Down with that sort of thing
“Occupy doesn’t know what it wants,” or so we are told. Allegedly Occupy is a global movement of i-phone wielding, privileged malcontents shouting “NO”. In an Irish context, it’s a crusties meets Father Ted “down with that sort of thing” affair. A recent Vincent Browne show saw one of the movement’s rare appearances on the Irish ‘mainstream media.’ And the viewer was treated to variants of the above dismissals by panelist John McGuirk. McGuirk, giving a polished performance, came across as the epitome of the slick conventional politician. Robin Wilson, the Occupy spokesperson was not so polished. Probed by Browne, Wilson said Occupy “wanted democracy.” Vincent told pointed out we had just had an election, a democratic one. Wilson said the government had betrayed us by not burning the bondholders. Vincent pointed out that the Fine Gael manifesto had never made such a promise. To McGuirk’s delight, the Occupy spokesperson faltered. But empathetic to the Occupy cause, Vincent let the spokesperson off the hook Because whatever about the details, the system had failed the people. They were paying an unjust price. They had been had and they knew it.
Ex Fianna Fail, ex Fine Gael, ex Libertas and unsuccessful Independent candidate labels Occupy as incoherent
McGuirk, however, capitalised on Wilson’s unsure performance to paint the Occupy movement as uninformed amateurs, novices out of their depth. The ex Fianna Fail, ex Fine Gael, ex Libertas and unsuccessful Independent candidate implied Occupy was incoherent! McGuirk is a poster boy for the traditional political world, an analogue world of either/or. You were for something or against it. You were either for capitalism or you were for a workers’ revolution. If you said NO, you were beholden to explain what you said YES to.
And if you could not clearly do this, the inference was ‘leave it to the big boys, leave it to your betters.’ But the dawning digital age does not see the world in such simple divisions. The simple either/or point of view is being overtaken by a more novel one of both/and. According to McGuirk’s rules, Wilson had lost the game. But what he didn’t seem to realise – and what the Occupy spokesperson failed to clarify – is that Occupy does not want to play by these rules. It does not want to play the game, it wants to find an entirely different form of sport.
A coup d’etat by a corporate criminal class
Occupy does not claim to have the answers. But it knows that the current system is broken. In the movement’s parlance, the system places the interests of 1% above that of 99%. And in the meantime it appeals for the restoration of law and order. For fairness. For social justice. Curiously Chris Hedges of the New York Times sees the Occupy movement as the voice of “true conservatives.” Hedges argues that democracy has been hijacked by radicals. And the radicals are a criminal elite who have pulled off a corporate coup d’etat. The true conservatives demand that law and order be restored by bringing the criminal class to book and that democracy be rescued from the corporate elite who have hijacjked it.
The view that a corporate criminal class is seeking to guard its ill gotten gain has been highlighted by some of the more infamous scenes from the Occupy movement. Frenzied Madrid police beating peaceful seated protesters and the now infamous Lt Pike casually pepper spraying kids like he was watering roses have beamed out powerful images showing not just the delinquency of the system but the near psychopathic realms to which the 1% will stoop to defend its privileged position. These are loud and powerful messages dramatising the forces Occupy is opposing.
Much less dramatic and less discernible is the novel, subtle way in which the movement is seeking to establish what it stands for.
What Occupy says Yes to cannot be captured in a youtube clip. Tentatively, the Occupy movement is trying to find a way out of the quagmire and trying to discern a whole new way of playing the whole game. The aim is a popular, collaborative new form of democracy which will be robust enough to resist being hijacked by special interests. And that, to put it mildly, is no small or easy task. A challenge to national, parliamentary democracy itself. The Occupy movement is a picket line on the dysfunctional politics as we know it. Whether Occupy will succeed is anyone’s guess but one thing is pretty certain, it is throwing an unforgiving spotlight on how the current system has failed the people.
Kevin Barrington 5.1.12