By Mickey Z.
27 June, 2012
World News Trust
Be realistic, demand the impossible. (graffiti, Paris 1968)
Let’s imagine the state of the planet as a fire raging through a high-rise building…
Q. How would the 1% react?
A. They’d immediately call on the corporate media to make certain that most of the 99% refuse to acknowledge even the smell of smoke, never mind the flames. In fact, with enough programming, mainstream America would opt to perceive “rumors” of a fire as some kind of socialist scheme. Once the masses have been sufficiently pacified, well… there’s a shitload of money to be made off the inferno and many, many future blazes to be planned.
Meanwhile, activists would behave like a sincere but dysfunctional fire department. They’d bicker over tactics, debate who pulled the fire alarm first, complain about which of them gets to hold the fire hose or drive the fire truck, get distracted by discussions about electing a new fire chief, and waste a whole lot of time imagining how to salvage the building within its original framework.
Mic Check: I say, let the building burn. The structure is not salvageable so let it smolder right down to its fuckin’ foundation.
I say this because the global “problems” being exposed by Occupy Wall Street (OWS) are not merely flaws within a basically fixable configuration. Economic inequality isn’t a hiccup. Epidemics of preventable diseases are not an anomaly. Institutional racism, sexism, speciesism, homophobia, and patriarchy are not systemic blind spots. Capitalism — hell, all forms of industrial culture — cannot be tenderly reformed into sustainability.
Let’s not waste resources putting out fires set by the 1%. Let’s instead build our own structures so that those people yet to embrace their 99% status are better able to visualize an alternative to the way of life to which they fearfully cling.
I’ve had a few conversations about this concept with John Eustor, one the original #Pulse/Liberty Square drummers. We’ve talked about how people — even if they are utterly miserable — are often too afraid to de-occupy the only way of life they’ve ever known. The culture as a whole is designed to not only to nurture such fear but also to convince us that the system can be tweaked and reformed and made more tolerable.
To paraphrase John: “They try to convince us that hell can be improved, that it can be turned into heaven. But hell is hell and it’ll never be heaven. If we want heaven, we have to create something totally different. If we stop concentrating on trying to fix hell, we can create our own promised land, our own heaven on earth. Then you watch and see how many others join us.”
Mic Check: Such a radical departure from archetypical activism requires a steadfast commitment to cultivating deeper and deeper solidarity among those already rebelling while simultaneously toiling — day and night — in the essential realm of outreach.
One possible method to achieve both of these objectives is to foster more and more small scale and/or short term alternative community models.
“You can’t have a functioning democracy without what sociologists call ‘secondary organizations,’ places where people can get together, plan, talk and develop ideas,” explains Noam Chomsky. “You don’t do it alone. The Occupy movement did create spontaneously communities that taught people something: you can be in a supportive community of mutual aid and cooperation and develop your own health system and library and have open space for democratic discussion and participation. Communities like that are really important.”
To varying degrees and on varying levels, OWS does get the big picture view. As I wrote while the original encampment was still evolving at Liberty Square/Zuccotti Park: What’s happening is the cultivation of an alternate model of human culture. Several man-made hierarchies, constructs, and barriers have been challenged and some have already been (at least) temporarily smashed. What OWS is modeling is a far more cooperative, creative, participatory, tolerant, and downsized way of living.
The predictable — I’d even say, frightened — response to this holistic and revolutionary approach goes a little something like this:
“You gotta stop dreaming. Get realistic and learn how to play the game.”
“Don’t you understand that things just don’t work like that?”
“What you’re talking about is Utopia.”
Blah, blah, fuckin’ blah…
Mic Check: Mutual aid and cooperation aren’t utopian. They are our last best chance.
So, while the dominant hierarchy drowns in its own hypocrisy, fear, and greed, let’s use our energy and passion to create — and occupy — a whole new model.