A recent dKos diary post by Nicholas Carroll reflecting on Occupy Wall Street in the context of revolutionary movements around the world has me thinking about a number of things.
Foremost for me is a telling distinction between revolutionary movements and rebellions, with OWS in the former category.
Mainstream media has made an effort to portray OWS protestors as lacking specific demands. This is laughable when a protestor is carrying a sign reading “Restore the Glass-Steagall Act.” I have never seen a more specific demand at a protest. And “How about a Maximum wage?” might seem frivolous, but it's advocating legal caps on executive pay.
The protesters know quite well what they want. It just happens to be a long list, with the solutions not always immediately apparent.....
This puts them in sharp contrast to rebellions, which are inherently conservative. Rebellions shout “quit pushing us!” and demand a return to previous benefits and rights. Their demands are inevitably more specific than those of revolutionaries, since rebels want the exact things they used to have, whether it is a freedom from daily floggings or a return to lower gas prices.
This points to something I've noticed about conversations I've had about Occupy in the last few months. Early on, I talked to some people who shared the mainstream media's problem in getting what Occupy was really about. And I notice that problem has mostly gone away.
Occupy's rejection of many of the tropes of traditional protest politics, including the refusal to issue a succinct set of specific limited demands, reflects a revolutionary critique. The problem Occupy addresses is so broad and systemic and invisible that first we need to wake and acknowledge it before we can have a discussion of what to do. Though I should now say not “the problem is” but “the problem was.” We now have a national conversation about “the 99% and the 1%” in a way that seemed inconceivable last summer. The battles in the streets have quieted, but the Spirit of Occupy now has claimed a firm enough place on stage that it will be difficult to dislodge. That's a victory.
Carroll explores how the revolutionary moment feels, talking about experiences in countries around the world.
When I no longer had access to classified diplomatic warnings, I got my news from four sources:
- Foreign newspapers
- Protest demands spray-painted on the walls
- The expressions on locals' faces
- The attitudes of the middle class
One might take the tone of the comments on the post to be a sign of revolution in the air. The comments are worth checking out: reading folks lining up behind the Occupy critique, you'd never know how contentious the discussion on dKos ordinarily gets.
Still, dKos is a hotbed of lefties, so it isn't exactly barometer of the national mood. But I'm not sure what would be. Which has me thinking of another of my obsessions, the relationship between politics and suburbanization. Because the erosion of public space created by suburbanization makes it hard to use Carroll's measures #2 & 3 to scent revolution in the air. I think, with all seriousness, that suburbanization has been a powerful force in American politics which has been corrosive to both democracy and our sense of shared social and political destiny. Not for nothing has Occupy claimed the importance of public space.
Still, it does seem like something is brewing, which is thrilling but also frightening. In the wake of revolution, the new order is shaped by the best-organized ....