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Haters gonna hate - in which I object to some of the arguments against #OccupyWallStreet - Tactical Ninja

Sep. 22nd, 2011

09:39 am - Haters gonna hate - in which I object to some of the arguments against #OccupyWallStreet

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Warning up front - this might get long.

Dunno if you've heard but there are some people attempting to occupy Wall Street in New York. There are a few hundred of them and they've been there since Saturday. What they are protesting is broadly the corruption of the system, and more specifically the complete lack of punishment for the instigators of the US financial meltdown, followed by a taxpayer-funded bailout for the same organisations that created it. They intend to stay there until this is acknowledged and actioned by the US government.

You may not have seen much in the news about it. That's because there hasn't been much in the news about it. There has been a little - CNN posted an article on Saturday, Channel 2 news managed to repeat the article yesterday, Al Jazeera has links to various streams of information. But realistically, there hasn't been a lot of news about it and if you weren't actively looking for it, many people wouldn't know it was happening.


Maybe it's because Yahoo was blocking emails that mentioned it. Maybe it's because police turned up and prevented the group from getting into Wall Street on Saturday, and have been using some very creative reasons to suppress the protest by taking away people's shelter, means of generating electricity, and communication. Oh, also arresting them.

Yet they are still there.

You'll note that the articles published in mainstream media seem a little slanted to frame the protestors in a particular way - the CNN one gives space to a police officer talking about the lack of sought permission and the 'safety issues' of allowing the protest, while the next paragraph discusses the yoga and tai chi classes that were going on within the protest. Dunno about you, but if I were some conservative person reading that stuff I'd automatically write the protestors off as a bunch of disorganised hippies.

Yet they are still there. And they have been learning as they go - there is a list online of things the protestors need. Yesterday they managed to buy a generator, and the food fund reached $10,000. People are donating time and money to this. Tim O'Reilly turned up and added his spoke, suggesting on Google Plus that it was the wrong people protesting - scruffy, idealistic young people, too easily dismissed by those in authority.

Unlike the people in his comments, he actually went down there and walked his talk instead of sitting back in his armchair and judging. And I say good on him and everyone else should shut the fuck up.

Because I've heard a whole bunch of hating going on. Everything from 'first world problems' to 'middle class white kids' to 'look at what's going on in Syria why do these privileged people think they have a right to protest?' to 'what's your point?'

And it makes me wild. I've been studying social movements, as you know. One of the first things we learned is that when there's an uprising, it's not the rich who protest, because the rich have other avenues by which they can change things. It's not the poor that protest, because they are too busy trying to survive. It's nearly always the middle classes that have the education, the time, the resources to protest but don't have the political avenues to not need to protest.

So yeah, it's middle class kids who are protesting and that's to be expected. So why is it kids? Like the articles up there say - they are overeducated and underemployed. To put it simply, in the US at the moment if you have a job, you keep going to it no matter what because if you take time off to attend a protest you're likely to lose it to someone who needs it more, and then you'll join the ranks of 'too poor to protest'. Take out the very rich, the very poor and the Need This Job, who do you have left? The unemployed college students and graduates.

And if leaving college with a $40,000 debt into unemployment isn't a valid reason to be pissed off, then please explain to me where the line between valid reasons and non-valid ones is.

As for the Syria argument, I'd direct your attention to Derailing for Dummies, specifically the entry entitled "Don't you have more important issues to think about?". Now while this page is about arguments with marginalised people and maybe the #OccupyWallStreet protestors are not marginalised in the social justice sense of the word, I think that the suggestion that people getting shot at in Syria means that the issues these protestors have are trivial and not worthy of protest fits right into that argument.

The thing is, what they are protesting is not fucking trivial. You can read up on the global financial crisis here. Wonder at how it was caused by a bunch of unregulated financial institutions in the US playing fast and loose with credit! Marvel at the way in which people were used as dupes so that the investment banks could bet against their being able to service loans and thus make more money! Boggle at the govermental response of bailing out the banks at cost to the same taxpayers who'd been pawns in the game!

And be completely unsurprised by the lack of punishment given to those who caused this. Many of these people not only didn't suffer themselves, they walked away with millions. And a lot of them are still in positions of power. You see in the US, lobbying is big business, and those with the money get to influence legislation to allow them to make more money. And to keep their jobs. Still don't believe me? Go watch Inside Job. Spells it out pretty plainly. And if that's not state corruption, I'm not exactly sure what is.

"But... Syria! They have it much worse over there!" Yes, they do. They are being shot at for protesting pretty much the same thing. They do have it worse. Does that mean that people in the US shouldn't protest?

Bearing in mind, that is, that the US financial meltdown led to a global recession. I don't know how the recession affected Syria, but there's stuff out there about how it's affected India, China, and Africa. Yep, when Americans stop buying stuff, people in other countries starve.


So tell me again why the privileged middle class white scruffy kids in Wall Street are doing a bad thing and should be derided for it? And tell me again why those of us who support protesting the corruption and bullshit that's been coming out of the US and how it's affected the rest of the world should shut up because people are being shot in Syria? And tell me again why it's ok for the police to arrest people for wearing a mask on the back of their head.

Because I'm sure we all agree that people in first world countries have nothing to complain about and therefore we should just ignore their protest or suppress it or frame them negatively so we can be ok with not doing anything about it, right?

Oh wait.

And yeah, five days later they are still there. How long do they have to stay before their protest becomes valid? I'm gonna leave you with this from the Guardian - Why 'Occupy Wall Street' Makes Sense.

[edit] Was gonna make a new post for this but in light of the Troy Davis killing, I'm keeping this update down here out of respect:


Olbermann Calls Out MSM For "Media Blackout" Of Wall Street Occupation

Comments:

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From:bekitty
Date:September 21st, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
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I reckon that it's a damn good way of examining their privilege. Go the Wall St protestors, I say! \o/
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From:tatjna
Date:September 21st, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
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It'd be cool if you could enlarge on this concept. ;-)
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From:tatjna
Date:September 21st, 2011 10:15 pm (UTC)
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This protest was inspired by the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia etc, notably not by anything that happened in a Western country.

Another thing I've learned recently that fits with the 'protest as a tool of the middle class' theory is that the uprisings of the severely downtrodden are generally disruptive and violent - think London riots. Wondering here if going postal is a similar response.

Western governments have done a very good job of suppressing dissent over the last 30 years - Sandra Grey has done some work on how this has happened in NZ beginning with the disempowerment of trade unions - their tools not being a visible, protestable method like violence but instead encouraging a culture of derision towards protest, framing of protestors as ineffective hippies and ignoring even large, well organised demonstrations. The result being what we're seeing now - people really struggling to organise and maintain mass protest despite a large number being dissatisfied.
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From:bekitty
Date:September 21st, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
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I've put a link to this on Shakesville, so you might get some commenters here that you don't normally see. Hope you don't mind! :)
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From:tatjna
Date:September 21st, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
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Totally fine. I'd like to see more coverage of this everywhere tbh.
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From:richdrich
Date:September 21st, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)
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So, correct me if I'm wrong, but there's this concept that the "global financial crisis" is an isolated event caused by "corruption" (however that's defined) among a small group of "bankers" who should be nailed to the wall for it. With the corollary that the participants in every other part of the capitalist system (like wealthy publishers of expensive textbooks, just as a for-instance) are in no way culpable.

I'd dispute this premise. The bankers are performing a function, sure - they enable middle class people to live a lifestyle beyond their ability to earn money in the current system. That might involve inflating the price of property, it might involve inflating the price of companies, enabling a business model that doesn't really work to float away on a promise.

This cash-pumping's been going on for years. In 1867, the middle classes were a small minority, most people were ultra-poor and self-evidently ripe for revolution. Over the next 150 years, capitalism avoided this by using the surplus from technological advance to create a large, somewhat unproductive, middle-class.

As resources got depleted and expensive and the middle class grew ever bigger (with the developing world, which had acted as a buffer, getting in on the game) the system has steadily started to creak. The bankers came up with various ways to manage this (such as ways to lend money to people who couldn't possibly pay it back). These strategems have been breaking - and will go on breaking.

[As evidence, I'd point to NZ. We didn't have PhDs with the skills to develop CMOs and so on - instead, we had an old bloke in Timaru shuffling billions in and out of shoeboxes, with exactly the same end result]

Thst's the genesis of the world financial crisis - turning round and scapegoating bank workers is no more rational than picking on any other workers. Why don't people go and occupy Infinite Loop?

(What we actually need is to get to a system that gives people control over their own economic destiny - how this could happen and how we could get to it is a hard problem - but it probably involves people understanding that the current system isn't basically ok, it's basically broken).


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From:richdrich
Date:September 21st, 2011 11:26 pm (UTC)
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Which isn't to say that any form of protest isn't in some way useful, even just to radicalise people. So long as they don't veer to the extreme right (and of course there is a huge taxonomy of blaming the worlds problems on Shadowy International Manipulators).
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From:tatjna
Date:September 21st, 2011 11:26 pm (UTC)
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Yes.

The majority of the people who support this movement, when asked why, have been saying "the system is broken". Which is more or less the same thing you're saying, and the global financial crisis is simply a symptom of the broken system.

However, people who protest realise that 'the system is broken' is not the best way to grab people's attention. It's kind of like 'capitalism sucks' or 'the environment, man'. Effective movements frame their grievances in ways that people can relate to, and talk about solid things. Focusing on climate change, saving the whales, saving Troy Davis or punishing the bankers are all different ways of saying "The system is broken and we need to fix it" - packaged in a more manageable way.

So yes, scapegoating the bankers and exposing US elite corruption will not fix the broken system - but persuading the US government to put regulation in place to prevent it happening again sounds like a move in the right direction.

I also agree with your last point - as do many of the protestors. I don't think you and they are that far apart in what you think is wrong and how it might be fixed.
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From:hep
Date:September 22nd, 2011 03:20 am (UTC)

this got too long so i split it

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these kinds of articles are almost always the same about this kind of protest. the 2003 anti iraq war "riots" (how the media framed peaceful civil disobedience in the streets) in san francisco were presented much the same way, the work of a bunch of kids (because i look 12 probably) despite the fact that there were thousands of teachers, parents (im vp of the pta!!), "normal citizens" (aka not college students), wealthy people, actors, and the former head of the SF Stock Exchange. but somehow most of the original reporting slanted it like a bunch of anarchist kids running around just to cause trouble (not that those weren't there, but it was definitely not the bulk of those 7 days.)

however, the corollary is that the privileged protest to maintain THEIR status quo, not to protest on behalf of groups less marginalized. college is a choice, and complaining that you were not guaranteed a job at the end of it is the height of privilege, as is the argument "well i was poor in college". poor in college has absolutely no parity to being part of the actual poor class in america. choosing to forgo luxuries so that you have the ability to market yourself to the workforce later is, again, a choice, and one with the option of bettering your class level from the get-go. 50% of jobs listed in america automatically deny the ability for non-college attending members of the workforce to apply, that is what you are paying for and going through with college. whining that you didn't get a job the second you graduated, or even within a year, or even within 10yr is the height of privilege. it's like the people that bought expensive houses and then complained when the value went down. there is no guarantee in the bill of rights or constitution that if you attend college you will automatically receive work, and if unemployment is that high among new college grads, imagine what it is like among actual poor classes of people who never even had the ability to attend college. and these are the people who really are most affected by the united states financial meltdown, as they are now mostly completely unable to secure loans, have had their pensions bankrupted by unstability on wall street (remember, blue collar working class pensions are often the first to get sacked by poor financial situations in first world countries, because the pensions of white collar workers are more secure, can afford a much higher tier of financial management and direction, and are often already tied to that network of better financial accounting through internal contacts with the system. blue collar pension funds are often directed and managed by blue collar workers of a particular status within the union, people who usually have absolutely no financial training and put their trust into whatever financial managers they can afford. see: the steel workers in the 80s, the pipe fitters in the 90s, and basically every blue collar pension right now. both of my fathers have seen their pension drop by over 80% in the last 4 years, whereas my internet computer friends have lost 5-10% of their iras and you will never hear the end of the bitching)

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From:hep
Date:September 22nd, 2011 03:20 am (UTC)

Re: this got too long so i split it

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he issue with class legitimacy is an important one, because if your protest is solely limited to a class of people who can honestly afford to take time off to protest (and most of these kids are receiving support from higher class friends and parents, have access and knowledge of networks like kickstarter and other sorts of quick funding, and have the ability, because they are white middle class privileged people, to go into various protest networks and mechanisms and receive instant respect and access to resources (places like indymedia, nyc resistor, crimethinc networks, ANSWER, etc, which is not at all available to members of lower classes, particularly people of color. the welcome and ability to use resources that a white college anarchist grad will receive in any of those venues is light years difference from the welcome and allowance to use resources that is granted to say, a young black male who dropped out of high school and works as a mechanic) it will never gain true legitimacy as it is quite obviously made up of dilettantes who aren't being actually truly affected by the actions they are protesting. usually these kinds of people end up dropping out of the protest scene once they turn 25 and get a real job. which shows that it was more of a hobby and social scene for them, less of an actual committed social justice viewpoint. and people in power know this, and know if they just ignore these kinds of social justice actions because kids will get bored and move on with their lives into something else. then it becomes "remember when we protested back in the day! we really made a difference!" even as they did not affect any real change, and the same social problems are still in effect. you can see this incredibly clearly with certain protest movements in the bay area that have totally stagnated because most of the people who were supposedly most invested in the movement "grew up" and are now part of the class they were formerly protesting against. this is not to be confused with true social justice burnout which will end up affecting all truly committed social justice activists at some point primarily because of activists like i discussed above. it is incredibly frustrating to devote your entire life to social justice organization, and deal with what we call spring break activists or trustifarians, who are just protesting to get back at their parents, or for social scene cred with protest girls, and will disappear from the social justice landscape within a few years (usually 3yr after they graduate college, and they finally are on a true upward mobile career path).

are all social justice actions important? of course. but not on the same level of parity. you cannot compare the actions of say, ANY black bloc protest on the same level of social change as mlk's march on washington. their background, backing, reasons, and most important the future of how they continue to progress their social justice movement has just as much importance towards the legitimacy of their protest actions as the actual social justice movement they are protesting for.
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From:damnitnicole
Date:September 22nd, 2011 04:02 am (UTC)
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Beautiful. Can I repost this, like everywhere?
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From:tatjna
Date:September 22nd, 2011 05:14 am (UTC)
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If you like. I'd be honoured.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 22nd, 2011 02:30 pm (UTC)
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They're protesting big money. Big money controls the media. Big money controls the police. Big money is blind to those that don't fit their profile.

I walk past these kids every day. Yes, 90% of them are kids. I work in the FiDi. I only make about $30,000 a year, am married, have a kid, ect. It's not enough, I'd love to see what they're TRYING to say be heard.

The police have put them in a small, easy to avoid park. The only way their protest is working right now is by making the walk from point A to point B in that area a pain in the ass. Nobody even knows what's going on. I hear that question every day, usually followed by the quote, and I kid you not, "Damned hippies".

Problem is, even if it is heard. It's not going to change anything. They're going about this so very, very wrong. They're poorly planned and disorganized. If you're going to protest against something of this scope, you need to be organized. I saw all the threads and posters and ads leading up to this. It had as much organization as a Flash Mob of people swinging lightsabers at Port Authority. Not to mention, it looks like the same crowd.

You want this to be successful? Wolf in sheeps clothing. Don't go there looking like someone so easily dismissed. These suits only see a bunch of dirty children in raggedy clothes making their commute a little more inconvenient.

Shave, comb your hair, dress like one of them or at least close. Put the thought in the minds of the people looking your way, "Hey, that looks like me, or like the guy who worked in the office next to mine". Organization is also easier. Have everyone wear an Orange t-shirt with the messages written in marker on them if not printed.
Right now, it looks like a gathering of squatters, crust punks and hippies. Seriously. There's people that look more bored than active. Sitting on their cell phones, playing game boy, ect.

They are disorganized, inactive and ineffective.

Greed is a fundamental human trait. People don't like hearing this, but it is very true. Without any recognition to the contrary to put the thought in the head of the movers and shakers, they will continue to ignore the message at hand and find new and inventive ways to line their pockets with sweet, sweet money.

I'm not against this, I'm against the method. What they need to do now is retreat, regroup and reform their "attack".

I could go on, this has been long enough already. I think the point has been made. I'm not against this, I'm against the method. What they need to do now is retreat, regroup and reform their "attack".
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From:tatjna
Date:September 22nd, 2011 06:18 pm (UTC)
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So let me see, you're one of the Need This Job people who agrees with their point but won't actually stand up yourself, yett are ok with walking past them every day then getting on your computer and writing comments in forums calling them disorganised hippies and telling everyone except them what the 'right' way to protest is.

I'm gonna suggest here that you go talk to them in their physical or online space and make your suggestions there, while also letting them know that you agree with their point.
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