Half a dozen tents were visible as I gazed out the third-floor window of Bartlett while waiting for discussion to begin in a course on postcolonial literature. My view of the tents was shrouded by pale yellow and brown autumn leaves that refuse to fall, despite the devastating snowstorm that recently wreaked havoc to the trees and, collaterally, the power grid. Or is it the other way around?
. . . “have sexual intercourse with” . . .
Gazing out the window this morning, I marveled at the surreality of the moment: students busily focused on an in-class writing assignment while elsewhere police chase protesters from city squares to college campuses and off of them, too. I wonder what mixture of fear and hope inspires the activists, considering ways I can provide support. My curiosity includes the mindset of bystanders and critics: those who cannot be bothered or see no point, and those who have a problem with the demonstrations of collective action, the insistence on public participation in the guts of democracy.
I remembered that there was something reassuring about people resuming normal routines as soon as possible after snowtober, even though it was also unsettling that most people’s response to disaster seems to be to continue going on in the way one always has.
“That was the worst of being a servant. The waiting around for cuffy-pretend-backra or backra-fe-true while your life passed, the people in the house assuming your time was worthless.”
Michelle Cliff 1987: 19
It is a random synchronicity that I am interpreting an undergraduate course in postcolonial literature while Occupy Wall Street unfolds in biographical and historical time. Nonetheless, I am struck (again) that the descendents of former colonizers are discovering major faults in the system. Now, many white middle-class lives are passing in thrall to a financial engine that eats culture, discarding and replacing human cogs at whim.
OWS: The Defining Symbol of this Generation?
“[Occupy] is bigger than the 2012 elections…this is something that’s going to grow and grow and grow. This is America, this is America bubbling up to the surface… This is something… that is earthquake…you know – seismic.”
A friend working on some Twitter research has created a visualization of Tweets containing the word “occupy.” Watching the barrage of names, emotions, attitudes, accusations, reports, insults could seep in like a bad dream, the social miasma of our times unfolding in real time. It is too easy to get lost in the public sphere as an impenetrable discussion zone of colliding billiard balls. A privileged few political themes crash and spin off each other in crazy, chaotic directions. I find articulate voices making sense of what’s happening among hip hop artists who are using their art to engage issues of social justice. At AJstream, Derrick Ashong asks Lupe Fiasco and Basim Usmani why the clear point of the Occupy movement – ECONOMIC JUSTICE – is not translating to mainstream media.
“This new generation that’s at Occupy Wall Street . . . coming out of high school now, they’ve got the Arab Spring, they’ve got, seen the election of Obama, people power, I think that my generation could learn a lot from the one that’s coming up, that I see out at the Occupies, I think that those people actually believe earnestly that they can change things.”
Basim Usmani, The Kominas
Navigating through the inertia of the force of old ideas requires calm thinking and the ability to reflect on multiple and diverse perspectives. I take heart from the intelligence displayed both by this hopeful generation coming up now and the results of last week’s elections, which the New York Times opined as
“…an overdue return of common sense to government policy in many states. Many voters are tired of legislation driven more by ideology than practicality, of measures that impoverish the middle class or deprive people of basic rights in order to prove some discredited economic theory or cultural belief . . . . It is not clear that [November 9th’s] votes add up to a national trend that will have an effect on 2012 or even the deadlock in Congress. But they do offer a ray of hope to any candidate who runs on pragmatic solutions, not magical realism, to create jobs and reduce the pressures of inequality on the middle class and the poor.”
Kick and Push (a.k.a. Muslim Skateboarding – Building Skateastan! Check out The Stream)
The challenge of this age is whether we – homo sapiens – can harness conversation about the many challenges, obstacles, and perspectives on these matters and turn our talk to collaborative, productive problem-solving. Rather than hard military aggression and police deployment, perhaps it is not too soon to be soft and yielding in order to cultivate collaboration.