I don’t write about politics here, because I don’t keep up enough, because I’m far too wishy-washy, because I’m no where near smart enough, because there are many more writing far better, because my wandering, childish style has a slight charm with small stuff but would be a slap in the face with the big stuff …
Occupy Wall Street. This is written because of it, but not about it. I am not going to tag this for one side or the other to find. I am just going to talk about the coverage this is getting – one very, very small part; the culture of the protest. I have read, repeatedly, about the honour and respect associated with the peaceful protest. The American Civil Rights Protests and Anti-War Protests are regardly highly as changing a culture. The protests in the histories of India, of China, of South Africa, are spoken of as world-changing. Peaceful protest, as a phrase, method and ideology, is enshrined with respect.
But, when it happens these days, it seems that the protesters are -sometimes- covered as being lazy, insane and inconsiderate. The coverage isn’t by any means all one way, nor is it entirely undeserved. Critiques of society deserve to be critiqued all the closer right back. And people have every reason to suspect the word ‘protest’ after the monsterous atrocities that ruined countless lives in London during summer. The arsons, assaults, thefts, and pure-spite-fuelled vandalism upon persons who had nothing of anything to do with anything would be reason enough to get people suspicious. But is that all the reason?
Could well be. But, hasn’t there been a jaded regard for protesting for a while now? Petrol goes up by a penny, people get angry, it is brought down again … then put again quickly on the quiet a few months later. We see something wrong and we flagellate ourselves as a society for being apathetic about or cynically jibe each other about an obvious, but unstoppable, political manoeuvring. But then, when someone does protest something, there is that impulse to count the days until it collapses, and console ourselves that it’d never have worked anyway. Its a Catch 22 of protest being respectable but impossible or the province of hippies and meaningless.
I think part of that is ‘enshrining’ past protests, which is usually something we do with things that are dead. And, unfortunately, the need to protest, to state that things aren’t fine and that they need to change. I’m not talking about this issue, and I’m not talking about this protest – we are simply are always going to be a society that requires periodic protest to temper the ruling hand with mercy. We’ll be doing it still in ten years, in a hundred years, in a thousand years, when we want the space arks to bring the dungbeetles to when we want preserve the last star in the universe from burning itself out, we’ll protest.
And, yes I know I just undercut my entire argument with sci fi references. I actually needed to; it was getting dark.
But, yes – we’re never going to be perfect, protest is always going to happen. We learn from our mistakes, and we make entirely new ones. My sister once asked me about the stock market crash in ’29, and if it had been ‘fixed’ for that to never to happen again. The specific causes of that crash might have been fixed, or policed against, or made irrelevant by the sheer passage of time – or were simply to big, too integral a part of competitive trading to ‘fix’ – but all the same, for different reasons or similar, it happened again. But the deep pervading cultural assumption was that the market was important, and so was ‘fixed’. Static. Perfect. Safe.
Do we really want to admit that things are really, really, future-crushingly bad. No. Do we want to admit that, rather than a fix by an appropriately messianic, memetic, magic minority man, our best response is a bunch of hippies grousing in tents, disrupting foot traffic and going home at night? Really no.
And on the other side of that argument, the past wasn’t perfect either. Oh, the protesters were very, very great, but there does seem to be this need to anoint, and to cast issues in black and white. History, as far as second level at least, does have a problem with praising someone, but also stressing their calculation, their desires. The War protests were, in part, done out of a moral objection … but also by people who didn’t want to be called up. The civil rights protests were also, in part, done out of moral objection, … but also by people who saw real, tangible objectives and practical methods to get them.
Rosa Parkes, for example. By the end of second-level education, the primary impression will be that of a saintly, tested figure who, one day, tired, simply chose not to give her seat. It isn’t until third level education, at least for me, that the picture of the tactical brilliance and measured assault of this move upon segregation, with the orchestration and backing of the civil rights movement, and multiple persons of action doing it, emerges. Hitting buses, which would have been economically wasteful to fully segregate, and so tax-wasteful … and then applying that to schools, hospitals, etc, was a stroke of genius. Simplified histories insert naturalism and instinct over even-more-impressive decision and strategy.
And they never were clear cut, and they never will be. When we exist in the societies they helped to create, they are, but they weren’t clear cut at the time. They were disruptive, and loud, and reaching for impossible or unspecified things. And even those that admitted the moral veracity of the issue would have to admit that the social turmoil generated over the decades of change -change still going on- had heavy costs – costs which were immeasurably outweighed by the gains, but costs which, when measured against gains which were at the time thought impossible, seemed all too costly to consider.
This is the part, usually, where I’d reference Dr Who – Day Of the Moon, lets say, where Canton has an African-American significant other, which in 1969, by virtue of saving the world from alien rulers, he’d get to marry – if that significant was not also male. And even in 2011, could he really get that right? Even now? In every state? But no. Lets engage with of the extant, popular critical discourse on this.
There is thing that a video review series called Feminist Frequency -check them out on youtube- said when talking on Sucker Punch (and remember this, it’ll be coming up next week); that Sucker Punch is constructed, textually, in a world which is a feminist utopia, and feminism is a concept of past struggles. This opposed to the very real, very necessary, very outnumbered movement, constantly required to even halt the political, cultural, employment, ideological, social and medium chauvanism, never mind actually reach parity, that Feminist Frequency, and I, know that it actually is. How I feel this statement actually relates to Sucker Punch is complicated. How I feel this relates to general society is actually pretty straightforward (because I’m really that bass-ackwards, but you knew that already).
Protests regarding racism, sexism, classism, etc aren’t over, and we can only deal with each generation. And when it is this serious, dismissing it isn’t dealing with it. The movement has no one voice, no one message, no one suggestion? Problems, yes; but if they did, we’d accuse one voice, one message, one idea hijacking the protest representing a whole world of affected persons. The disorganised nature of the protest has them actually ignoring speeches from respected individuals who have long, long campaigned for social change? Big problem. But, given how previous organised protests have been criticised for spending millions to fly in celebrities, wouldn’t we have criticised them here too?
Why is the use of the internet to orchestrate the Spring Revolutions praised, but received with suspicion in the western world? Why are people praised for standing for democracy in countries where it is shaky, but treated with a veneer of distaste when they stand up for it countries where it is strong, though not always strong? Problems elsewhere are bigger, but they are no less real.
Protests, (much the mohawk-sporting grunge fan, which, for all that the original fans are parents and grandparents by now, has been part of every fictional street gang of more than 3 people since 1981) are always going to be perceived as disruptive. And, beyond that realisation … I have no real problem with how they have been received. Specific cases of violence are worrying, but I live nowhere near where any of the protests are being held, and have no idea what the provocations or situations to these instances are. There hasn’t been any massacres, any tanks rolling over people or gunned down crowds. The response hasn’t been perfect, but it hasn’t been horrific, either.
And that is it. This isn’t coming up again, I’m sure everything I’ve just said has been said -and rebutted, eloquently- elsewhere, and I really just needed to get this out of my brain and focus on what I’m good at – over analysing why the cartoon cat hits the cartoon mouse with a mallet. And that is 1555 words.