What the Occupy Movement fails to do

Prakash Kona

I never understood what the Occupy Movement aimed to achieve to begin with. Either it was too ambitious in aspiring to challenge corporate despotism or its goals were impossible to begin with. Not to mention it continues to be abstract and surreal as ever. I like to watch the protesters on TV who sometimes look innocent to me. The comparison with the Arab Spring by way of analogy is a completely wrong one. The comparison is not between apples and oranges since both are fruits but more like comparing a blue stocking with oxtail soup. Those who have traveled or at least have watched international movies with interest know for a fact that third world streets have a different character from those of the first world. Third world streets like third world life are filled with all too visible contradictions. The contradictions are disguised in the colonial economies of the west. The Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring are as distinct as Tahrir Square and Wall Street and the people who stand there.

That’s not the point however. What I fail to understand about the Occupy Movement is what exactly they intend to achieve with the “occupation”? If their aim is to make people aware of inequalities in society, the people already are in my view. If their aim is to challenge corporatism I don’t think this is going to happen by standing on a street. If the police eventually evacuated them, what do you want the police to do? To stand and watch the protesters as if it were a scene in the setting of a Hollywood film. Even if there were no police how long the standing around is expected to continue?

Seriously I’m suspicious of motives with which people arrive on a platform though I’m not cynical to the extent of doubting what the ones inspired with a sense of justice are capable of achieving. Definitely the Occupy Movement is not a prelude to a revolution of sorts. It is not a prelude either to political awakening because I’m certain that common people are conscious of the line of thought taken by the Occupy Movement. There are no lessons to be gained by its failure since not much was meant to be achieved by its success. I’m afraid very soon it’ll evacuate public memory as well and turn into one of those countless additions to youtube.com. Democracy in the western sense of the term with all its accompanying benefits in terms of being able to speak against authority without fear of getting killed or going to jail is the goal of Arab Spring. What is the goal of the Occupy Movement which is already happening within the parameters of an established democracy? The Haussmannized streets of carefully planned western cities will not allow for an armed insurrection of any kind. The European Revolutions of 1848 lead to a complete renovation of Paris and other cities making it possible for the state’s armed forces to brutally suppress any possibility of an uprising. If the Occupy Movement was peaceful and nonviolent it owed to lack of choice more than anything else. In principle I don’t think there could be peaceful movements. They are bound to be provocative in passive resistance as much as in active resistance.

If the goal of the movement is to fight inequalities it can demonstrate its true intentions in the politics of daily life. Western lifestyles which thrive on excess are anathema. The working classes irrespective of where they are from – ultimately they want those who speak of equality to work and live like the poor. Unless the protestors are one with those whom they claim to speak for, their movement will at best be cumulative acts of frustration put together. Only the discipline that comes with living, working and thinking like the masses can confront Wall Street who George Carlin refers to as the America’s “real owners.” Back in the 19th century when Jane Addams the prominent feminist and public philosopher went to meet Tolstoy, he not only called her an “absentee landlord” but asked her the question: “Do you think you will help the people more by adding yourself to the crowded city than you would by tilling your own soil?” This is not to disparage Jane Addams who is a unique woman and profound thinker in her own right but to say that the divorce between living like the poor and talking about them is more prominent with American forms of protest than perhaps with the European who might have a slightly more realistic view of life in relation to politics and change.

The fact that despite the growing poverty and unemployment no social revolt is possible in the United States is evident owing to the success of the propaganda machinery. The Steve Jobs phenomenon that occupied media attention says everything about the success of American propaganda. Suddenly Steve Jobs (who most people did not even hear of until he died) is the new hero for the young, right from Japan to India all the way to the Middle East (since he had a Syrian Sunni Muslim father who abandoned him by the way) and of course Europe and the United States. Steve Jobs like any other corporate warlord achieved his success through a combination of uncanny brilliance and ruthless elimination of competition. That’s how business empires are built – by eliminating the small in order to arrive at the big. Steve Jobs’ success is possible because he is a white guy and if the world knew that there is a Sunni Muslim Arab hiding beneath the whiteness it would have been harder for him to reach where he did.

For all their private suffering men like Jobs are contemptible to say the least. It amazes me therefore that so many people should want to be Steve Jobs without realizing that these are media manufactured heroes. These are not the blatantly impossible individual achievements that we see in the novels of Ayn Rand. These are facades that global capitalism needs to lead the educated masses to play their role in global exploitation of the poor. This “hero” making formula is used day in day out by American television and Hollywood while parroted by the rest of the world, with sportspeople or actors or business entrepreneurs in turns becoming heroes out of nowhere. All dropouts are not going to be Steve Jobs. Unfortunately most dropouts would like to believe that they could be so. That’s how propaganda works.

To date I attribute the success of American imperialism not to its military prowess which truly speaking is pretty pathetic given their poorly motivated cadres. The fact that they’ve been for so many years in Afghanistan and yet a barely armed but ruthless Taliban continues to gives them the shudder says everything about the so-called military power of the US. You need people to fight wars and not technology is a lesson that comes out rather well in the Afghanistan fiasco. Rather, it is to TV serials such as the globally popular “Friends” that America owes its real success. I’ve met people from various countries of the world who talk and think like those characters in the “Friends” sitcom. This is where we need to challenge American domination of the third world. At the same time that they are defeated economically and politically it is imperative that American hegemony be destroyed culturally as well to give alternate ways of expression a possibility to see the light of day.

The Occupy Movement if at all there is one in all sincerity should go to the small towns and take a walk through those parts of the cities that the poor inhabit. That’s where real America lives. Not in the universities and certainly not in the big cities. It is those small town Americans who are real harbingers of social and political change. The spaces that the media is not interested in – those are the spaces where real change is possible. To educate the poor and to selflessly work toward the uplift of the downtrodden classes – that’s the day the corporate world will begin to have sleepless nights.

Prakash Kona is an Associate Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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