We used to fight for great things. Noble things. Now look at us. What Democrats want these days is a look at Trump’s tax returns and the unredacted version of the Robert Mueller Report. Not that there’s anything wrong with trying to get those documents. Transparency is important. But they’re hardly talking about the great issues of our time like poverty, the retirement crisis or ecocide.
Redirection to Water Down the Potency of Dissent
On Saturday, October 26th several thousand people gathered near the Capitol Building in Washington to protest National Security Agency spying against Americans. As juicy news, it didn’t amount to much: no violence, no surprises. Politically, it marked an unusual coalition between the civil liberties Left and the libertarian Right, as members of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements stood side by side. But that’s not how it was framed.
The way U.S. media outlets chose to cover the march provides a fascinating window into a form of censorship they often use but we rarely notice: redirection.
The message of the marchers was straightforward. According to the British wire service Reuters, the protesters carried signs that read “Stop Mass Spying,” “Thank you, Edward Snowden” and “Unplug Big Brother.”
The message of the marchers was unambiguous: they demanded that the NSA stop spying on Americans, or be shut down. If the signs and the slogans and the things marchers said weren’t clear — “this isn’t about right and left — it’s about right and wrong,” USA Today quoted Craig Aaron — the group that organized the event is called “Stop Watching Us.”
Not “Keep Watching Us, Albeit With Increased Congressional Oversight.”
Stop laughing. I know, I know, no one in the history of protest marches has ever called for half-measures. U.S. Partly Out of Vietnam! Somewhat Equal Rights for Women!
Yet that’s how the media covered the anti-NSA event.
First line of USA Today‘s piece: “Thousands rallied against NSA’s domestic and international surveillance on Saturday by marching to the Capitol and calling for closer scrutiny of the agency as more details of its spying are leaked.” [My italics, added for emphasis.]
Associated Press headline: “NSA spying threatens U.S. foreign policy; protesters demand investigation of mass surveillance.”
MSNBC: “‘Stop Watching Us’ sees a chance to reform the NSA”
It is true that “Stop Watching Us” sent a letter to Congress. But there’s no way for a fluent English speaker to interpret their statement as “calling for closer scrutiny” or “reforming” the NSA. “We are calling on Congress,” the group wrote, “to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs.”
“Stop Watching Us” didn’t call for “reform.” Nor did the October 26th matchers. They called for the NSA to stop spying on Americans. Some of them called for the NSA to be closed.
No one called for less than a 100% end to domestic surveillance.
USA Today lied about the rally. So did the AP. As did MSNBC.
They did it by redirecting a radical, revolutionary impulse into a moderate, reformist tendency.
The U.S. is an authoritarian police state with democratic window-dressing. Stopping NSA spying on Americans would fundamentally change the system. There’s no way the government, or its mainstream media outlets, would voluntarily give up their info trolling. What they might do, however, is “pull this back,” as Al Gore said. “I think you will see a reining in.”
Categorizing strong political views of swaths of Americans as weaker, more moderate and watered down than they really are is a relatively new tactic for American media gatekeepers. Until recently, the standard tool of the U.S. censor when confronting dissent was to ignore it entirely (c.f., the 2003 protest marches against the invasion of Iraq and the long time it took for them to cover the Occupy movement of 2011). For activist groups and protesters, this might seem like an improvement. Which is what makes it pernicious.
Getting covered by the media isn’t always better than being ignored. If your radical politics get expressed in public as moderate reformism — and you tacitly acquiesce with this misrepresentation by your silent cooperation — you’re serving the interests of the system you oppose, making it appear open to reform and reasonable, and you less angry than you really are, though neither is true.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
For America’s New Radicals, a Coming-Out Party—and Brutal Cops
“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” —Gandhi
Gandhi lost, but never mind.
#OccupyWallStreet, in its second week as of this writing, is and was important. It is the first major street protest inspired by the economic collapse that began in 2008. It is also the first notable public repudiation of Obama by the American Left. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Canadian “culture jammer” magazine Adbusters asked people to converge on lower Manhattan’s financial district in order to protest corporate greed in general and—in a reflection of the influence of social networking culture—to develop one specific major demand after they gathered.
Several thousand people arrived 10 days ago but were turned away from Wall Street by a phalanx of NYPD officers manning metal barricades. A few hundred demonstrators, dominated by the scruffy white twentysomething college grads known as “hipsters,” wound up at Zuccotti Park, whose private owners granted them permission to camp there.
There they remain, noshing on donated pizza, talking, hanging out, hoping to replicate the magic of Cairo’s Tahrir Square while remaining committed to “absolute nonviolence in the Gandhian tradition,” as Adbusters commanded.
Occupy Wall Street now seems to be fizzling out.
For me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, failure was a foregone conclusion. From the opening words of the magazine’s updates to the participants, which it referred to as “dreamers, jammers, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries,” it was evident that yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.
Michael Moore complained about insufficient media coverage, but this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street’s perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite—in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.
Don’t just occupy Wall Street.
Occupy Main Street. Get ordinary people interested and involved. After all, college kid, it’s not just your struggle.
While a lack of political education should not preclude a person from participating in politics, organizers of a movement seeking radical change should make sure they don’t waste the whole time strumming a guitar and flirting. Zuccotti Park should have offered daily classes and study groups to reduce the odds that an attendee will sound like a moron when she gets questioned by a journalist.
“I’m not for interference [with wealthy people],” The New York Times quoted protester Anna Sluka. “I hope this all gets people who have a lot to think: I’m not going to go to Barcelona for three weeks. I’m going to sponsor a small town in need.” Earth to Anna: Rich people know poor people are suffering. They don’t care.
Also, lose the clown clothes. It’s not the early 1960s; you don’t have to wear a suit like the civil rights marchers did. But how about showing up on national TV looking decent, like it’s Casual Friday?
Revolutionaries should not expect fair coverage by media outlets owned by the transnational corporations they hope to overthrow. They also shouldn’t make themselves so easy to mock. Press accounts reveled in photos of topless women and the dudes on stilts who always show up at these things. So much bad hair, so many colors that don’t occur in nature.
A protest is a stage. All over New York City and around the country, people are watching on TV. Ideally, you want viewers to drop what they’re doing, to come join you. At bare minimum, you want them to approve of you. To identify with you. Maybe even send a check.
You say you represent the “99 percent” of Americans getting screwed by the top one percent. So act like the 99 percent. Dress like them.
Be normal, inclusive and welcoming.
Reporters quoted demonstrators who sounded as ignorant about current affairs as members of the Tea Party, albeit nicer. It was a perfect set-up for hit pieces by the likes of Ginia Bellafante, who called the downtown gathering an “opportunity to air societal grievances as carnival” and slammed the “group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably.”
History has proven that an absolute commitment to nonviolence can never effect radical change. This was shown again on Saturday September 23rd, when police used orange plastic nets to “kettle” and arrest about 80 Occupy Wall Streeters who had been marching peacefully through Greenwich Village. According to numerous witnesses and media accounts, none resisted. Cops went wild, beating several men bloody and macing at least one woman after she had been cuffed.
Sadly, too many people angry at gangster capitalists will look at the YouTube videos of bloodied young faces and say to themselves: I’m willing to suffer for a cause, not a scene.
Back in July, Adbusters wanted the “one simple demand” expressed by Occupy Wall Street to be “that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”
What do we want?
A bipartisan blue-ribbon commission to study the extension of campaign finance reform!
When do we want it?
As soon as the committee completes its work!
Unsurprisingly and rightly, that uninspiring (and easily satisfied) demand has been set aside in favor of something better but hardly worth taking a rubber bullet for: “a vague but certain notion that the richest percentile of the country remains fat and happy as the going-on-five-year-old recession continues to batter the middle and working class,” as The New York Observer put it.
Occupy Wall Street should have demanded something majestic, reasonable and unobtainable, in order to expose the brutal nature of the system. Something like the nationalization of all corporations, equal wages for all workers, or the abolition of securities exchanges.
Some organizers also called Occupy Wall Street “Days of Rage”; along with organization and focus, rage is what is lacking.
The aggregated wealth of the superrich has been stolen from the rest of us. We should not ask them to give some of it back. We should take it all, then jail them.
Which isn’t going to happen nonviolently.
Rich people are bad people. Someone has to say it out loud.
I have no problems with the organizers of a protest deciding that its marchers will remain nonviolent. I am speaking at such an event on October 6th. However, I think it’s unwise to broadcast those intentions to the authorities.
Few people think about it now, but street demonstrations have always relied on a sense of menace. Sure, people marching through the streets of a medieval city might begin by expressing their demands peacefully. But they drank beer instead of water. On a hot day, things might escalate into a riot. The local lord was wise to give in earlier rather than later.
The rich and powerful never relinquish their prerogatives voluntarily. Only violence or the credible threat of violence can force them to give up what they stole through violence and corruption.
Despite the protesters’ many missteps, which were inevitable due to their lack of experience and political seasoning, the Occupy Wall Streeters should be commended. Sure, they did some stupid things. But they have taken a first (tentative) step into history. They have learned lessons. Hopefully they will be smarter next time.
See you in Washington on October 6th, when the October 2011 Coalition will begin the occupation of Freedom Square near the White House. Our demand is simple: We will not leave until the last occupation soldier and mercenary is withdrawn from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Oct. 6th: Will Tahrir Square Come to Washington?
I used to work for Democratic candidates. I was a campus activist. I marched in protests.
But, in the 1980s, I quit politics. I was fed up. The Left was impotent and inept. They didn’t want to change things. They were content with theater. Bad theater at that: dorks on stilts, boring speakers, stupid slogans, the same old chants. “The people, united, will never be defeated!”
Except—we were defeated. We didn’t even fight.
Our protests were poorly attended. The media ignored us. And we always lost. Even the Democrats didn’t care about us or our opinions. By the time Bill Clinton won in 1992, the progressive wing of the party was good for one thing: voting Democratic.
Along with millions of others, I drifted away.
Now, finally, for the first time in decades, I am excited.
We can change everything. Here. In America. Now.
People are rising up in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Patriotic Afghans, Iraqis and Yemenis are fighting puppet dictators propped by U.S. military occupation. They demand an end to violent, corrupt governments that serve themselves but not their citizens. People in the Middle East and European countries such as Greece refuse to accept systemic poverty and unemployment so that a tiny slice of corrupt, well-connected elites can continue to amass wealth.
Why just in other countries? Why not here?
Why can’t we have a Tahrir Square?
Lord knows we need one.
Here in the United States, corrupt politicians and their corporate overlords have raped the wealthiest nation in the history of civilization, reducing one out of five Americans to unemployment as the income of the rich skyrockets. They tell us our schoolchildren must do with less, that we cannot afford to see doctors when we are ill; meanwhile they start prolonged, seemingly endless wars of aggression against nations that posed no threat whatsoever: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Yemen.
Did you know that Egypt and Tunisia had lower unemployment and disparity of income than the United States?
Organizers are calling a demonstration planned for October 6, 2011 in Washington’s Freedom Square “the biggest story on the progressive sphere of the Internet tomorrow.” October 6th marks the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
This, they say, will not be the usual sad protest demonstration in which people show up, chant slogans, march around, then pack up their signs and go home.
[Full disclosure: I have endorsed October 6th and will attend.]
The idea behind October 6th is simple: to recreate Tahrir Square two blocks away from the White House.
“We are not packing up and leaving this time,” says Tarak Kauff, one of the October 6th organizers. “We are preparing to stay as long as we possibly can or until some basic demands are met. If we are driven out, we will return.”
In other words, clear your calendar for the 6th, the 7th, the 8th…however long it takes for the Obama Administration to yield to key demands, including immediate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and the other wars. Participants are being asked to sign a pledge to attend at http://october2011.org.
“Previous demonstrations were one-day events which were simple for the Administration and Congress to ignore,” Margaret Flowers, another organizer, told me. “The large demonstrations usually happened on weekends when there was little going on in Washington. “This is different because it is an occupation that begins on a Thursday, a day of business, and will continue.”
They will keep the heat on. “We intend to stay and to have waves of nonviolent civil resistance. The time for symbolic actions has ended. Too many people are suffering and dying here and around the world because of the policies of this nation. The planet is suffering because of the policies of this nation. This government has demonstrated that it is incapable of acting in the best interests of the people and planet. We say that this is unacceptable and we will stay and resist until this changes,” Flowers said.
All the participating groups have pledged to remain nonviolent. However, it is not hard to imagine the Washington police or other state security apparatus reacting brutally to the occupation of part of downtown Washington by tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. Hoover crushed the Bonus Army. Antiwar demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention were beaten. Chinese authorities refused to tolerate the occupation of Tiananmen Square. We have seen dissent crushed in Iran, Bahrain and Syria.
A real demand for real change? The system will view that as a threat.
Flowers: “If the police respond violently, we will do our best to maintain a nonviolent response. If we responded with violence, it would reinforce the police violence and they have weapons, so more people would be hurt. We do not want that. It will be very unfortunate if the police and others working for the security state choose violence. But that is a possibility as we are seeing in this country and around the world. Empires have a history of violence. We want a different kind of society—one that is peaceful, just and sustainable. That is the kind of society we intend to model during our occupation.”
Unlike previous demonstrations, which tended to center around one issue like globalization or gay rights, October 6th is an attempt to unify the American Left into a holistic attack upon the main cause of most of the problems we face: the hegemony of big business that is the inevitable culmination of late-stage capitalism.
Tarak Kauff: “October 6 is…a call for people to stand up to, and resist the root cause not only of our global war-making for profit, but of near catastrophic ecological disaster, pollution, an austerity budget cuts that will devastate the poor and working class, lack of adequate health care and just about every social ill you can think of. What’s the root cause? You got it before I can say it. That’s right, the corporate state.”
October 6th has lit up the leftie blogosphere. If things come together, it could be The Big One: the major event that marks the beginning of the end of the two-party trap and a political system that extracts wealth from the poor and middle-class for the benefit of the wealthy.
Organizer Kevin Zeese adds: “I expect that we will be staying, and not just for the 7th and 8th. We will be working through various scenarios on what will happen depending on how the government responds. In similar events around the world there have been a range of actions and protesters have had to adjust depending on them. Our intent is to stay until we are satisfied with the response.”
“History is not a fairy tale you read to your children at night,” reads the mission statement. “It is not something someone else did in another place. History is right here and right now, in front of you.”
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL