I seem to have spent much of my life engaged with words that people find mystifying or enraging from punk to acid jazz, visual culture and now Occupy. It’s the very flexibility and floating nature of these terms that gives them their ability to motivate and empower people. So no doubt it’s just a coincidence that the new Occupy debt campaign has been greeted with two pieces from the mainstream media declaring, yet again, that Occupy is dead.
Adbusters posted a not particularly helpful blog that quoted an anonymous “Zucotti” to the effect that Occupy has consolidated into forms of power:
“This translates into ideological dominance and recurring lines of thought. We are facing a nauseating poverty of ideas.”
This phrase was immediately taken up as a headline by a blogger for Forbes, whose expertise appears to be that he once lived in Brazil. There’s very little more to the piece than this. It even ignores the remainder of the Adbusters post that talks positively about initiatives like Occupy Farms. It’s designed to be tweeted, posted and used as a FB status.
Meanwhile a Reuters journalist has also become worried about the survival of Occupy. Apparently we failed to change our tactics, if you look from Harvard:
“Most of the social scientists who are at all like me – unsentimental leftists – … think this movement is over,” said Harvard University professor Theda Skocpol, a liberal academic who wrote a book on the Tea Party.
Skocpol’s analysis rests on two comparisons with her favored Tea Party: that Tea Party activists are mostly 45 and over (and white and male, which she doesn’t say). And that they had influence in the Republican Party. I am not sure why it’s preferable to have older people rather than young. For what it’s worth I fit Skocpol’s frame. Again, as Stuart Hall has always emphasized, the neo-liberal right has consistently radicalized itself since 1975 and shows no sign of stopping until the entire capitalist machine collapses. Further, it’s always easier to work with the grain of the dominant system than against it.
Reuters offer an analysis of Twitter that claims to show that OWS peaked as a hashtag on October 1, the day of the Brooklyn Bridge arrests. If that is true, it shows what a disconnect there is between social media and social movements. Most people would see October 1 as the beginning of the viral spread of Occupy, not its peak. The article concentrates on tweet numbers and citations in the traditional print media as an index of influence.
The spread of Occupy into its own media such as nycga.net, the use of Google groups, the Facebook pages, the print publications, the affinity groups, let alone the direct actions: none are mentioned. By the same token, the failure of many Tea Party candidates in 2010, costing the Republicans control of the Senate, and the patent disregard that Mitt Romney has for them other than as pawns is not mentioned, Of course, the way that the Democratic machine co-opted the Wisconsin occupation to negative results is ignored.
When a new way of expressing experience emerges, it at first confuses and then mobilizes resistance from within and without. Punk was called dead in the first fanzine Sniffin’ Glue in 1977. Visual culture was dismissed by October magazine in 1996. Yet the DIY ethos of punk obviously informs both some digital culture and Occupy, while the Now! Visual Culture conference showed that this much smaller frame of analysis is alive and well.
In the film The Future is Unwritten, Clash guitarist Mick Jones rolled his eyes when remembering hordes of black leather jacketed young men demanding power chords wherever they went for years after 1977. Now it’s media hacks demanding that OWS occupy a park or be declared dead. If it’s a choice between being the Tea Party or being dead, I’d rather be dead: or better yet, undead a spectre haunting the collapse of capital.