Public Comment

About Ted's Position

By Thomas Lord
Wednesday November 09, 2011 - 11:38:00 PM

I was thinking about Ted's "occupy yourself!" rant. I'd seen some people take offense at it and at some of Ted's other takes on Occupy. I was thinking about what to say to those people. It's this:

Ted's bent here is just run of the mill cynical nihilism. There's a lot of that around here, particularly among people of a certain generation. They think: Grass roots revolutionary change is impossible, wrong-headed, and pitiful -- don't you know? Anything that smells vaguely like ideology is almost certainly meaningless. Uncle Ted will share his views on the absurdities and vacuousness of the whole affair... he's seen it all unfold before.

Which is a perfectly reasonable position for Ted to take, even if he's wrong. 

Remember that it is within living memory for many in Berkeley that, well, the revolution started more than 40 years ago. It even resulted in an apparently permanent occupation of People's Park. Yes, pretty words were spoken and parts were groovy but this was The Real Deal: the national guard used a helicopter to crop-dust parts of campus with tear gas; people were beaten; James Rector was shot to death in Berkeley, by the police, for no good reason, and Alan Blanchard blinded that same day by the same kind of buck shot fired from police rifles for the same absense of any good reason. 

Against the outrages, hopes ran high. Not only were similar protests happening around the nation but, indeed, around the world. "Same song all around the world," crowed Abbie Hoffman, back from some travels. 

Many organized factions competed for leadership, sometimes fighting among themselves and sometimes forming coalitions. Multiple flavors of marxists, hippies, multiple flavors of Black nationalists, and white liberals. Some militant, some not. 

Imposing yourself as leadership was easier back then. If you tied into a national organization, you had an easier time communicating with people in other cities (in those pre-Internet days). If you tied into those organizations, you had easier access to money and you had a shiny air of authority. Hell, just having decent access to a mimeograph machine (you might have heard of them) gave one a measure of authority and power. 

There wasn't much on TV back then so this revolution stuff was pretty stimulating! 

There were competing theories, then as now, about what was happening politically. There were those who it seemed were just there for the party and the free food and the hook-up opportunities. There was then, like today, no easy answer to "why are they doing this? this causing a ruckus and such?" 

For a while, the dissidents could believe that in spite of the organizational and ideological chaos, somehow it would all converge and things would Change with a capital C. It didn't. It kind of fell apart. 

Sure, some changes happened. But... 

It all turned very sour and people went their own ways and a lot, to this day, are rightly skeptical and cast a jaundiced eye over something like Occupy thinking "Yeah. Cute. Talk to me in a few years. I'll try not to say I told ya' so. That stuff never works." 

Says Ted: "Occupy Yourself! [....] The occupation is over," and in between he fills in a kind of darkly sarcastic parody of the old "change begins within" mantra. 

We feel your pain, Ted. 

Now Ted, take a deep breath and go back to the Med and get the stories you're great at getting. Give this one a rest. And here's why: 

Ted this isn't the same old same old. Things really are different this time. No, really. Stop chuckling. Geeze. 

See, all the bad ways in which things fell apart back then -- the impossibility of naive political organizing -- the harsh limitations of protest .... 

That's all in living memory. We're aware of that. We are familiar with those stories. We are not recapitulating those earlier days. We are taking them as informative background. 

The young people today are, to put it simply, cannier than the young people back then. And also in better touch with one another -- less need for "leaders". 

And you've got cynicism, Ted? Ha! You don't know cynicism. You're an amateur compared to the youth of today. You're a cynicism amateur compared to even me and I'm somewhere around half way between you and the youth of today. 

It's in spite of widespread recognition that, really, Occupy can't possibly work -- that it's absurd to even try .... 

It's in spite of knowing how similar efforts failed in the past.... 

People are choosing to, anyway, at least try. But try this time a little more cleverly. And clever we've been. 

There is power in that. There is power in a movement that leads people to attempt the absurd -- because its the best option they can see on the table. 

Counts vary, Ted, but how many 10s of thousands do you think came out to support the general strike and shut down the port of Oakland? And that was organized in a matter of days. It drew upon people from all walks of life. It was a direct and visceral convulsion of, yes, the middle class standing up in support of the protests and against the political and economic powers arrayed against the people. The general strike cowed the police and the city, Ted. Undeniably. 

People on all sides are comparing this to a labor action of 1946 - not a 1968 protest. Something, you ought to admit in the end, is bigger and better this time. 

The occupation is not over. It's barely just begun.