This trailer for David Cronenberg’s (Videodrome, The Fly, eXistenZ, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method) new movie looks pretty awesome. Like a kind of near-distant dystopia featuring Occupy-style protesters and slick Wall Street traders. It seems to revolve around a 24-hour trek through Manhattan, and looks pretty old-school Cronenberg.
New York City, not-too-distant-future: Eric Packer, a 28 year-old finance golden boy dreaming of living in a civilization ahead of this one, watches a dark shadow cast over the firmament of the Wall Street galaxy, of which he is the uncontested king. As he is chauffeured across midtown Manhattan to get a haircut at his father’s old barber, his anxious eyes are glued to the yuan’s exchange rate: it is mounting against all expectations, destroying Eric’s bet against it. Eric Packer is losing his empire with every tick of the clock. Meanwhile, an eruption of wild activity unfolds in the city’s streets. Petrified as the threats of the real world infringe upon his cloud of virtual convictions, his paranoia intensifies during the course of his 24-hour cross-town odyssey. Packer starts to piece together clues that lead him to a most terrifying secret: his imminent assassination.
Cronenberg revisits subjects that fascinate him: how the organic and the psychological are inextricably intertwined, society’s anxieties and phobias, and letting repressed impulses and paranoia run wild. COSMOPOLIS is a culmination of his masterpieces that addresses the alarming global financial crisis of today’s world.
A couple of exceptions aside, hip hop is one genre I’m not into at all. At least, not the ridiculous millionaire gangsta rap that dominated most of the 2000s, especially the first half decade.
This new track ‘Liquorice’ by Azealia Banks, however, is really cool. ’212′ was already great because of the return to the old hip hop roots (Harlem, black and white video, great beats). This is equally cool, because of the once again great beats, old-school rave elements, and Banks’ voice. Check this out:
So the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg – who happens to be a former Wall Street banker and the 12th most wealthy person in the US – has evicted the nucleus of the Occupy movement from Zucotti Park, where they had been camping for two months. In that process, the NYPD has not shunned violating constitutional rights, including the right to free speech and the right to protest, in addition to preventing the democratic press from doing its job. Books were burned.
This process is likely to repeat itself elsewhere. In the Netherlands, local politicians of the conservative liberal (and, arguably, banking-aligned) VVD party are demanding the exit of Occupy protesters from public places throughout the country. Public attention has declined. So what’s next for the Occupy movement?
In all honesty, personally, while I am very sympathetic to a vocal social movement addressing the immense wealth and especially political power of global financial institutions, the injustices in that sector (such as exorbitant bonuses, the sale of intransparent financial products, and the power of credit rating agencies to almost topple entire economies), and rising economic inequality, I had become a bit disappointed with the Occupy movement. During my (admittedly short) visit to Occupy Amsterdam, what I saw was a shanty town with a lot of pot smokers and squatters, talking vaguely about the need to discuss, not have any organization, etc.
Of course any movement that starts out from a feeling of discontent needs time to organize and formulate demands, but the point of Occupy seemed to be to disavow any kind of organization or concretization. Again: I very much admire proto-democratic experiments, and disagreed with the choir of commentators who kept blattering from the very beginning that it was unclear what Occupy was about (that’s very clear), but even a die-hard communal hippie has to admit that a certain point, you need organization and representation.
Occupy has historical predecessors way earlier than the Tahrir Square protesters. The early labour union movement in the nineteenth century everywhere started out grass-roots democratically; but during the way, they learned to organize, formulate demands, and still keep an internal democratic process. You need a distinction between principles and concrete demands, for instance; or a distinction between a general assembly and working groups; and people who specialize in tasks they’re good at (like creating leaflets, organizing, negotiating, doing practical stuff, etc.). In that way, you can develop from an inspired, resounding but vague movement to an organization that actually works.
Once again, I completely understand the distaste of Occupy protesters for “standard” kinds of political organizaton, like political parties and trade unions, and wouldn’t want them to develop in that way. But any movement that doesn’t develop further than a general assembly that discusses every tiny little detail doesn’t get very far (the meeting reports of Occupy Amsterdam attest to that). And now, public attention has declined, the authorities have zoomed in and it will probably not take long before the physical manifestion of Occupy on squares around the world disappears.
So what’s next for Occupy? Opinion polls are showing that they have struck a nerve – in the US, but I imagine also elsewhere, economic inequality and financial malpractices are on the agenda, and opposed by a majority of voters. In that sense, Occupy has already been a success. Some people are arguing that the forced removal of protesters from squares may re-ignite the movement (it would have been wiser for the authorities to wait for winter). Others are saying that the Occupiers need to penetrate existing movements and organizations to address their (and our!) concerns.
Personally, I would like a vocal and identifiable Occupy movement to remain in existence, get its act together, and start thinking about ways to reform the system while continuing to exert pressure on the political-financial axis. This could be done by spreading awareness (the big pro of this movement) and keep protesting, even occupying places. After all, the big invention of the Arab Spring was the protesting technique of permanently occupying a place, rather than having your average one-afternoon demonstration. However, it is essential (I think) to develop an organization, first to make sure that encampments aren’t turned into shantytowns, trouble makers are fended off, and violence doesn’t spread; second to develop ideas, demands and rallying points, appoint representatives, and create a more focused media outreach.
Will this happen? Probably not, but I hope so. The Tea Party has shown that you can move from a vague movement to something approaching a working organization. For Occupy as well, it’s probably time to move from subcultural self-expression to a fight for political change.
[The] truth is, Bloomberg might have just done Occupy Wall Street a favor. Next week, temperatures are projected to dip down to the high 30s. Next month, they’re projected to dip into the mid-20s. The month after that, as anyone who has experienced a New York winter know, they’re going to fall even lower.
The occupation of Zuccotti Park was always going to have a tough time enduring for much longer. As the initial excitement wore off and the cold crept in, only the diehards — and those with no place else to go — were likely to remain. The numbers in Zuccotti Park would thin, and so too would the media coverage. And in the event someone died of hypothermia, or there was some other disaster, that coverage could turn. What once looked like a powerful protest could come to be seen as a dangerous frivolity.
In aggressively clearing them from the park, Bloomberg spared them that fate. Zuccotti Park wasn’t emptied by weather, or the insufficient commitment of protesters. It was cleared by pepper spray and tear gas. It was cleared by police and authority. It was cleared by a billionaire mayor from Wall Street and a request by one of America’s largest commercial real estate developers. It was cleared, in other words, in a way that will temporarily reinvigorate the protesters and give Occupy Wall Street the best possible chance to become whatever it will become next.
The question is what, if anything, comes next for Occupy Wall Street. The movement has already scored some big wins. As this graph by Dylan Byers showed, they have changed the national conversation. Income inequality is now a top-tier issue. Before Occupy Wall Street, it wasn’t.
And perhaps that will be the legacy of Occupy Wall Street. That would certainly be more than most protests achieve. If they are to go further, however, they are going to have to figure out a way to wield power in a more direct and directed form. The movement has always been uncertain on whether it wants to do that, and if it does, how to do it. It requires a willingness to work with the system that is, in certain ways, inimical to the founding of Occupy Wall Street. The good news, if they choose to make that transition, is that they don’t need a park to do it. The bad news is that, in most cases, it requires more hierarchy, clearer leaders, a more obvious agenda.
Back in October, I asked Rich Yeselson, a union researcher and a scholar of social movements, what he thought Occupy Wall Street would need to do to survive and succeed. “Whether they will grow larger and sustain themselves beyond these initial street actions will depend upon four things,” Yeselson said. “The work of skilled organizers; the success of those organizers in getting people, once these events end, to meet over and over and over again; whether or not the movement can promote public policy solutions that are organically linked to the quotidian lives of its supporters; and the ability of liberalism’s infrastructure of intellectuals, writers, artists and professionals to expend an enormous amount of their cultural capital in support of the movement.”
I still think that’s right. So then: Can the post-Zuccotti Park incarnation of Occupy Wall Street furnish skilled organizers who are able to keep the protesters involved, come up with solutions — or at least problems — they’re willing to agree on and fight for, and attract the sort of media attention that they need if they’re going to be able to continue forcing their issues into the national conversation?
The odds are probably against it. The odds are against any social movement, always. But it’s probably likelier under these conditions, where the occupiers were cleared from the park all at once, under sympathetic conditions, and so all of them can agree that this is the moment in which to decide what comes next.
Supporters of the Occupy movement are gearing up for a national day of protest and direct action across America, taking in dozens of events from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles.
Thursday has been declared a day of “solidarity” with the Occupy Wall Street activists in New York after their camp in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park was raided and dismantled by police. But it is also aimed at highlighting several of the movement’s broader aims in terms of income inequality and a desperate need for job creation in America’s floundering economy.
The Occupy movement, which began two months ago with the occupation of Zuccotti Park, has since spread to scores of cities and towns across the country, with varying success. It has often rejuvenated left-leaning political activists but also brought down a heavy police response, frequently at the behest of city mayors.
In recent days, police evictions and crackdowns on protesters in New York, Seattle, Berkeley, Portland and other places have caused widespread condemnation of alleged heavy-handedness by police.
In New York, protesters are planning actions all day in each of the city’s five boroughs. A potential early flashpoint will be a rally planned to begin at 7am that will target Wall Street itself, as the protesters seek to disrupt the operations of the New York Stock Exchange before the ringing of the opening bell that signals the start of trading at 9.30am.
Since the protests began, Wall Street has become a virtual permanent protest zone, ringed by steel fences and heavily policed. Later actions are planned to take place across the city’s subway system, as marchers will enter at 16 different stations and begin protesting.
Finally, the day will end with a rally at Foley Square, near New York’s Town Hall, and then a march to the Brooklyn Bridge, where hundreds of protesters were arrested in a previous headline-grabbing mass action.
Bridges will be the focus of some actions in other cities too. In Boston, Detroit, Washington DC, Portland and Seattle, protesters, some allied with union workers and community groups, will march on high-profile bridges in order to highlight the problem of America’s crumbling and underfunded infrastructure.
The range of activities across America spans a spectrum from the dramatic to the small-scale, including teach-ins, rallies and direct actions aimed at banks and corporations. In Portland, Oregon, protesters plan to target a city bridge and then try to organise flashmobs to go to local banks. In Detroit, protesters are marching from their camp downtown to the city’s municipal centre, where they aim to highlight the brutal impact of government cuts on ordinary citizens.
Check out Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman in the NYT on the response of both Wall Street financiers and Republican politicians to the Occupy Wall Street protests, aptly titled ‘Panic of the Plutocrats’:
It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America’s direction. Yet the protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general, and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent.
And this reaction tells you something important — namely, that the extremists threatening American values are what F.D.R. called “economic royalists,” not the people camping in Zuccotti Park.
Consider first how Republican politicians have portrayed the modest-sized if growing demonstrations, which have involved some confrontations with the police — confrontations that seem to have involved a lot of police overreaction — but nothing one could call a riot. And there has in fact been nothing so far to match the behavior of Tea Party crowds in the summer of 2009.
Nonetheless, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, has denounced “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans against Americans.” The G.O.P. presidential candidates have weighed in, with Mitt Romney accusing the protesters of waging “class warfare,” while Herman Cain calls them “anti-American.” My favorite, however, is Senator Rand Paul, who for some reason worries that the protesters will start seizing iPads, because they believe rich people don’t deserve to have them.
Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor and a financial-industry titan in his own right, was a bit more moderate, but still accused the protesters of trying to “take the jobs away from people working in this city,” a statement that bears no resemblance to the movement’s actual goals.
And if you were listening to talking heads on CNBC, you learned that the protesters “let their freak flags fly,” and are “aligned with Lenin.”
The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.
Last year, you may recall, a number of financial-industry barons went wild over very mild criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr. Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the so-called Volcker rule, which would simply prohibit banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in risky speculation. And as for their reaction to proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them pay remarkably low taxes — well, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.
Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.
This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny — and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious, no matter how calmly and moderately, must be demonized and driven from the stage. In fact, the more reasonable and moderate a critic sounds, the more urgently he or she must be demonized, hence the frantic sliming of Elizabeth Warren.
So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.
What I think the best thing of Occupy Wall Street is is that it finally puts the financial malpractices of an industry very much related to the actual top 1 percent of super-rich people in the US, in combination with their rescue by 99 percent of tax payers (i.e., the public), on the democratic agenda.
But the fundamental injustice in pretty much the entire Western world nowadays is the fact that the welfare state, a scheme for the public good, is being dismantled as a result of costs made to save the financial industry. An industry that through its own corrupt schemes, not beneficial to anyone but themselves, has itself created the greatest economic recession since the nineteen-thirties. They should not be awarded bonuses. And poor, sick and unemployed people should not have to suffer for them. There is nothing ‘left-wing’ about that. It’s common sense. That’s why I would love to see these protests spread to Europe, even though I myself am in favour of a regulated form of capitalism.
Finally – not from Paul Krugman – to point out empirically how disparagingly vast the gap between the top 1 percent and the lower 90 percent in the US is, check out these stats from Mother Jones. The first shows the composition of the top 1 percent; the second shows their wealth.
I mean, seriously. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of wealth inequality. But you don’t need to be a socialist to understand that such a huge gap between rich, middle class (if not already vaporized) and poor is not beneficial to any society, let alone a democratic one. And this gap has widened exponentially in the last thirty years, it wasn’t there before. The most fucked up societies are the ones with sudden, huge material inequalities. With the exception of the UK, Europe’s not as bad as the US in this respect – but getting close.
Now that they’re growing, spreading and getting some more serious attention, here’s a couple of news articles and blog posts that I thought were worthwhile to get some insight into how the Occupy Wall Street movement developed, what the background is, and what they seem to express. There’s also some stuff that compares them to the Tea Party (as a progressive variant, of course), and people speculating at how this might help Obama and the Democratic Party. In short, it provides some perspectives that might be interesting or useful.
The Occupy Wall Street protests, for their part, shine a spotlight on an industry that has attracted mass disgust yet escaped accountability. Almost everybody hates Wall Street, but the anger at Wall Street was deflected to the financial bailout, and thereby (even though it preceded him) to Obama. In a development that may have appeared shocking three years ago, Wall Street has resumed its place of privilege in Washington. Politicians are courting the financial industry, its barons speaking out with pre-crisis confidence. The Republican Party has openly pledged to kill the Dodd–Frank regulations.
The protests, for all this incoherence, restore Wall Street to a central place in the economic narrative. Here is the financial industry, not just as recipient of taxpayer funds but as originator and aggravator of the crisis. The protests may not have an agenda, but they do not need an agenda other than to return political focus onto Wall Street.
The larger role of the protests, should they continue, ought to be to reestablish the terms of the political debate. Historically, liberalism best succeeds when compared against a radical alternative. In the thirties and sixties, fear of extremism and mob violence made business elites eager to accept liberal compromise designed to preserve the system. Since 2009, the question of how to respond to the economy has been framed as a debate between meliorative liberalism and vicious reaction. In this climate, Wall Street has been howling about Obama’s mild verbal scolding of the industry, his plans to impose some measure of regulation upon it, and ever-so-slightly raise the tax levels of the very rich.
It’s not the arrests that convinced me that “Occupy Wall Street” was worth covering seriously. Nor was it their press strategy, which largely consisted of tweeting journalists to cover a small protest that couldn’t say what, exactly, it hoped to achieve. It was a Tumblr called, “We Are The 99 Percent,” and all it’s doing is posting grainy pictures of people holding handwritten signs telling their stories, one after the other.
These are not rants against the system. They’re not anarchist manifestos. They’re not calls for a revolution. They’re small stories of people who played by the rules, did what they were told, and now have nothing to show for it. Or, worse, they have tens of thousands in debt to show for it.
Let’s be clear. This isn’t really the 99 percent. If you’re in the 85th percentile, for instance, your household is making more than $100,000, and you’re probably doing okay. If you’re in the 95th percentile, your household is making more than $150,000. But then, these protests really aren’t about Wall Street, either. There’s not a lot of evidence that these people want a class war, or even particularly punitive measures on the rich. The only thing that’s clear from their missives is that they want the economy to start working for them, too.
But you look around and the reality is not everyone is suffering. Wall Street caused this mess, and the government paid off their debts and helped them rake in record profits in recent years. The top 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation’s income and 40 percent of its wealth. There are a lot of people who don’t seem to be doing everything they’re supposed to do, and it seems to be working out just fine for them.
But this is why I’m taking Occupy Wall Street — or, perhaps more specifically, the ‘We Are The 99 Percent’ movement — seriously. There are a lot of people who are getting an unusually raw deal right now. There is a small group of people who are getting an unusually good deal right now. That doesn’t sound to me like a stable equilibrium.
The organizers of Occupy Wall Street are fighting to upend the system. But what gives their movement the potential for power and potency is the masses who just want the system to work the way they were promised it would work. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans are really struggling. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans want a revolution. It’s that 99 percent of Americans sense that the fundamental bargain of our economy — work hard, play by the rules, get ahead — has been broken, and they want to see it restored.
I’m embarrassed to admit my first reaction to Occupy Wall Street was cynicism. Along with some other folks on Twitter when it began Sept. 17, I wondered aloud why it started on a Saturday, when Wall Street was quiet. I couldn’t find a list of its goals. Visiting New York a few days later, I walked along Wall Street in the rain trying to find protesters, but though there were barricades all along that dark canyon, and cops everywhere, nobody was protesting; I later saw a few dozen people among tents at Liberty Plaza, but by that time I was running to catch my plane home.
The next day, the New York Police Department cruelly pepper-sprayed female protesters, and suddenly the movement came alive. Ever since, I’ve been struck by the good sense the protesters have used in dealing with the police (in contrast with the poor sense of some of the cops): They are not making them the enemy. In fact, as 700 people were being arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday, they were chanting at the cops: “We’re fighting for your pensions!” It didn’t keep the protesters from getting arrested, but it kept them on the moral and political high ground.
The over-reaction of the police, the restraint of the demonstrators and the irresistible enthusiasm of the Occupy Wall Street crowd now has powerful allies streaming to support the movement. On Wednesday evening, major New York unions, including SEIU, the American Federation of Teachers and the Transit Workers Union, will join what is likely to be the biggest protest yet. TWU head John Samuelsen filed a federal injunction to stop the police from using city buses to transport protesters, the way they did on Saturday. “We intend to stop the NYPD from pressing our people into service to transport people who shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place,” Samuelsen told the New York Daily News.
MoveOn is backing the expanded Oct. 5 Wall Street protest, and national union leaders, including the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, have endorsed the movement. Trumka’s “been publicly supportive and I know a number of local unions are getting directly involved,” says AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein. “As for our direct involvement, we want this to continue in the organic way it has. How we can be supportive and not overshadow it is important.” The federation’s executive board will vote Wednesday on whether to make a formal endorsement.
Even some politicians are beginning to express support for the demonstration. The co-chairs of the House Progressive Caucus, Raul Grijalva and Rep. Keith Ellison, released a statement supporting it on Tuesday. “We have been inspired by the growing grassroots movements on Wall Street and across the country,” the pair wrote. “We join the calls for corporate accountability and expanded middle-class opportunity.” Asked whether President Obama is following the protests, press secretary Jay Carney said he was sure he was, although they hadn’t spoken about it. Then he added, “to the extent that people are frustrated with the economic situation, we understand.” Don’t expect more from the White House, but it’s almost certain other liberal Democrats will begin to speak out to support Occupy Wall Street, unless the Wednesday protest goes awry.
Yes, young people are on the front lines of protest again, but this time, they’re more intrinsically sympathetic, and emblematic of what’s gone wrong in our country. Youth unemployment is the highest in decades. Only 55 percent of Americans aged 16 to 29 are employed today, compared to 67 percent in 2000. A third to a half of African-American youth, depending on the under-30 subgroup examined, is unemployed. College educated students are leaving with unprecedented levels of debt; about 15 percent of student loans are currently in default. On the movement Tumblr blog, “We are the 99 percent” – the 99 percent of the country left out of the prosperity monopolized by the top 1 percent – the voices and photos of unemployed and underemployed young people are some of the most riveting.
Political action on the ground can (…) lead to increased presence at the polls. The Tea Party mobilized so many voters because of its activism prior to the 2010 mid-terms. Asking a political group to go back in time to get voters to the polls is absurd. Telling people to just shut up and quietly vote for one of the two parties is to misunderstand democracy. It’s more than just voting.
Furthermore, as Matt Yglesias convincingly argued, the lack of a mobilized left and a mobilized youth movement is largely the fault of Democratic leadership, including president Obama. Matt writes, that in light of the Occupy Wall Street protests “it’s hard not to be reminded of the lost opportunity to mobilize a left-wing popular movement back in the winter of 2008-2009 and the spring of 2009. That was a time when Congress was psychologically prepared to address the issues of joblessness, the availability of health care and education, and the ecological sustainability of the global economy.”
Writing off protesters because they’re young, because they weren’t politically active before, or because their demographic didn’t hit the polls as hard as the already-organized conservative base is really off-base.
This sort of condescending nonsense was hurled at the Tea Party. That movement has effectively pushed the entire national conversation the right, and the Republican party along with it. I respect the activism and drive that they drummed up to achieve that. They didn’t do it by just voting either.
After Tunisia and Egypt, we were mightily inspired by the fact that a few smart people using Facebook and Twitter can put out calls and suddenly get huge numbers of people to get out into the streets and start giving vent to their anger. And then we keep on looking at the sorry state of the political left in the United States and how the Tea Party is passionately strutting their stuff while the left is sort of hiding somewhere. We felt that there was a real potential for a Tahrir moment in America because a) the political left needs it and b) because people are losing their jobs, people are losing their houses, and young people cannot find a job. We felt that the people who gave us this mess — the financial fraudsters on Wall Street — haven’t even been brought to justice yet. We felt this was the right moment to instigate something.
We are not just inspired by what happened in the Arab Spring recently, we are students of the Situationist movement. Those are the people who gave birth to what many people think was the first global revolution back in 1968 when some uprisings in Paris suddenly inspired uprisings all over the world. All of a sudden universities and cities were exploding. This was done by a small group of people, the Situationists, who were like the philosophical backbone of the movement. One of the key guys was Guy Debord, who wrote “The Society of the Spectacle.” The idea is that if you have a very powerful meme — a very powerful idea — and the moment is ripe, then that is enough to ignite a revolution. This is the background that we come out of.
1968 was more of a cultural kind of revolution. This time I think it’s much more serious. We’re in an economic crisis, an ecological crisis, living in a sort of apocalyptic world, and the young people realize they don’t really have a viable future to look forward to. This movement that’s beginning now could well be the second global revolution that we’ve been dreaming about for the last half a century.
Originally we thought that the idea of one demand was very important. There’s been a debate going on between the one-demand vision and this other vision that is playing itself out right now on Wall Street. I think it’s a wonderful debate and there are good pointers on both sides. Currently this leaderless, demandless movement — that is still growing in leaps and bounds — I think it is fine the way it is. After these assemblies have been conducted and debates have been had in cities all around America, demands will emerge. These demands will be specific things like reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act or a 1 percent tax on financial transactions or the banning of high-frequency trading. We will get into specifics, just give us time.
The political left has always had problems with this. All my life I’ve been sitting in meetings where loony guys get up and talk, and eventually very little happens. This is the kind of weight that is dragging the political left down. We don’t seem to have the clarity of vision that for example the Tea Party has. This may be our undoing again. This whole movement may fizzle out in a bunch of loony lefty kind of bullshit.
Then again, at the same time, I’ve been in daily touch with dozens and dozens of people in cities all around the world who are involved in this. And I have a feeling that because of the Internet and a different kind of mentality that young people have, a horizontal way of thinking about things, this movement may not just come up with some really good demands and put incredible people pressure on our politicians, but a more beautiful thing may come out of this movement: a new model of democracy, a new model of how activism can work, of how the people can have a radical democracy and have some of their demands met. This new model may well be a new kind of a horizontal thing that in some strange way works like the Internet works.
Here in the Netherlands (the country that we write this blog out of), people may be largely oblivious to it, as a dictatorship may take over here tomorrow and all Dutch people will still sit outside on terraces enjoying their drinks. But in the rest of the world, Western and non-Western, mass demonstrations have for months been at the order of the day. These demonstrations -- whether it is in Egypt or Madrid -- are primarily attended by the young. This is Generation F*cked -- a generation already suffering from mass unemployment, that is now also hit by the financial crisis.
It is a grave injustice that, for instance in Europe, massive budget cuts are made and the welfare state is pretty much done away with, to save a capitalist financial system that was wreckaged by a few corporate elites. I’m no socialist, but you can’t ignore the structural wrongness of the current neoliberal political-economic structure that has been in the making for thirty years and now seems to be at its apex. Why, really, should the public at large suffer to save free-for-all financial capitalism? There is something rather wrong with that.
It is therefore heartwarming to see that throughout the Western world, inspired by the Arab Spring, young people have taken to street to semi-permanently occupy public spaces and form something of an alternative, proto-democratic movement. The main examples are the acampadas in Madrid and Barcelona, of course, inspired by Tahrir Square. People here are camping out, debating, discussing, having fun, united by a shared loss of trust in the system. And since two weeks, the global heart of financial capitalism, Wall Street, is also subject to a similar youth movement: that of Occupy Wall Street.
The funny thing is that it’s almost completely being ignored by most established media. Of newspapers, only The Guardianpays serious attention to it. While the goals of the movement aren’t really clear, everybody at least wants to show signs of protest to the system that through sheer irresponsibility and recklessness is causing continuing mass suffering. Wanna know you manages your pension money? Who finances, in the US, every politician that wants to get elected? Who through malpractice has brought the entire Western economy to a halt? Occupy Wall Street.
So here’s how to inform yourself on the movement, that is gathering more crowds everyday (I read this morning that the unions are planning to join in) and keeps demonstrating. These are not only young people, by the way. Check out:
Check out The Guardian‘s live blog. Glenn Greenwald -- neither, as far I know, a utopian, “leftist” or radical but like many people in the wake of the financial crisis simply concerned with the structural injustice of the current financial system, and happy that at least someone is sending a message - has the following commentary:
Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power -- in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions — is destroying financial security for everyone else? Beyond that, criticizing protesters for the prominence of police brutality stories is pure victim-blaming (and, independently, having police brutality highlighted is its own benefit).
And before that, about Wall Street’s hold on American (in this case, Democratic) politics:
“Manhattanhenge” is the day, every half year or so, in which the setting sun aligns with the east-west street grid on Manhattan. Makes for beautiful pictures, as on this Flickr set by photographer Vivienne Gucwa.
Manhattanhenge (sometimes referred to as the Manhattan Solstice) is a semiannual occurrence in which the setting sun aligns with the east–west streets of the main street grid in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. The term is derived from Stonehenge, at which the sun aligns with the stones on the solstices.
For some reason, this video makes me very happy. Going around New York City asking people what song they’re listening to. Such a simple concept. I also always wanna ask people what song they’re listening to, but never dare to.
And, damn, my iPod recently went broke and I’m really missing it.
David Sirota has a good piece up on Salon.com about the reactions in the United States yesterday on hearing the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing.
I must say he voices the same slightly uncomfortable feelings I involuntarily got from watching partying crowds outside the White House and in New York. I guess one should empathize with such outbursts, but I couldn’t help but think about partying crowds in the Gaza Strip when 9/11 occurred (even though I want to stress that killing Osama bin Laden is in no way comparable to the attack on the Twin Towers). Basically people are celebrating death. Now I share relief when a mass murderer, in the case of some people responsible for the death of loved ones, is gone, but the whole gung-ho, “America, fuck yeah!” vibe surrounding that…
I don’t know, I thought it was a less pretty face of America.
There is ample reason to feel relief that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to the world, and I say that not just because I was among the many congressional staffers told to flee the U.S. Capitol on 9/11. I say that because he was clearly an evil person who celebrated violence against all whom he deemed “enemies” — and the world needs less of such zealotry, not more.
However, somber relief was not the dominant emotion presented to America when bin Laden’s death was announced. Instead, the Washington press corps — helped by a wild-eyed throng outside the White House — insisted that unbridled euphoria is the appropriate response. And in this we see bin Laden’s more enduring victory — a victory that will unfortunately last far beyond his passing.
For decades, we have held in contempt those who actively celebrate death. When we’ve seen video footage of foreigners cheering terrorist attacks against America, we have ignored their insistence that they are celebrating merely because we have occupied their nations and killed their people. Instead, we have been rightly disgusted — not only because they are lauding the death of our innocents, but because, more fundamentally, they are celebrating death itself. That latter part had been anathema to a nation built on the presumption that life is an “unalienable right.”
But in the years since 9/11, we have begun vaguely mimicking those we say we despise, sometimes celebrating bloodshed against those we see as Bad Guys just as vigorously as our enemies celebrate bloodshed against innocent Americans they (wrongly) deem as Bad Guys. Indeed, an America that once carefully refrained from flaunting gruesome pictures of our victims for fear of engaging in ugly death euphoria now ogles pictures of Uday and Qusay’s corpses, rejoices over images of Saddam Hussein’s hanging and throws a party at news that bin Laden was shot in the head.
This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history — the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.
Again, this isn’t in any way to equate Americans who cheer on bin Laden’s death with, say, those who cheered after 9/11. Bin Laden was a mass murderer who had punishment coming to him, while the 9/11 victims were innocent civilians whose deaths are an unspeakable tragedy. Likewise, this isn’t to say that we should feel nothing at bin Laden’s neutralization, or that the announcement last night isn’t cause for any positive feeling at all — it most certainly is.
But it is to say that our reaction to the news last night should be the kind often exhibited by victims’ families at a perpetrator’s lethal injection — a reaction typically marked by both muted relief but also by sadness over the fact that the perpetrators’ innocent victims are gone forever, the fact that the perpetrator’s death cannot change the past, and the fact that our world continues to produce such monstrous perpetrators in the first place.
When we lose the sadness part — when all we do is happily scream “USA! USA! USA!” at news of yet more killing in a now unending back-and-forth war — it’s a sign we may be inadvertently letting the monsters win.
A couple of years ago, I had to take a cab from a Manhattan hotel to JFK airport really early in the morning, at 5.30 am or so.
It was already light outside.
It was very otherwordly to be driven through an, at that time, completely deserted Manhattan. The streets, normally bustling with traffic, were now empty, and you could see a mile away through the corridors between the high-rise buildings.
That’s what this cool exhibition of photos of empty public spaces in New York by Christopher Thomas reminds me of.
What is cooler than exploring forgotten urban underground constructions? Almost nothing. A while ago, we blogged about the “Freedom Tunnel” underneath Manhattan’s Upper West Side, that had turned into an ‘underground metropolis’ with organized homeless communities, as well as a haven for graffiti artists.
Now, the New York Times has a fantastic article about two underground urban explorers (one guy also climbed the Everest and walked the Poles), who make a five-day trip through sewers and metro tunnels from The Bronx to Queens. Here, they enjoy the underground architecture, encounter ‘mole people’ (people who permanently, illegally live underground) as well as other urban explorers.
This fascinating video details a trip they made earlier (the hopping besides the metro tracks is nervewracking; they also meet tunnel residents):
The NYT article can be read here. Some highlights of the story, which I recommend to read in full:
IT must have been the third or fourth day — time, by that point, had started to dissolve — when I stood in camping gear on Fifth Avenue, waiting as my companions went to purchase waterproof waders at the Orvis store. We had already hiked through sewers in the Bronx, slept in a basement boiler room, passed a dusty evening in a train tunnel; we were soiled and sleep-deprived, and we smelled of rotting socks. Yet no one on that sidewalk seemed to notice. As I stood among the businessmen and fashionable women, it dawned on me that New Yorkers — an ostensibly perceptive lot — sometimes see only what’s directly in front of their eyes.
I suppose that’s not a bad way to think about the urban expedition we were on: a taxing, baffling, five-day journey into New York’s underground, the purpose of which, its planners said, was to expose the city’s skeleton, to render visible its invisible marvels. The trip’s conceiver, Erling Kagge, a 47-year-old Norwegian adventurer, had ascended Mount Everest and trekked on foot to both the North and South poles. His partner, Steve Duncan, a 32-year-old student of public history, had logged more than a decade exploring subways, sewers and storm drains. Last month, the two of them forged a new frontier: an extended exploration of the subterranean city, during which they lived inside the subsurface infrastructure, sleeping on the trail, as it were.
Amazing. The sounds down here are even more impressive than the sights and smells: the Niagara-like crash of water spilling in from side drains; the rumble of the subway; the guh-DUNK! of cars hitting manhole covers overhead, like two jabs on a heavy bag. Steve says we’re only 12 feet beneath the surface, but it feels far deeper. The familiar world is gone: only sewage now, the press of surrounding earth, the anxious dance of headlamps on the water. Every 100 feet or so, an archway appears and we can see a parallel channel gurgling beside us with a coffee-colored murk. I shine my headlamp down and watch a condom and gooey scraps of toilet paper float by. I check the air meter constantly: no trace of gas, and the oxygen level is a healthy 20.9 percent. I ask Steve how he navigates down here; he laughs. “Hey, Erling,” he calls out, “you’re taking care of the navigation, right?” Funny.
Riverside Park, Manhattan
We just crossed the 125th Street off-ramp of the West Side Highway and plan to spend the night in an Amtrak tunnel in Riverside Park. Steve knows a woman who lives there — a “mole person” named Brooklyn. Today is Brooklyn’s birthday: she is 50. Erling met Brooklyn in August, on a scouting trip with Steve, and she asked him to return for a party. He has brought her chocolates — all the way from Norway — handmade by his daughters.
Brooklyn’s home is on the other side: dirt floors, concrete walls, a mattress and a milk-crate nightstand, burning candles, a poster of Lance Armstrong. A bicycle lies at the foot of her bed; clothing hangs from makeshift hooks. Beneath Lance Armstrong, there are newspaper clippings marking the death of Michael Jackson. Beside the bed, a huge pile of bottles — hundreds, it appears. Brooklyn describes these as her savings account: when money runs low, she redeems them for cash.
She is a wiry woman in a headband, stunned and pleased to see us. “I can’t believe y’all came for my birthday!” Gifts are given, whiskey passed around. Once again, we are a large group and sing “Happy Birthday.”
A strange news conference then ensues. Andrew, the videographer, directs: arranges Brooklyn in the candlelight, tells the NPR producer where to place his boom. Brooklyn tells her story to the cameras: her stint in the Marine Corps; the death of her parents; the loss of her house upstate; how she lived in the subway and was beaten by marauding kids; how she lived in a box until it was set on fire; how she found herself alone, on a bench in the park, and was lured to the tunnel by friendly cats. She has lived down here since 1982, she says, with six cats and a boyfriend known as B. K.
The party continues on the far side of the wall. More people arrive: Will the spotter, Will’s cousin and a guy named Moe. They, like Steve, are self-styled urban explorers. They talk of climbing bridges, running in subways. At one point, Moe confesses: “I really want to stop doing this. I’m 35. I want to be married and serious.” He sighs. “Then again, I’m saying this in a train tunnel. …”
On December 13, 1931, there was a traffic accident in New York City. A man exited a cab on the Upper East Side and was crossing Fifth Avenue when he was hit by a car traveling around 35 miles an hour. The force of the impact threw the man to the pavement. He struck his head. Two of his ribs were cracked. A crowd formed around him; one of the witnesses hailed a taxi to take the man to the hospital. When he was admitted to Lenox Hill the doctors noted that he was bruised and battered but would make a full recovery. He had cheated death.
The patient remained in the doctors’ care for eight days. While he was there the driver who had struck him visited. The patient made it clear that the accident had been his own fault; the driver, an unemployed mechanic, had nothing to fear. The incident had occurred because the patient, an Englishman, had looked left as he crossed the street when he should have looked right. The grateful driver left the hospital carrying an autographed copy of the patient’s latest book. The New York Times wrote about the meeting the next day. The headline read, “Churchill Greets Driver Who Hit Him.”
Today it’s thirty years ago that John Lennon was shot in New York City. I’m not that much of a Beatles fan (I like their songs, like everyone, and then especially the psychedelic work on Sgt. Pepper and the White Album), but they have to be recognized as harbingers – well, early adapters – of the 1960s counterculture, and of course the psychedelic explorations of that era. Let alone their huge innovation and influence on popular music.
Also, I once made a list of my favorite Beatles songs and then checked by whom they were written, and it turned out John Lennon (along with the Lennon-McCartney cooperations) had the most ones.
NME has a print article on the dark side of John Lennon: “John was the original Punk Rocker, his appetite for sex, drugs and rebellion matched only by his hunger for self-exploration.” And then Nerdcore has a scan of some great Lennon citations accompanying this article: