I just finished reading Sally Kohn’s piece in the American Prospect titled Follow No Leader that outlines her criticism of the Occupy Wall Street(for a good explanation of the action check out this Voices from the Frontline Occupy Wall Street protests). Now, I know Sally to be thoughtful and articulate. I am especially proud of her courage being in the Fox News studios going head to head with the Michelle Malkin’s of the world. That respect made her article even more curious to me. In the article she basically reduces the Occupy Wall Street protests to “making noise for its own sake,” and cites a New York Times writer, Ginia Bellafante, who accuses Occupy Wall Street of “pantomiming (maybe I am dumb, but I had to look that word up to make sure I knew what it meant) progressivism rather than practicing it.” Sally even seems to co-sign the Times writers’ characterization of the protestors as hippies and anarchists.
The line I found most interesting? This one:
“I tend to favor the sort of well-ordered, well-bathed protests of the early 1960s”
Apparently the preferred well-bathed protests in the article are those of the New Bottom Line. An organization that, no doubt, seems to be doing good work rooted in real communities to hold big banks accountable for their plunder of us small fries.
To be sure, Sally’s point about the disconnect between seemingly privileged participants of Occupy Wall Street and the struggling folks of the five boroughs is well taken. I have heard the same criticism from a bunch of people on the ground. That being said, the main point of the article left me feeling kinda sideways (Ginia Bellafante, if you are reading this, look that up. The same way I had to look up “pantomime”).
Let me get one thing out of the way. Sally, I love you, but I am not sure how you could, with a straight face, present a piece from the New York Times as your exhibit A considering that the main social movement the Times helped build in New York is the one pushing working people out of their homes in Harlem, Flatbush, and Jackson Heights to make way for Times’ readers (read: the yuppie friends of those “anarchists and hippies”). Oh, there is the anti-war movement that the Times helped build, by helping Bush build a fake case to go to war in Iraq.
Ok, I got my “believe 50% of what the Times tells you” bias out of the way. Moving on…
Sally, as I was reading your article, I came across this video clip of a young man supposedly arrested at the Occupy Wall Street protests. If the reports of the video are to be believed (still investigating), this young man – who doesn’t fit the profile of a white hippie/anarchist – was arrested after sitting down in front of the bank that allegedly took his parents’ home. That doesn’t mean he represents the majority of Occupy Wall Street or that he erases any of its organizational flaws. But it does sort of mean that the actions or occupations (or whatever people are calling them) have a lot more purpose to some than just “making noise.”
While I appreciate your invocation of the “well ordered” protests of the early 1960’s, the riots of the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s seem to indicate that those protests only went so far in addressing the root causes of the problems we are facing today.
The fact is, the people who caused the financial crisis that we are in didn’t just cripple a small segment of the population, they crippled entire continents. The fact also remains that there are probably more immigrants in jail for selling boot-leg videos on Wall Street’s sidewalks than there are crooked financial planners, investment bankers, ponzi schemers or corporate welfare queens who looted billions out of regular folks’ personal savings. None of the movements that any of us are in – the Ron Paulists, anarchists, ex-ACORNists, code pinkists, Catholics, bloggers, the people that wear “V” masks – have built 1/100th of the movement needed to bring true economic justice to this situation.
If any single protest, movement or type of organization had the answer, we wouldn’t see the frustration, pain, anxiety, or anger we see everyday amongst the folks we love. For us to figure out what will work, we have to seriously try damn near everything until we can truly engage even 20% of the people who have been screwed by this mess into the process of trying to fix it. That means doubling, tripling and quintupling the attendance at our community organization meeting, prayers meeting, house meeting, fantasy football game meeting and so on. Until then, we can’t in good conscience play the “we are more effective” card. And we probably shouldn’t throw darts at or make light of people that are being arbitrarily arrested, corralled, and maced for taking a stand at Wall Street.
One last thing, Sally. I used to always see this phrase, “Another world is possible,” usually on cheesy t-shirts. After the execution of Troy Davis, as my Facebook feed was flooded with virtual tears and screams of injustice, one hint that another world was indeed possible was the small yet significant convergence of people protesting Troy Davis’ execution onto Wall Street.
Sally, I know you know that another world is possible. I know you are dedicated to building it. So why don’t you and me, the guys on the block who I grew up with, the folks who our families went to or didn’t go to church/mosque/mormon temple with, the smelly anarchists and bleached out republicans, the way too hetero and the drag queens, the bikers and Bloods, and B-Boys and Emo kids come together and do this. Let us figure out in the cleanest and messiest way possible how we can all build a better world now.
Subhash Kateel is the Co-Host of Let’s Talk About It! a Miami based talk-radio show that talks about the real issues that affect the lives of real people. He is also a long time Immigrant Rights organizer and a past contributor to Organizing Upgrade.
For more information go to: https://occupywallst.org/