Occupation Nation: Ritual Arrests and Candle Light Vigils. What Next?

Feature Photo by Shasta McBride

I learned of the occupation of Washington D.C. about six months ago through a video which featured Ted Rall; the syndicated columnist, political cartoonist, and author of The Anti-American Manifesto. I had read this book a few months earlier, immediately after publication, and, on the basis of what he had to say in his book, became very interested in the planned occupation that he was endorsing.

The Anti-American Manifesto is clear, concise, and fearless. However, the way that the D.C. Occupation seems to be shaping up, that energy does not seem to be reflected. In fact, it seems to be adopting the same character of the past demonstrations that Mr. Rall disparaged in his book.  However, as the occupation has yet to begin, it is certainly too early to pass judgment.  But, it’s not too early to heed the warning signs of potential failure.

Too much emphasis has been placed on any similarities that exist with the occupation of Tahrir Square in Egypt. Not that there aren’t similarities, there certainly are. Both are about demanding governance responsible to the people through a democratic process rather than an authoritarian regime serving the interest of multinational corporations, international finance, and their financial beneficiaries in general. Both are about establishing a sustainable system to replace the irrational and self-destructive mess we are watching crumble before our eyes. And, both are about ending the endless wars that have cost millions of lives in order to launder tax payer dollars and pad the wallets of many of the same corporations that finance the political process. But, trying to simply copy something, like a regurgitated revolution, is never a good idea.

Occupations in Cairo, Madrid, and Athens, are being analyzed by people with preconceived notions and repackaged into an American product that can be sold off the rack. Not in New York. Not on Wall Street. There, the events have been spontaneous, passionate, and with all the messy confusion that can foreshadow truly profound events. But, this mistake is being made in many other places. The energy of spontaneous action that results in the galvanizing experience of developing a unified voice and articulating a shared message is being replaced by a process more akin to a professional retreat where passion is replaced with pragmatism and raw courage with calculation. It’s like a J. C. Penny version of a Rock Star’s 2010 wardrobe ready for 2011 back-to-school shoppers.

The idea of community building at the October occupation of D.C. was inspiring, until it was planned to death. I read in a recent memo that civil disobedience will be held daily, from noon until 3pm. The first day will end with a candle-light vigil. I can’t think of too many things more symbolic of impotence and wasted effort than candle-light vigils and sacrificial arrests. The uprisings of the Arab Spring are insulted when compared to street theater. What is the being achieved with the arrests?  What is being sacrificed? Is there now a zero tolerance, or three-strike rule, for civil disobedience? No, I didn’t think so. I don’t think the people of Egypt, Algeria, or Syria could look forward to only a few hours of processing and a lifetime of bragging rights. They put much more on the line.

At one planing session I attended, a couple individuals from a peace and justice group took the floor and started leading group exercises. They explained that these exercises are often used in ‘movement building’ and that they had used them before.  They had used them before?

What movements are they referring to? What successful movement has happened in the last forty years? Which, by the way, is close to twice the age of these young crusade leaders. What experience in movement building are they talking about? What movement building school did they go to? Who is behind their movement building education and activities? And, most importantly, why is everyone else so willing to accept their leadership without asking any of these questions.

A great idea has been homogenized into an ineffectual slurry of prolonged events that superficially resemble those very real rebellions while maintaining all the placid ineffectuality of banner waving and slogan chanting. In fact, the same memo announced a pre-occupation warm-up party with prizes for wittiest sign slogan and best chant.

Revolutions are not to be imitated. They may be inspirational, and imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but planning to copy something spontaneous never works.  If you’re going top be lame and ineffectual, at least be original. If I see one more person try to put a daisy in the barrel of a soldier’s gun I may just shoot them myself. This revolution may be televised, but does it really have to be a repeat?

The topic that gets more treatment than any other is that of the unwavering rule of peaceful protest. Non-violence courses are offered. At many of the planning events this seems to be the only clear goal they have. Safety first. More attention is placed on this than is given to the real question, the one that no one seems to be addressing. What next? What comes after the occupation? What does the occupation lead to? Apparently nothing. It’s already been made clear to those that are being protested that the protesters, the occupiers, are not going to do anything other than occupy, get arrested, and hold candle-light vigils. It’s somewhere between a group hug and a collective temper tantrum. But what next?

Is the goal to shame them in the media? The corporate media has already set a spin on the occupations, trying to co-opt them for either one of the two corporate political parties, or minimalize them as “those crazy kids.” The only thing that is making these different than the day long bad parades, minus floats and marching bands, full of out-of-step people chanting cheesy slogans and waving cheesier signs, is their prolonged nature. But what next? Eventually the novelty of these longer displays of discontent will wear off and they will be completely ignored like every other protest. Nothing will be accomplished. Nothing will change.

Are the bankers expected to run out and beg the protesters for forgiveness? Will politicians suddenly deny their sugar-daddies out of guilt? Of course not.  So, what next?

I became interested in the coalitions plans for occupation because of Ted Rall’s endorsement. He addressed this question in ‘The Anti-American Manifesto.’  The only factors, or actors, that he was remiss, I believe, in mentioning, was anonymous, or LulzSec, and the rest of the digital warriors out there.  Our digital magicians that can throw a monkey wrench in the gears of the new digital machine .  If you really want to stop the machine, this is the way to go.  Not pitchforks in the streets.  Just pull the plug,  so to speak.

Hopefully the steering committee has something up their sleeve.  There are some very intelligent and experienced people involved in the planning and organization of the Washington occupation.  Could it be that there is a more serious plan of developing a government to replace the one that has been corrupted? Is that the end-game? Is that where this is headed?  It’s either too early to tell, or too early for the rest of us to be told.

There is a very clear list of demands, but, what is even more clear, or should be, is that the current power structure will never even come close to complying with them. They can’t. It is impossible for them. So, there must be an end game.

They must have considered this. I know Ted Rall has. He said so very clearly in his book. I hope to meet him there. But, I hope to meet the Ted Rall of his book. The INTJ. I will be sorely disappointed if he is singing cum-bay-ah, participating in feel-good-do-nothing meetings, dramatically sacrificing in ritual arrests (only to be released a few hours later), and lighting bright and shiny candles at a warm and fuzzy vigil.

Maybe before the occupation starts is the perfect time to ask “What next?”  Before the energy fades.  Before the passion wanes and the interest is lost.  The question isn’t only why you are willing to occupy these public spaces, but what are you going to do in order to insure success.   What is the plan?  What is the end game?  What next?


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