Sunday, 23 October 2011

Occupying liberal street

As a radical new surge of people power sweeps around the globe, politicians and the mainstream media seem worryingly perplexed about how to respond.

Stuck in the safe world of machine politics and parliamentary-type reporting, their comprehension of the current unrest still speaks of 'errant' political/financial behaviour and 'misapplied' capitalist democracy.

Such was the intonation when Jeremy Paxman asked Michael Moore what he hoped Occupy Wall Street could achieve.

Did Moore want to change capitalism or end it, Paxman enquired? "End it", came the unequivocal response.

Capitalism is an "evil", inequitable system, Moore asserted, adding, as importantly, that the very function of standard politics has been to protect the rich and help maintain that very system of power.

For Moore, that's why people are now on the street, rejecting both the life-sucking power of greedy bankers and what's been handed-down to them as 'political partcipation'.

While Paxman seemed to acknowledge the frustration behind such action, he struggled to see how its aims could be advanced outwith the 'political process', the assumption being that OWS is not, in Paxman's BBC world, 'political'.

Thus, does Paxman (BBC annual salary, circa £750,000), like so many comfortable liberal media careerists, maintain a homogenised notion of what constitutes 'political life'.

Nor does the spectre of global occupation and rejection of corporate existence easily register in the liberal mindset as 'political crisis'.

That term denotes, more-readily, perceived 'emergencies' in party and governmental life: corruption/expenses scandals and the like.

Witness the liberal buzz as the BBC, Guardian and other 'vanguard' media recover the scandalous detail on fallen Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

Of course, Fox's demise is newsworthy, the media copy serving to reveal a little more of the cosy relations between our political and business elites.  But it also helps cement the notion of a 'liberal protectorate' acting to 'insure' us against those 'shocking abuses' of the system.

It speaks, implicitly, of Fox as some aberration within an otherwise functional, if still imperfect, system. In the process, we're encouraged to believe that the liberal media, like liberal politicians, are doing 'their job' in working to expose and weed-out the offenders. Rarely, if ever, does this come with any more damning indictment of the system itself.

But liberals also need to be 'on the street', to be seen as present, aware, 'involved'. 

And so liberal politicians and journalists 'shadow' the new direct-action politics - as with the radical blogosphere - like 'awkward oldies' fascinated by an edgy young trend, wanting to get in with the 'subculture', the people, 'the kids', the 'zeitgeist'; a hovering, anxious force afraid of being shut-out.

Thus do the dynamics behind Occupy Wall Street make for instructive observation on liberal sensitivity and its identity crisis.

Chris Hedges, a prolific chronicler of the OWS and wider protests, sees this nascent rejection of corporate life as a key threat to capitalist and liberal interests, alike:
"Tinkering with the corporate state will not work. We will either be plunged into neo-feudalism and environmental catastrophe or we will wrest power from corporate hands. This radical message, one that demands a reversal of the corporate coup, is one the power elite, including the liberal class, is desperately trying to thwart.
 For Hedges, the space for liberal response is becoming acutely narrowed:
"But the liberal class has no credibility left. It collaborated with corporate lobbyists to neglect the rights of tens of millions of Americans, as well as the innocents in our imperial wars. The best that liberals can do is sheepishly pretend this is what they wanted all along."
And with this has come a heightened resistance to liberal co-optation:
"The Occupy Wall Street movement, like all radical movements, has obliterated the narrow political parameters. It proposes something new. It will not make concessions with corrupt systems of corporate power. It holds fast to moral imperatives regardless of the cost. It confronts authority out of a sense of responsibility. It is not interested in formal positions of power. It is not seeking office. It is not trying to get people to vote. It has no resources. It can’t carry suitcases of money to congressional offices or run millions of dollars of advertisements. All it can do is ask us to use our bodies and voices, often at personal risk, to fight back. It has no other way of defying the corporate state. This rebellion creates a real community instead of a managed or virtual one. It affirms our dignity. It permits us to become free and independent human beings."
As the resistance of OWS to any friendly endorsements from Obama or advances from his Democrats shows, the movement, worldwide, appears particularly vigilant to party takeovers.

With the protest movement exercising new strategies of real political action, the potential displacement of standard liberal politics is of gathering concern both to party and media liberals as well as the system of corporate power they serve.

Here's to the intensification of their common crises.


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