Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Why Should We Demonstrate? A Conversation

Things I don’t understand about activism, the short list:
• Sleeping in a park if you have an actual bed somewhere to sleep in;
• Willingly being in a place where you increase your risk of being arrested/maced;
• Being uncomfortable in a crowd when you can just, you know, read coverage on blogs;
• How crowds of people with signs change anything, ever.

Amount I’m willing to concede ignorance on matters of activism:
• Oh, a lot;
• I’d go so far as to say "total."

What I decided to do about it:
• Not take an eight-hour bus ride to New York City, that’s what;
• Get someone to explain it to me.

So I called up Sam Brody. He is a guy I went to college with, and the only person in my life who has done activist-type things on the regular. I know this because: he used to talk about these things (I obviously paid so much attention); he used to (and perhaps still does) wear t-shirts with political messages sharpied on them; and one time in 2002, Cary Tennis profiled him for Salon as a young anti-war activist. Sam is currently a PhD. student at the University of Chicago. He is a native New Yorker and was in Zucotti Park last Sunday. We had this conversation.

LOGAN SACHON: So, Sam. I have been watching the coverage for the past couple weeks —

SAM BRODY: Where have you been watching coverage?

LOGAN: I guess by watching, I don’t mean “watching.” I’ve been reading it. Mostly blogs. And what I’ve found is equal parts people saying, “This is awesome,” and people saying, “This is so unorganized, what is the point.” So what I’m interested in is: who is right? And more than that: how do protests work and what is the point of them?

SAM: Your general question — what is the purpose of street-based activism — is a good one.

The most recent thing that most people in our generation got excited about was the Obama campaign, from a liberal perspective. And that was a really clear goal: to elect one dude.

The most idealistic people maybe thought that electing this one dude would take care of a whole bunch of other things they cared about. And there were probably a lot of other people who weren’t that idealistic, but thought, well, electing this one dude won’t mean we won’t have to do all this other work, but it will be one good thing. There were a lot of people who got involved for the first time in politics on that campaign, and I think there were a lot of other folks who had been involved in activism for a long time who were kind of worried that if those people thought that the campaign didn’t deliver everything they wanted, they would just get kind of disillusioned with politics as a whole, and this kind of “plague on both their houses,” apathetic attitude that would emerge from that. That if the resulting Obama administration didn’t fix everything, you’d have people think, not in a political way, but in an attitudinal, existential way, that there’s no way to affect anything. And that you shouldn’t even bother trying.

And I think for a lot of people, that happened. They adopted this sort of very basic stance toward the world of, whoever runs things runs things, and it’s not me, and things are just going to keep being shitty, because some other people who have a lot of power and money are going to be the ones who decide what happens, basically.

I think there were a lot of folks who had been involved in activism for a long time who were kind of worried that if people thought that the campaign didn’t deliver everything they wanted, that if the resulting Obama administration didn’t fix everything, you’d have people think, not in a political way, but in an attitudinal, existential way, that there’s no way to affect anything. And that you shouldn’t even bother trying. And I think for a lot of people, that happened.

LOGAN: Unfortunately, I think I might be the poster child for this.

SAM: And so as a way of concluding a really long rambling answer to this question of “what is the point of street-based activism,” I think one of the main purposes in this case, and really the initial purpose, is to make a space, to open up a space, where people go and talk to other people about what they want to have happen.

Because maybe in your daily life you go to work, if you’re lucky enough to have a job, or maybe you go to a bar or some cultural event with your friends in the evening, and maybe politics is one thing that comes up at that or maybe it doesn’t. And you might have a stray thought here or there throughout the day about something if you happen to read the news, but when there’s a huge group of people that are all assembled in one place to talk about how something is seriously wrong and they want to do something about it, when you go there, that’s what you talk about. And you talk to a lot of different people and you hear a lot of different things, and if you start participating, it gives you sense of having power. And the more people realize that they’ve been missing that, the more people join up and ideally it has a snowball effect that does result in some change taking place, and ideally that’s the result of increased democratic involvement.

LOGAN: So it’s not necessarily the idea that media coverage of this event will make anyone that has any power change anything, but that it will inspire us to change stuff ourselves?

SAM: I mean, partially. Anything like this always has 500 million different goals and other things that it’s going to accomplish without even intending to accomplish them. So for example, one thing that I thought when I saw a reporter ask the President a question about Occupy Wall Street, and he used it as a chance to try to, he tried to say he agreed with the protesters, even though the reporter had framed the question as like, clearly they think you haven’t done enough and are part of the problem, like, just the fact that that interchange took place! Before Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party were the loud people who were in the street doing things and making noise, which set a tone so that when reporters asked the President a question, they would say, “It seems like a lot of people out there think that government is too big and is spending a lot of money and that taxes are too high, what are you going to do about that?” Right? And now the question was from the opposite direction. And so simply having that be a thing that happens is important. And that didn’t even have anything to do with specific demands, which was the criticism that you hear. Like do they want Congress to reinstate Glass-Steagall? Do they want a transaction tax on financial transactions? And people can keep kind of asking these questions, and of course, that’s good, that since there’s a giant protest, they’re asking those questions about those policies and whether they are good ideas. So there are all kinds of possible outcomes.

The unions might actually have a political campaign in the works demanding something like a tax on financial transactions. If they did, they could use the protest to try to get that passed as legislation. But since it’s still inherently leaderless and not being run by the Democratic Party and not being run by any kind of union or activist group, it’s not going to go away just because some legislation gets passed either, which I think is another advantage of it. Because sometimes you have protests about single issues, like, we want to abolish the death penalty in this state, and if you win, well, then that’s great and you go home. But this is about something that is a much deeper problem and is very very complicated and has roots in all these different sectors of our political life, so it’s unlikely that it’s just going to go away anytime soon, and I think that’s really good.

LOGAN: So you were there for a day last week?

SAM: Yes, I went down this Sunday, actually.

LOGAN: My impression of you is that you grew up with activism, is that right?

SAM: I went to high school in New York City, which, you know, not too many conservatives at my school. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to do activist stuff. You can just have a bunch of liberals around who are just complaining about things. But it was the Giuliani years, and when they shot Amadou Diallo, he became a kind of representative figure. There was a lot of police brutality and instances of unarmed people getting killed by police back then, and there was a lot of high school presence at protests around that issue. And at the beginning of the year I was in Madison when they were occupying the Capitol in Madison, so I can compare Occupy Wall Street to that.

LOGAN: I’ve actually never been to a protest at all.

SAM: Oh really? [I think it would not be exaggerating to say that he said this with some shock.] Is it because you think they’re corny or you don’t get the point?

LOGAN: I think I’ve always felt like, that that is some people’s thing and I’m more subtle, or something. Like, some people protest, and I don’t do that.

SAM: When you say more subtle, is that like going to a protest makes you declare a stance that is possibly too absolute and maybe doesn’t accept nuances and stuff?

LOGAN: Not necessarily. I guess I mean, it’s more my style to have discussions with a few people rather than making a sign and going out there. I’ve just never done it. And part of it also is that I’ve always cared about what people think of me. And I’ve always felt, well, you really have to know your stuff to hit the streets. Like, yes. I’m decidedly pro-choice. But if you put a microphone in my face, I’m probably not going to be able to tell you why. You’ve got to give me a pen and paper and some time for me to craft that argument.

The March on Washington was just one event in a multi-decade-long movement of which everyone who was present had some experience organizing on the ground back wherever they came from, on a day-to-day basis, everyday. They didn’t all just say, "Let’s all have the March on Washington where Martin Luther King will say, I have a dream, and then black people will be equal!"

SAM: One thing that’s different about Occupy Wall Street, is that, oftentimes, a typical protest, if there’s such a thing, takes the form of a march or a rally. So the group organization calls the protest for a certain time and place on a particular day, and if it’s a march, they tell you where they start and where you end up and they get a permit from the police and they walk and carry their signs from where they start to where they end up. And if a lot of people show up it’ll get media attention (or if it’s the Tea Party, ten of them will show up and it will get media attention), and the goal of it is to publicly manifest a particular view or dissatisfaction about something and have that enter into people’s conversations. If it’s a rally, the whole thing will take place in one place, and there will be a stage or platform that everybody looks at, and somebody will make speeches, and maybe someone will come in between and play some music and sing a song. And that’s a very typical format, and there have always been people who are dissatisfied with that, because it can leave you in the end with a certain sense of, what was that for? Although everyone knows really famous instances like, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But the March on Washington was just one event in a multi-decade-long movement of which everyone who was present had some experience organizing on the ground back wherever they came from, on a day-to-day basis, everyday. They didn’t all just say, "Let’s all have the March on Washington where Martin Luther King will say, I have a dream, and then black people will be equal!" It was just one part. It was a manifestation of the power of something that was already happening.

What was different about this was that it wasn’t a march and it wasn’t a rally, although they are having those things associated with it, but it’s an occupation, which really does seem to just be about creating a space. A lot of people I know who went, before they had been reading all these stories about the bailouts or income inequality or how much many more times a CEO makes than an average worker in the U.S. compared to other industrial countries or other things that they’d be complaining about, they might say, “Where is the outrage? Why aren’t people in the streets yelling?” And then when people do go in the streets, they’re like, “What are they doing there? What do they think is going to happen?”

But for some people, just seeing it there, it’s like, there it is, I can go there, and people there will share something with me, even if I don’t know what it is or I can’t put my finger on it. The longer the occupation lasts, the more people from different backgrounds and different perspectives will be able to come and share those views with the people there. The basically hardcore group who are actually occupying becomes this opening for all these other people, people who have jobs, people who can’t live in the street, people who are interested in pursuing political channels for their problems to go and interface and connect with the broad possible spectrum of people that are interested in achieving the same kinds of things that they are.

LOGAN: So when you were there, did it feel good?

It’s a public space literally being taken over for chaotic public discussion, so you can’t say, only people that can pass through all my filters of aesthetic and political criteria can be there.

SAM: Well, I am a hyper-critical personality, so in that way I’m sort of like a typical media person. When I go down there, my eyes are drawn to the most extreme crackpot or hippie looking people. So there was some dude standing there with a sign, and he was like “NAZI BANKERS,” and I was like, oh, g-d. And his sign was the biggest, it was bigger than his entire body and he was holding it with his arms stretched out. And you knew that guy was going to be in every picture, and some people had gone up and talked to him and he was apparently impervious to people saying, like, “Dude, Nazi comparisons make you lose.” But in the past, it would have been like, I don’t want to stand in any group of people that that guy is in, but you literally can’t control it. It’s a public space literally being taken over for chaotic public discussion, so you can’t say, only people that can pass through all my filters of aesthetic and political criteria can be there.

So once you get over that fear of being associated with people that don’t take baths or people that say Hitler all the time, you just sort of find the people that you do need to be talking to.

LOGAN: So when you went to Madison, where did you sleep?

SAM: I only slept in the Capitol a couple of the nights, and the rest of the time I crashed with this guy Trevor who was generous enough to offer me a spot at his place. But almost everyone I met offered to let me crash at their place. The second I walked in there, everyone was like, oh wow, you came here from Chicago? Oh wow, thanks for coming, do you need somewhere to stay? So I had my pick of places to stay. But in the Capitol I just kind of slept on the floor in the hallway.

But the Wall Street one, too, they have a meal section, there’s a central table with all this food on it, and people are constantly coming and dropping off food, and that’s what I did. I dropped off food because I didn’t want to feel like I was just a protest tourist, so I brought and dropped off some food so at least I would feel like I had done something. But then behind the food table you have all these people washing dishes in tubs of soapy water and then to the right of that there is a table with all this medicine and first aid stuff on them. And there are people who put red tape on themselves, and they’re medics. Like, how do you know they’re medics? You don’t have the opportunity to interview these people and find out what makes them medics, but you just trust that if you get pepper sprayed or something, they will know what they’re doing. And then there’s a really long thing that’s like a People’s Library, and it was just a bunch of books. Take one! Bring one! So there’s all these things that just kind of spring up, and no one tells anyone that they have to do these things, they just kind of know and do it. And that energy is what makes it feel like an alternate place. People are in charge of their own shit here. And that greatly contributes to the sense of empowerment.

LOGAN: Was it hard for you to leave? Do you find yourself wishing you were there?

SAM: My friend Tasha had that feeling. She says she felt like everyday when she left there she was going to a worse place, that she was going to a mean place where people were not open and not understanding and judgmental. And so she’s actually been going back everyday. And I kind of wish I was there, but I’m in Chicago doing what I’m doing. But now they’ve started one in Chicago, so I’m probably going to go down there one day this week and see what’s going on.

LOGAN: Have you looked at the we are the 99 percent Tumblr?

SAM: Yeah, it’s depressing isn’t it?

LOGAN: It’s totally depressing. It gives me chest pains.

SAM: I know some people who are like, I don’t know what the people on Wall Street are about, but that Tumblr is killer. And well, that is what it’s about. I guess, nobody really has a concrete notion of how any particular action could address all of those people’s problems. So, everyone understands someone's individual story of hardship and suffering, but to connect that up to the systematic reasons that are the same reasons that caused someone else’s story of hardship and suffering is more difficult.

But a lot of people are perfectly capable of hearing those stories and blaming them on something completely different. Like people with conservative politics, for example, might read that blog and think, this is because the government spends too much money and doesn’t allow job creators to create jobs and that’s why these people have no jobs. And I think that’s ridiculous and stupid, but you don’t have to be irrational to believe that. I think it’s good that there is a loud and visible presence that doesn’t think that’s the explanation, because when it was only the Tea Party, I think we were in real trouble.

LOGAN: Yes, and I feel that most of my life, at least the part when I’ve been aware of politics, it’s been very much that the vocal conservatives are out there making a fuss, and the liberals are at home, watching the Daily Show and rolling their eyes.

You have to be really sincere and really zealous, and not basically complacent or comfortable, to think that going and setting up camp in some park near Wall Street is going to affect what anyone thinks about anything.

SAM: I think that there’s also, a certain cultural pessimism or cynicism even that goes with the cultural cachet that irony has among a certain class of liberal people, and I say that because it’s certainly not universal to all races and classes of liberal people, but there’s a certain attitude among the people that I know, that, when you talk about the sixties and you talk about hippies and stuff, you sort of laugh, because they were so earnest and they just talked about loving everybody, and seriously? Were they kidding or what. And I think at a certain point, that attitude becomes debilitating. You can express an ironic or critical comment that you think is in line with what other people you’re talking to are saying, but if you say something that is super sincere and also not something that is immediately obvious, you expect some kind of backlash. The sincerity of people who really believe that they can change things is just like, too much. Because like everyone who knows anything knows that you can’t really. And that’s part of the reason that movements like Occupy Wall Street get started by anarchists, and not by smart well-educated liberals who come out of college and go into non-profit organizing. I mean, you have to be really sincere and really zealous, and not basically complacent or comfortable, to think that going and setting up camp in some park near Wall Street is going to affect what anyone thinks about anything. And you can’t be worried that it might not be cool to believe in something.

LOGAN: So, should we all be heading down to the park?

SAM: Yeah. But if you have a job, obviously, you have to go to your job, because that’s what’s important, and you have to be able to get money, especially if you have a family. But if you don’t have a job, or you’re kind of flexible like me because you’re a student, that’s why students always run these things. It’s not just because they’re young and idealistic; it’s because they’re able. They literally have the time.

So that’s why the model seems to be, you have some people who are always there, and you have special days that get called for mass protests and rallies which happen either after work hours or on weekends so that everyone else can come. And eventually you can have things like strikes, and people can walk out of work in order to show solidarity with something. And a strike is something that has real power to stop the ordinary operation of society. In terms of non-violent social change, a strike on the part of the union is one of the only proven things that can achieve powerful change. A general strike is the most powerful non-violent tool of social change that exists, but we can’t even have a general strike, because we don’t have a enough workers in unions and general strikes are illegal.

LOGAN: What does a general strike mean?

SAM: So typically, a strike happens if a union is negotiating with management about wages or benefits or whatever they are negotiating about, they have the option to strike in support of their position. And management can hire non-union workers to try to take their place in the meantime, but if people are not willing to break the strike by getting hired, then management can be forced to capitulate to the strike. There are industry-wide strikes, which is if one airline pilot union is negotiating with their airline then the rest of the airline pilots can go on strike with them, because it helps all the airline pilots for one airline’s pilots to get paid more. A general strike is across industries. So if the railway workers were striking 100 years ago, the dock workers would go strike, too, even though they had nothing to do with the railways. So when the labor movement was at its strongest, something like that could just stop the economy, and management would be much more likely to do what the unions wanted. And the reason organized labor is so weak now is because conscious policies were put in place that made it impossible to have general strikes and made it harder for individual workers at different workplaces to join unions. So the more that stuff like this is able to happen, it’s possible that it could help or contribute to the growth of organized labor, which could contribute to the increase of more tactics for putting extreme pressure on quote unquote, the one percent, or whatever.

LOGAN: How do you think this might play out?

SAM: That’s a really good question. Anything, literally anything, anything can happen. There’s a chance that some moderate reforms might get passed, but right now Congress seems to be completely unable or unwilling to do anything, literally anything. It is a non-functioning institution, practically. And so it’s difficult to imagine change along those lines until after the next election, maybe.

But once something seizes the public imagination, stuff can happen way faster than you would expect or completely unanticipated things can change everybody’s perception of the situation. So I think what it has the functionality to be is a catalyst for changes we can’t even imagine right now. And that’s another reason that I’m glad that they aren’t simply making a list of demands for the people in power, like hey, do this for us. Because then everything would just dissolve into a debate of whether or not those particular things should happen. And what it is instead of that is a very broad and wide-ranging conversation about the organization of our society, what our priorities are, how we operate in very deep and fundamental ways. And that is basically an increase of democratization, and I think the more democratic with a small “d” our public discourse gets, the more unpredictable what’s going to happen is, and I think that’s good.

Logan Sachon is thinking about it.

Photograph from Occupy Wall Street by K. Kendall.

40 Comments / Post A Comment

I sincerely, non-ironically, liked this.

metoometoo (#230)

@sorry your heinous Me too.

WaityKatie (#79,377)

I just have to clarify that general strikes are not illegal, it's just that it is legal for employers to fire (or "permanently replace") anyone who goes on a strike that isn't in response to an employer-committed unfair labor practice. Strikes are unlawful (as in, not legally protected, but they can't throw you in jail for it) for certain categories of workers, including government employees. So: not illegal; probably not a good idea if you want to keep your job. As you can tell from my icon, I am in favor of them in principle.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@WaityKatie General Strike was my favorite computer game growing up. That Tom Clancy, man…

logan (#2,811)

@WaityKatie Sam and I both thank you for your clarification! The labor movement is also something I'm woefully under-informed on, so you know, if you ever want to explain it to someone .. hit me up.

r&rkd (#1,719)

To completely geek out on labor law, I think there is some pending NLRB litigation about whether firing an employee for skipping work to attend an immigrants' rights march (which is kind of like a general strike) is a violation of labor law protections. So the law could be a bit better than you suggest!

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@josiah Haven't heard about that case, although I used to work for the NLRB (probably shouldn't out myself, but oh well), so geeking out on labor law is a-ok with me! Would depend on the circumstances but I'm guessing that wouldn't be protected. Oh, the law is crap, don't even get me started.

r&rkd (#1,719)

The cases came out of the spring 2006 demonstrations, on further reflection. I was living in D.C. at the time and I think at least some cases came out of D.C. or the surrounding states. I suppose those cases would be resolved by now, actually, though perhaps not by reported decisions. If you don't mind outing yourself further, which region did you work for, or did you work in D.C.? To start the sharing, I practice in Chicago.

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@josiah I wouldn't be so confident that they are resolved by now – although there may have been an ALJ decision, if they appealed it to the Board it is most likely still sitting there, on the pile/mountain/backlog. Which will grow ever bigger once the Board dwindles back to two members and can't decide cases, which is due to happen pretty soon I believe, though I haven't been keeping up with it. I worked in DC.

jetztinberlin (#392)

Firstly, oh, this was so lovely and thank you and yay. Secondly, the discussion about irony is so spot-on and hurty in my heart, as a bleeding-heart liberal, as in, how the f*ck is anything ever going to change when everyone is way too cool for school to do anything about anything? Lastly, as a humorless, earnest activist I feel duty-bound to point out that there are in fact lots of intelligent, well-educated anarchists of various stripes out there, because I am one and have worked with a bunch of others.

Oh, and the other reason protest movements are largely populated with students is a) earnestness b) time and c) ABILITY TO RISK ARREST. The older and more bought-in to the system you become (job; kids; mortgage; health issues; etc) the harder it is to risk arrest, and thus to risk your own security by throwing a wrench into the works, because the wrench can get smashed just as well as the works can get jammed, if y'know what I mean. The fact that striking is much more difficult in the US than in socialist countries (weakening of unions / social safety net, increase in police state) is not an accident.

ep (#8,509)

This is a really terrific interview.

kingmob (#10,648)

@jetztinberlin: sorry! sam here. i meant to contrast anarchists with the specific category of person known as "smart-well-educated-liberal-who-goes-into-non-profit-organizing", not to imply that anarchists can't be well-educated. of course they (we) can! that's the thing about the whole phone-conversation format, i guess…

kingmob (#10,648)

oh, and neither did i want to seem like i am disrespecting THAT category of person! only trying to contrast the type of crazy that tries to make change "within the system", and earnestly believes that's possible, with the type of crazy who wants to go occupy the park. and of course there are the types of crazy who do both.

jetztinberlin (#392)

@kingmob Aw, thank you for your sweet answer(s). I wasn't offended or anything… diversity of tactics, etc ;)

riotnrrd (#840)

I really, truly wish I had it in me to believe that OWS will change anything. That part of my soul died a while ago, I'm afraid. The bastards have won and they will continue to win because they have all the money.

@riotnrrd How did it work out at the turn of the last century, with Standard Oil and all the other trusts? With the Pullman and the Streetcar Strikes, the Battle of Blair Mountain, and the Pinkertons, police, and military actually killing striking workers?

Those events cover almost 30 years, and to look at it now you can certainly be cynical and say that capital will always win out, but you can also say that it was exactly cynicism and indifference that let things creep back to where they are today. So far, I think few people would say they'd be willing to put their life on the line. I also think we owe it to those who did do that to put at least some self-sacrifice into advocating for our honest beliefs.

riotnrrd (#840)

You're correct, of course, to put this in a historical context. Sometimes good triumphs. But I guess I've seen so many well-intentioned protest and social justice movements just go nowhere that I wonder if something qualitative have changed in American politics. I'm not cynical (I fully believe the sincerity of the OWS protestors and support them), just feeling old and defeated.

@riotnrrd There were people very discouraged after Haymarket, and the eight hour workday never actually became universal. There were cynics after the Pullman Strike was broken up by the Sherman Antitrust Act and the only thing labor got out of it was a one day holiday.

Organizers worked to educate and motivate exhausted people, illiterate people, non-English speakers. Racial divisions, disloyalty, and political stereotyping were exploited even within the labor movement. Outside, it was many times worse.

Woven in with all this were other progressive causes. As broad as pacifism and racial, ethnic, and sexual equality, then on down to more specific issues like suffragism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, anti-miscegenation, eugenics, sexual liberation of all kinds. Not everybody who was nominally progressive was on the same side, especially regarding Catholicism and eugenics. Some might be those protest and social justice movements you were talking about. We're still a part of history.

We live in a country no longer represented by the people but by the interests of major corporations and the money they use through lobbying to pay off our elected officials. These politicians no longer voice the opinion of the voters who put them in office but instead speak for the special interests which pay them more and more money to turn a blind eye to the destruction of our environment and the extinction of the middle class. How long will the occupations have to last before a SINGLE government official asks what WE the PEOPLE want changed? Visit my artist’s blog at to see my art for the movement and also see videos of the protests and police brutality as well as get other sources for coverage of the movement.

roboloki (#1,724)

i like this sam!

La Cieca (#1,110)

Question for Sam: for those of us without the flexibility you talk about, and this side of a general strike, what is there to do? I mean, in the "send a pizza to Madison" sense: is there anything like that we can do?

kingmob (#10,648)

@riotnrrd: i am nobody's existential doctor or anything. but just a little while after you posted i happened to run across this passage at the very end of max weber's classic essay "politics as a vocation," which i was reading all day for reasons nearly entirely unrelated to this:

"politics means slow, strong drilling through hard boards, with a combination of passion and a sense of judgment. it is of course entirely correct, and a fact confirmed by all historical experience, that what is possible would never have been achieved if, in this world, people had not repeatedly reached for the impossible. but the person who can do this must be a leader; not only that, he must, in a very simple sense of the word, be a hero. and even those who are neither of these things must, even now, put on the armor of that steadfastness of heart which can withstand even the defeat of all hopes, for otherwise they will not even be capable of achieving what is possible today. only someone who is certain that he will not be broken when the world, seen from his point of view, is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer it, and who is certain that he will be able to say 'nevertheless' in spite of everything – only someone like this has a 'vocation' for politics."

@la cieca: i am nobody to tell you how to participate in things. however, if you live in a town or city that has an occupy movement, you might try stopping by after work and asking THEM what a regular working stiff/stay-at-home parent/institutionalized person can do to help out! just bringing food by might be the ticket. i was introduced to macaroni-and-cheese pizza in madison and i was super grateful to whoever took time out of their day to have that sent over, and so were the rest of the folks i talked to. also, talking to your friends, family, and neighbors is important democratic activity too, even if it doesn't feel like it sometimes.

Abe Sauer (#148)

…well, then that’s great and you go home."

I really enjoyed this, but this dismissal of the single-issue organized rallies is kinda' snotty. If you were at Madison you'd know that was, until all of the protest tourists like Sam showed up (totally welcome by the way) more or less a single issue protest. The destruction of collective bargaining is what motivated the first protesters at the UW Mad TA union and then everyone else got behind, including huge numbers of teachers who were also more or less single issue oriented. One of the reasons people become cynical and sarcastic is that things are NOT focused and single-issued. Wealth divides suck. The US oligarchical system blows. It's easy to make Daily Show jokes about that. Single issues are highly focused and, because of the boundaries, allow for a lot less of this when compared to the "change things" demonstration.

Once dispersed, the Wisconsin protests went immediately into another single-issue movement: recalls. It's great to see everyone down there demonstrating and charging the battery of a movement, but if that power isn't used for a specific purpose, then it will not have achieved its potential. How many of those at Occupy Wall Street are going to go bang on doors in GOTV efforts. Or go around and register voters (which is a HUGE pain in the ass and often lonely, and not really as fun as a giant protest party). A "broad and wide-ranging conversation about the organization of our society?" Sorry, "broad and wide-ranging conversation about the organization of our society" does not recall governors. (Another single-issue movement BTW that is set to kick off on Nov 15 in Wisconsin.

kingmob (#10,648)

hi abe! didn't mean to sound "dismissive" of single-issue stuff — i just sensed that i was rambling and wanted to get to my point. i am in favor of all-fronts, all-cylinders, all-times. of course things are gonna eventually come down to energy for any individual trying to decide where to focus, but that's why we need coalitions.

anyway, as i recall there were some pretty lively debates up in wisconsin — there definitely were among the TAA — about whether or not what was going on was, in fact, a "single issue."

lastly, i have done boring house-to-house canvassing work in illinois, for candidates i didn't give a crap about, just so democrats would beat republicans and national proportions in our houses of representation would be better. i will probably do that type of work again. but i think that a) probably most people wouldn't want some of those folks showing up at their house (womp womp); b) we need to think about what determines the number of people who show up to contribute to GOTV at any given time. is it just that a particular candidate runs a slick campaign? or don't larger social factors play a role? including, maybe, giant protest parties? i don't think it's so either-or.

anyway, i'll stop patrolling the comments section now. thanks to logan for the fun conversation!

Abe Sauer (#148)

Now, energy is great and it certainly gets attention and sets the tone. But it can all be undone in an instant. For example, in Wisc., a huge portion of the goodwill and support and sympathy the protesters from the Spring generated has been unwound by those in Madison who continue to protest and get arrested and dump beers on state legislators. Huge aimless protests always have these elements (just look at the invasion of Air Space last weekend).

Yes, many wouldn't want them showing up at their houses. And the conversation part is absolutely important, especially when vetting candidates. But with the number of undecideds in close elections like in WI hovering in the ditch at 1 to 3%, nothing, nothing, is as important as voter turnout. Nothing.

You say that "it’s difficult to imagine change along those lines until after the next election." You're already way, way behind activists on the right who've more or less abandoned the fed level. States are where it's happening right now. Civil liberty rollbacks. Ed cuts. Etc. So it's encouraging to see the protests popping up in states themselves. We'll have to see what comes of it though.

r&rkd (#1,719)

@Abe Sauer
As a small point reg the invasion of Air Space, wasn't the invasion, at least in part, set off by the participation of Patrick Howley, who was participating undercover as a conservative reporter? I just like to remind people that, when the dust settles after protest violence, it often turns out that the violent elements were not genuine protesters! See also: G8 in Toronto! So be careful when reading initial news reports!

Abe Sauer (#148)

@josiah My understanding is that the air/space protest was organized by an anti-imperialism group in an attempt to vandalize(?)/confront part of an air drone exhibit there. The editor participated and helped but without him it was going to happen anyway. "Genuine" protesters?

r&rkd (#1,719)

@Abe Sauer
As for the air space event, we will find out more as time progresses!, that is really my point. You may be right as to that instance, but I just want to highlight that, often, when initial news reports show protesters being violent, later it turns out that the individuals involved in the violence were provocateurs, police in disguise, or non-ideological vandals taking advantage of disorder. There are many examples I could cite!

As for "genuine," I mean something like "sincerely sharing the objectives of the protest." So I'm trying to distinguish here between people who share the objectives of the protest but participate in unhelpful ways (like the beer dumpers you mentioned) and people who are, while portraying themselves as sincere participants, are really participating for other motives (getting a story, undermining the protest, the joy of vandalism). When you see something that you don't like happen at a protest, be careful to reserve judgment!

holidaysyoga (#152,712)

conversation is important for better understanding

logan (#2,811)

Also: In the case that you read Abe's or Sam's comments and thought: WTF is GOTV? Did they both try to abbreviate "government" and make the exact same typo?! I, too, had that thought, and can save you the trouble of Googling it by telling you it stands for "Get Out The Vote." Which, oh, duh. But there you go! Get out the vote! Yes! Get it out!

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

I'm just glad I'm not young in these days. Fucking you "where does this lead to" and "how will it change anything" kids would have all the excitement of converting spreadsheets into data storage files.

melis (#1,854)

@Niko Bellic Yeah, ooh, go on about those spreadsheets.

This is an awesome piece and idea, Logan.

I find Sam to be one of the best people around to explain things that are a jumbled mess in my brain– with calm, rational brilliance to boot.

Ladies, I might have tips on how to get in good, if anyone is interested….

I feel that this interview didn't ask the important question : are Cary Tennis's eyebrows really made out of little gray Xes?

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose And is this situation related at all to Ron Paul's migrating fake eyebrows?

Sarcastro (#328)

Interesting and thoughtful discourse does not belong on the internet. I, therefore, revoke the blogging license of everyone involved with this honest examination of a vitally important issue.

barn (#157,242)

I find it strange that you say that conservatives were always the ones that were out there making a fuss and the liberals were sitting at home. I remember just the opposite being true until the Tea Party got started. And from what I've seen, they are much better organized and make alot more sense than what I have seen coming from the Occupiers.

Brilliant work, Logan and Sam. You've successfully ported what we were trying to do with the best hipster magazine at UVa (The Declaration) to the best hipster magazine in the country (The Awl). This is a document I will refer to and refer others to for a long time.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

A really good article. Somewhat in parallel:

Daniel Nester (#5,088)

Uses of "kind of": 13
Uses of "sort of": 4

Post a Comment