometimes there are marches. People are sleeping in the park. People online are ordering pizzas to be delivered to the protesters. One girl took off her shirt.

You might want to know what people are actually protesting – that’s where things get more vague. Some advertisements speak of the need for One Demand, but nobody has decided what that demand is or should be or could be. Interviews with the protesters range from the idiotic to the informed, revealing mostly a mixture of the two (along the “I don’t know who my house representative is but I can tell you the percentage of the population that holds 50% of the wealth” line). The attitudes seem to be predominately socialist, or at least anti-capitalist, with lots of complaints alluding to the Bush tax cuts, the 2008 bank bailouts (if you don’t really know what those are about either, a good explanation by my friend Chris here.), and a lot of derogatory use of the word “corporations”.

An #OccupyWallStreet protester with an Anonymous mask and a hijab.

The whole situation is a strange crossover between internet networking and the real world – the Twitter support and piles of enthusiastic comments and exclamation all over the web have only translated to about 1,000 protesters at any time, and not even in the street the protest was planned for (the NYPD blocked off the key sections of Wall Street before any protesters got there). Online, however, the results are impressive (it’s kind of like looking at the Ron Paul campaign) – Anonymous, the 4chan-based hacker group with frightening amounts of power, is credited for much of the protest’s popularity.

It’s fascinating and kind of beautiful to watch – this is the first generation that grew up with the internet, and you can tell. Twitter-based protests are just called “protests” now. We are the generation that will use hashtags in our protest signs. It’s like old protests, but improved: we still have unconstructive platitudes, but at least some of them are ironic, dangit.

The coming-of-age of the first generation raised on the internet looks like this.

The use of the word “Occupy” in the title seems inaccurate, as if the protesters knew what they would do if they actually got control of the place. I’m imagining collages made with cut-up quarterly reports.

The thing is that Wall Street is now just as nonphysical as the organization of the protests – there’s not really much actual money to burn, anymore, and there aren’t safes full of the hoarded wealth of the rich. Significant money never really physically goes to Wall Street, or really anywhere – money is numbers in a computer and property value and stock value; it’s kind of hard to figure out where it actually exists.

The physicality of the protest is less impressive than its internet following and even seems a little incongruous – it’s like the event is being swallowed by its own abstractness; an internet-developed protest trying to cross the line of physical reality and occur in front of a physically symbolic place just doesn’t work out in the digital age.