« Higher Ground: Faith That Works | Main | Ms. Warren's Profession »

October 02, 2011

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Nunsense!

Took me three tries to get past the opening paragraphs alone...but then, you think the rich aren't doing anything wrong anyway (see yout "tax on the millionaires post"), so one would not expect you to be in line with those who do...

so let's see:
according ot you, we shouldn't blame:
a) the rich
b) twitter for ignoring the protests
c) the political system which your five points seem to consider "healthy" enough to respond to voter concerns as if it weren't in the tank for Big Biz and the exceedlingly wealthy world-wide already! LOL
d) people who "blog" about things vs. actually, you know, showing up in person

No, no, let's blame the protesters, the Left, the powerless, who dare voice their complaints without a treatise or thesis in place. How dare they?!?!

You show concern for the effects of crowds causing "unrest?"

You've got this completely backwards my friend. Where's your concern for what had been done TO those crowds?!

I'm sorry, but this is one of the most poorly thought-out posts of yours ever and, until you put actual action into one of your five handy suggestions, instead of just reciting them...AGAIN, this is nothing more than concern trolling indeed.

And good luck trying to "stop that avalanche as it races down the hill."

Very disappointing.

More simply put: if our government refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing by Wall Street and the Banking industry leading to the economic collapse, which seems obvious now, then what's wrong with our people showing their collective disdain in person?

You're doing all of this hand-wringing over a symptom, not its cause.

More simply put: if our government refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing by Wall Street and the Banking industry leading to the economic collapse, which seems obvious now, then what's wrong with our people showing their collective disdain in person?

It's not "wrong"... but it strikes me as just the kind of "hand-wringing" you suggest I favor - "I've got disdain!" is hardly a call to action of any sort.

Your first response underlines, to me, the whole sense that this idea of "protest" is scattershot: it's all bad, no one's listening, etc etc... so let's just run around and scream, and anyone who disagrees with running around and screaming and says it isn't much of a plan is part of the problem. I'm not the enemy here; I've spent a lot of time trying to understand the financial crises we face and the challenges to addressing them. And no, the people you think I seem to support are not, in any sense, my heroes.

My point is that "we're upset!" is painfully pointless, especially to someone, like myself, who actually wants to see some real change in our economic systems; and I'm convinced that the change we need can only come through greater public agitation towards clear, focused goals. "Occupy Wall Street", unfortunately, isn't likely to affect much of anything... which, in the end, simply reinforces the very conceptions of mass powerlessness you're railing against. How does that help?

Finally, I must clarify one twisting of my words: I said, and say, "there's nothing wrong with being rich" not "the rich aren't doing anything wrong." Some very rich people have done a great deal of wrong, and deserve to pay for it. However, merely being wealthy is not a crime, and I don't think progressives help the cause of social justice by saying wealth is the enemy. It's the sense that all of us can have enough to provide for ourselves and our families that's the thing to strive for, it strikes me. And one thing we need, ultimately, is a renewed sense that all of us, rich and poor, have a stake in making a society where everyone can prosper, where more people have more opportunity to, well, get rich.

And, BTW, let's remember that part of what populates those protests are a lot of kids with the support of well-off families who can get by at a moment without work with the help of others. If something's wrong with being rich... let's be clear on who qualifies.

I think you would strongly benefit from attending the US Social Forum.

I also have come to appreciate through my work in New Orleans and through my historical reading of social movements, the value of having young people with time on their hands and some flexibility and a desire for positive social change get involved, even if in its early stages they're milling around in a disorganized fashion, as is typical of early organizing. Furthermore, my experience also tells me that many of these young people may be unwillingly unemployed, as the unemployment rate among young adults/20 somethings is very high. I also know from experience that sometimes these young people don't actually have any $$ or wealthy parents, but instead know how to live on a shoestring by couch surfing, freecycling, etc. etc. Just because they have laptops and mass luxury items does not mean they are independently wealthy.

I can't believe you're making me defend the potential presence of trustafarians. But so what if they are also in the mix - they can afford to turn up where millions can't risk taking to the streets right now. And now that they've hung out for awhile and got some attention, more seasoned, institutional organizers like Labor is arriving. Perhaps they will give it the professionalism and gravitas you and others seem to find necessary.

I was not going to respond to this post, because unfortunately, and sadly, I have come to deeply disagree with most of your political philosophies and interpretations. My direct experience belies your dismissal of this agitation, and I'm cautiously optimistic more will come of it. I'm also not sure it's really worrisome if we have riots and violence, other than the obvious distressing reality of violence. I am really skeptical at this point that we can see any kind of long-lasting social change/reform without some degree of violence (against white people, as violence against protesters/agitators of color is already common and often under-reported).

first, thank you Leigh for posting; it's hard for me too

Finally, I must clarify one twisting of my words: I said, and say, "there's nothing wrong with being rich" not "the rich aren't doing anything wrong." Some very rich people have done a great deal of wrong, and deserve to pay for it. However, merely being wealthy is not a crime, and I don't think progressives help the cause of social justice by saying wealth is the enemy.

How do you propose going after those that "deserve it?" Give me a real solution here. Not "go to the polls in a year and try to find a candidate that will do that for you." That is NOT an answer given today's field of candidates AND the ones coming up who, like all before them, can only do so with major financial backers.

But to your other point about there being nothing wrong with being wealthy:

If there is a limited number of resources, then, indeed, there is something wrong with being wealthy: the wealthy are taking too much of them!

If there is NOT a limited number of resources, then, as many suspect, these "austerity measures" are nothing of the kind, but merely handoffs of more resources from the poor to the rich.

I would add that the "violence" you decree is being done everyday to the poor and the middle class, who are being told daily that services they need to survive must be cut in order to make the US solvent again.

You really seem naive (and rather in line with Paul Ryan) when you take the position that it's only class warfare when the lowerclasses wage it.

Before I write further on this - and I will - I appreciate the passion both of you bring to the disagreement, and I respect the fact that we come at this from very different perspectives. I'd love to share the hopefulness and guarded optimism you both have that the Occupy Wall Street events could, somehow, develop into something that ultimately generates positive change. God knows, I hope you turn out to be righter than I in the long run. But my own experiences of social movements and my perspective on the vaguenesses and incoherence of Occupy Wall Street leave me unconvinced.

I would point out that I am not alone in pointing out that the protests seem to have no real sense of what people want to have happen, or how any kind of progressive change can be achieved as a result. I deeply disagree with notions that "this is how protest works" - no, it's not. Most successful social movements have been clear, from early on, about what needs to be changed, why, and what steps can be taken to achieve those ends. If this movement is about prosecuting wrongdoing, then we need to clearly identify the people who should be brought to justice. If this is about increasing regulation and protections for financial consumers, then that should be made clear. If this is about political change and changing our government, then we need to get to work.

Simply giving into feelings of frustration and powerlessness by simultaneously agitating for vague "change" while insisting, at the same time, that real change is impossible, strikes me, in the long run, as a fool's errand.

Finally, as I said from the start, and have said probably as long as both of you have known me, I am deeply opposed to violence of any sort. I think it's a sign of both the frustration of our times and the lack of institutional memory we have in America that both of you, and similar progressive voices, are suggesting that, somehow, violent agitation would be okay and perhaps necessary, while, at the same time, insisting that there's no reason to believe protestors would become violent. Again, God knows that I hope these protests don't end in a more violent outcome. But I think it's reasonable to point out that the recipe for potential violence is somewhat obvious: so many angry people, so little to do, so little sense that real change of any sort can come. And furthermore, I think people who care deeply about nonviolent solutions, as I do, have an obligation to speak up: violence is not an answer. Violence will not solve anything. Violence will create far more problems than it will solve. And should we wind up, as much of the world is, in a moment of violent conflict, I suspect many progressives will, after the fact, regret not realizing much of this sooner.

And, in the end, the real processes of making change will be as they ever were: actually doing that hard work, accepting the reality that real change happens slowly and over a long time, and that some realities will probably have to be accepted. I'm sorry that it seems, to either of you, that all of this reflects "conservatism" or a rejection of social protest or a failure to understand the hopeful prospects. I, too, want to see change and reform and a fresh wind in our political life. I think for progressive ideas to succeed, we need to be much clearer about the change we want to see, much firmer about how that change can be accomplished, and much more willing to face what can and cannot be accomplished in a realistic time frame. I'm sorry that both of you find it so difficult or sad that we see some of these issues differently. I'm neither sad nor angry about it - I simply refuse to believe that as Americans we've lost the ability to affect change in other ways, I have no interest in agreeing to my own powerlessness, and I'm comfortable with the fact that there will be times when reasonable people who want similar goals have different ideas about how to go about achieving them. If we can't work through those disagreements, and figure out some common ground, how on Earth are we going to apply that to convincing the people who disagree in far more basic, substantial ways?

"Most successful social movements have been clear, from early on, about what needs to be changed, why, and what steps can be taken to achieve those ends."

Citation, please.

You likely believe this because history spins the tale as so in order for people to see possibilities in activism. If we understood that they are actually often born out of diffuse but related anger and experimentations in expressing that and other emotions, we might be less inspired.

Just because you're not alone in your assertions doesn't mean you're keeping good company.

Violence is often a troubling but inevitable part of social change. And it also doesn't mean the violence is on the part of the activists.

Who said you were powerless?

And because some activists are unfocused or expressing a range of viewpoints means there is not a larger overarching narrative? Do you know that protests are growing in other cities as well, and supported by a reliable network of progressive activists, such as the Right to the City Alliance, or community organizing groups in places like Boston and San Francisco? And that these protests are not only linked to the growing activism in Lower Manhattan but to past, repeat protests against the foreclosure crisis, the role of the banks in this crisis, against community displacement and collapse from the housing market fall out, against the bailouts of "Wall St v. Main St", etc. etc. etc. Just because the mainstream media and you are newly paying attention to Occupy Wall Street doesn't mean it's an isolated bunch of rag tag rich kids who thought it'd be fun to camp out in NYC for a month for some kind of social justice-y performance art (if it even is that). There have been protests and organizing for years now, but it's gotten little coverage other than in the alternative press. If the activism of stalwart community organizing groups representing the interests of low-income communities of color ripped apart by foreclosure, unemployment, and in some cases, anti-immigrant sentiment, is finally going to get some traction because Occupy Wall St is high-profile and compelling, then thank goodness. Do I wish that would not be accompanied by police violence against protesters? For sure. Do I think widespread foreclosures and rising poverty and hunger and chronic joblessness are their own form of violence? Yes. So I don't know where you draw the line, but the lives and bodies of the poor and too often non-white are already subject to violence, just not the kind you think counts, I guess.

"...at the same time, insisting that there's no reason to believe protestors would become violent." I never said this.

"But I think it's reasonable to point out that the recipe for potential violence is somewhat obvious: so many angry people, so little to do, so little sense that real change of any sort can come." Well, then maybe you should drop out of the chorus insisting that their activism is useless and futile and crass.

"reasonable people" - Who are these "reasonable people" of whom you speak? I hate to get all distastefully leftist on you, but you do realize that making this distinction is a silencing technique against people who apparently do not adopt mainstream conventions and norms of expression, ideas, and interaction? You should read this article on "resonant" versus "radical" frames in social activism and social policy:

http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~mferree/documents/Ferree-ResonanceRadical.pdf

I think you would benefit from it.

As much as I sympathize with your perspective, I think there's little to do but agree to disagree. As I said, I think you at come up this from a much different perspective than I; I respect it, but fundamentally, on most every point, I disagree. It's really that simple. I'm sorry that you think that my disagreements are born of misunderstanding, classism, or a desire to silence protestors; none of that is the case. I think this is a wrongheaded protest that will, in the long run, fail to achieve success, by whatever metric one wishes to apply. That is why, ultimately, I question the value of doing it. I sincerely have no interest in examining the context of protest on some academic plane - my question is simply "does this protest make sense to me" and "what goal does it hope to achieve" and my first answer is no and my second is, I don't think the goal is in any sense clear. That's what it comes down to, for me, where I'm coming from, and what I express. As passionate as you are about this, I have to suggest, gently, that this why you should resume blogging of your own; my writing is never likely to reach the level you're looking for.

One more thing, I am all worked up by this and many of your posts, these days, because I fundamentally disagree with your perspective. And to me, that is sad, and frustrating, because it means we decreasingly share a political world view, which also suggests we are more unlikely than likely to find common ground on solutions, and we've been friends for almost 15 years. And when I read your points of view, I feel angry, and aghast, and sometimes even disgusted, all of which leave me in a less "reasonable" frame of mind to engage in debate with you. Because I think you are approaching topics that I care deeply about - issues like poverty, inequality, and the policies and structures that inflict them on society - from a position that strikes me as callous or cynical or condemning or dismissive. And that really upsets me, and I feel like there is a growing gulf between us as a result. If our lives didn't require us both to work so much to make ends meet and would leave us more time to socialize and talk about things other than politics, i.e., if our lives could continue to intersect more frequently, then this perception of a growing political gulf might not be such a big deal. But it feels like a big deal, because I care about you and us. So perhaps my emotional responses to you signal that I am not one of the "reasonable" people who can sit down and hammer out acceptable solutions, because I'd likely end up pounding the table and tossing papers and caustically laying blame rather than negotiating acceptable deficit reduction parameters.

Now imagine that we don't know each other, our lives never intersect, we have no ability to understand where one another's ideas and perspectives even originate, or what history, context, culture and experience ground them, and you expect us to reasonably sit down and solve the country's problems? Or do you expect the out-of-touch, like-minded millionaires in Congress ensconced in their lobbyist and corporate networks to work out all that ails us? Because they certainly are a homogeneous group, and even they are engaged in some kind of nasty, polarized political warfare. So you'll have to forgive the other "99%" if they can't relate to the public policies being floated these days and those enacted over the last three decades and therefore think they have no recourse but other forms of political engagement, one of them being protest. (Another being no longer voting, since it feels futile.)

I say good on those people taking to the sidewalks in an organized fashion to collectively express their anger and alienation. Pounding the keyboard in a blog thread certainly isn't very satisfying, and squeezing in an Occupy Wall St solidarity march feels a little out of grasp when I have to teach in 5 hours and have a 5 1/2 month old who refuses to sleep through the night.

Part of this is a conversation that's probably better for elsewhere, but to address your points about "reasonable people" and common ground and the distance between our perspectives... I'll be blunter than I would be normally: I'm sorry, but all this talk about the struggles of the working poor annoy me when I'm one of them. You want perspective? I get up at 4:30 to wait on those rich people, those bankers and their wives and their overfed children. So no, this is not theoretical to me. This is my life, as it is lived now. I don't have time for "Occupy Wall Street," because I don't make enough for train fare. And if I am going to take the time to show up and express my rage at the general unfairness of it all, then I have to feel that, somehow, this is going to amount to something. I'm sorry, but yes, I believe in social change through government, I believe in our American system of government, and that's why I support old fashioned, "pointless" ideas like voting and advocating for legal remedies to our problems. It's just not in me to give up on it. And I can spend my days angry and cynical and bitter about other people having more, or... I choose to be philosophical. Some people have more options, more opportunities... and that's okay. I used to be one of them, and now I am not. I don't judge them (beyond superficialities, like their reliance on skim chais), I don't hate them, and I'm not convinced that they're the enemy. I think, probably, they don't know, and they're not going to if we just yell and scream and call them names.

I find Occupy Wall Street especially galling not because it's "a bunch of rich kids hanging out" (a characterization I honestly did not make, nor meant to imply so simplistically), but because part of its "message" (if it indeed has a coherent one) is a concern for a bunch of people - like me - that's utterly patronizing and beside the point of my life and those of people around me. If these protests mean a great deal to you and others, go with God, but don't think you're doing working class folks a big favor by "standing up", because I'm one of that working class, and this is so not about me. I didn't ask for it, it's not what I need, and if you ask me what I'm looking for, it's a far more coherent movement with a far more practical notion of what can be accomplished. Like I said, this is me, being blunt. I'm sorry, again if it seems angry or personally directed, because honestly, like everything else I've been writing here, it's not. But if you're wondering where I come from on this, brass tacks... this is it.

Your last comment is very helpful and appreciated. I know you know you represent merely one perspective within the working class, and that other individuals and groups may feel represented by this activism. I found the I'm the other 99% tumblr rather illuminating and sad. Speaking for me only, to quote BTD, your writing would resonate and make more "sense" to me if you brought your personal experiences into it. You don't want it to be academic (god forbid, apparently), but even journalism demands evidence. If yours is experiential, you should bring it in. At least to me, otherwise it seems like chronic, catankerous cynicism. And cynicism is supposed to be my Virgo gig, not yours!

And thanks for the feedback... alas, my training as a writer has taught me to be leery of bringing "I" and "me" and "my" too much into my essay writing (I know! As if I don't do that now!). But one problem I had with even blogging about politics in the beginning was that it would involve a lot of "I think" writing, and I hate it. Just hate it. To the extent that I do it, I find it a necessary evil. And, bottom line, I don't write about it if I can't say "this is not about me." I may have some visceral, personal reaction about Occupy Wall Street... but when I write about the protest as troubling, it's not because, solely or simply, because I have some sort of problem with it. That I disagree with it may be a starting point, but my goal - most of the time - is an essay that's more generalized and beyond that scope. I appreciate that you've found a lot of people online who share your anger, your outrage, and your sense of purpose to this protest. I'm just saying, I don't have to go online, or to the New York Times (or Fox News) to find people who agree with me about the pointlessness I see in it (though Nick Kristof and Andrew Ross Sorkin and Elizabeth Warren all having issues with OWS says something, I think). And I guess that's why I wrote the piece as contrarian as I did - because I think there's a lot of insularity within the progressives just now, that needs to be shaken. You don't need to be conservative, or rich, or out of touch to wonder just how effective Occupy Wall Street really is... but the point isn't who calls it ineffective, my point is that we may be right. And that's not because I disagree with the protest; it's bigger than that. And I can't, and won't, just make this personal. Though personal may bring something to bear on it.

Also, I'm not cynical; I'm sincere. :)

Ok. But just to be clear, I'm not talking about my "on-line" relations. (Why have I been relegated to some insular cushy progressive blogging community?) I'm talking about actual activists I've met through my NOLA work who are living just as real experiences as yours. But thanks for clarifying your position.

"some insular cushy progressive blogging community"... LOL. Fire Dog Lake!

And, no, I was mistaken to suggest anything of the sort.

Thanks, because you've given me food for thought for a further post.

I'd like to know where your characterization of the protestors is coming from? Are there demographic studies out yet? You seem to be making a lot of class assumptions. I was penniless in NY once. I had no income and just a few friends who helped sustain me...but I still could have gone to OWS. The body doesn't cease to work at the exact moment the money runs out, you know.

My point is that "we're upset!" is painfully pointless

Nunsense! What you're missing here is that no one had said it yet from the Left; AND that it did actually work quite well as a tactic for the Tea Party, though, of course, they were billionaire-funded in the end.

I believe there is strength in the murky message of Wall St. = Bad at this point, and that if you try to pin it down into something more specific, it could be too easily coopted/diffused.

Will you be addressing both Leigh's and my points that violence is being done to the middle and lower classes every day in the form of services cut, and how that is somehow less disturbing than the "inevitable" violence you see coming from these protestors?

I believe you mischaracterized my position by insinuating I'm agitating for violence...the only violence I've seen has been done NOT by the OWS folks.

I don't have time for "Occupy Wall Street," because I don't make enough for train fare. And if I am going to take the time to show up and express my rage at the general unfairness of it all, then I have to feel that, somehow, this is going to amount to something.

This doesn't necessarily make you right, just a fair-weather fan.

I'm sorry, but yes, I believe in social change through government, I believe in our American system of government, and that's why I support old fashioned, "pointless" ideas like voting and advocating for legal remedies to our problems.

Perhaps social change is happening for the good through government, but economic change, not since Clinton, no.

At the start of his presidency, Obama urged the Left to "make" him fight for their goals. He might not have meant it - he might have - but this is what that looks like.

p.s. Does this mean I can't do an Occupy Harborplace photo essay? They've been there since yesterday.

I don't feel strongly one way or another about an "Occupy" photo essay; by all means, share what you've seen. Similarly, I feel that we've pretty much beaten this into the ground, and as I said to Leigh, I think there's an "agree to disagree" here, because you're spending a lot of time parsing my words to ends that I'm too tired to restate. Suffice to say, much of what you ascribe as my views aren't, much of what you want me to have said about your views aren't either, and I've written another post that offers another take. Whether these "Occupy" protest have an impact beyond the next few weeks, we'll see; neither you nor Leigh have especially changed my mind in terms of my own sense of them. And I don't expect I've changed yours.

I can only go by what I read here.

and yet again you dodge the issue...what is your solution for the violence done to the poor by legislation?

feel free to respond in email if you prefer

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad

google list

Bookmark and Share