"The original idealism had been compromised by these homeless people. We lost the narrative."
- Kalle Lasn complaining that the homeless people stepped on the OWS buzz in Vanity Fair article "An Oral History of Occupy Wall Street" by Max Chafkin with additional reporting by Alexandra Beggs, Mark Guiducci, Jaime Lalinde, Elizabeth Nicholas, Rebecca Sacks and Kaitlin Sanders
The seed idea for Occupy Wall Street came from the Vancouver, British Columbia-based anti-consumer, anti-capitalist publication Adbusters, co-founded and edited by a man named Kalle Lasn.
Kalle Lasn is an advertising man, you see. A Pluto in Leo advertising man. He became disenchanted with the consumer capitalist version of advertising and decided to defect, starting a publication that advertised the counter-culture instead.
The glossy, edgy, hipster-cool version of counter-culture his publication advertises makes some good points. It works with some layers of the situation, but that's just it: it works with layers, not roots. And layers that still put way too much emphasis on money and consumer goods and the existential crisis over whether we should or should not be buying them. Layers that come from the perspective of the materially-privileged classes.
Getting you to buy or getting you to not buy - it's pretty close to the same intention.
And for people without expendable income, it really isn't all that much of a dilemma.
When you get down to it, Adbusters is still a form of advertising-based reality-construction, using the underlying concepts of advertising and its visual panache to promote ideology. It keeps people's minds focused on the advertising and the versions of reality that advertising promotes, even if those versions are of the stark, edgy, graphically-stimulating, anti-consumer variety.
I fully supported the people speaking out through Occupy Wall Street, but I wasn't able to put my personal energy into the movement, and I wasn't directed to cover it on the site. When I found out the seed idea came from Adbusters, I started to get a clearer understanding of why that might be.
The movement raises some very good, crucially pertinent issues. It got people together to talk about what's really going on in the world, outside the carefully-crafted versions coming from mainstream media. It made people feel that they were doing something about the corruption, and that's important. But it didn't have the depth I needed to see in order to get really excited about it or even all that interested in it. There was an organic element and a grassroots fire that were missing, and I didn't feel it had the roots to address the issues I needed to see being addressed.
It's an interesting movement and one that fully utilizes the organizational power of the internet, but it has to be kept in context. The intense use of media - alternative, mainstream, or both - has a tendency to skew things by hyping up the broader importance of an event.
We've been protesting these issues for decades now. The World Trade Organization protests, including at the Battle in Seattle in 1999. The Free Trade Area of the Americas protests. The IMF. The G-8. The G-20. And on and on. Millions of people have protested worldwide. People know the score.
Hundreds of peacefully protesting people were doused with pepper spray and CS gas and were shot with rubber bullets at the Free Trade Area of the Americas protest in Quebec City in 2001, including yours truly. Police stood on one side of The Big Fence and let fly at us on the other side. That was common practise at protests in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Still lightweight considering the bullets unleashed on protesters are real in other countries around the world - I realized that even as I was choking on the CS gas. But none of that made the news or compelled a Jon Stewart "Are we in Canada right now?" commentary.
They say you should judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members, and Kalle Lasn and others complaining about homeless people showing up and stepping on their "excuse me, we're changing the world" buzz was a good indication for me that this movement - at least some of the primary players - didn't completely get it.
As I wrote in a previous article, those mentally ill homeless people have the most to be upset about as far as the Occupy Wall Street cause goes, and the "narrative" should have widened to include them, rather than making them pesky irritations that ruined their good time.
For a movement to have real legs, it needs to be about more than a certain segment's idealism and their cleansed version of feel-good community. It has to be about more than the middle and upper-middle classes being pissed off because the good jobs are gone and their pension funds are depleted.
If you replaced all the "good jobs" and the pension funds and the security of the hamster wheel, those people would be happy to rejoin the Pluto in Capricorn structures, but the structures would still be inherently corrupt and unjust. Most people on the planet would still be suffering, would still be poor, would still be put upon and enslaved by power structures that refuse them a dignified life.
We have an all-out war on the poor and working classes going on, and it's been going on for a long, long while. The middle and upper-middle classes are just finally being touched by it. And really, all most of them want is to get back into the fold. They just want back in the safe, secure 8 to 5 with dental and pension or whatever variation there might be. People want back on that treadmill, damn it. They don't want to be one of those people, one of the ones on the outside looking in. They're horrified to think of it.
But that version of things would still leave the billions of people for whom the treadmill is not even an option out in the cold. The destructiveness and toxicity of that treadmill would remain unaddressed, steamrolling ahead. And that's not good enough. The entire idea of "success" is faulty at this point, sickening really, and I hope Pluto makes sure people get their noses right down into the rot and holds them there until there can be absolutely no denying it.
"There's been a lot of stupid behavior. The protesters need to respect Mayor Bloomberg. You don't get to shout, "Fuck you, Mayor Bloomberg." It shows you don't have respect for human life."
Pluto in Leo Joan Baez as quoted in Vanity Fair article "An Oral History of Occupy Wall Street" by Max Chafkin with additional reporting by Alexandra Beggs, Mark Guiducci, Jaime Lalinde, Elizabeth Nicholas, Rebecca Sacks and Kaitlin Sanders
When I read this quote, I thought, "Is this chick for real? Am I being Punked? Is that show still even on?"
Folkie Joan Baez, supposed voice of the people, one of the voices of the 1960s revolutionary movements, is telling people they need to show more respect for their illegitimate authority figures?
Michael Bloomberg is the current mayor of New York City, of the elitist set. Of the 1%, if you will. His policies and leadership have facilitated the Pluto in Capricorn development steamroller over small, independent businesses that have been in New York City for decades, apartment buildings that have housed people from lower- and middle-income brackets, and character buildings with such deep and rich history that the demolition of them should bring people to their knees. A climate has been created whereby developers and speculators have been given free rein, driving people out of their homes and businesses, and setting rents at obscene levels. This man has ruined lives from his position of power.
The direction Bloomberg has taken in New York City and the doors he has opened to development and gentrification are inherently inhumane and destructive to life. Respect for people? Respect for any life lived below $250,000 per year? He doesn't have it. Bloomberg and his cronies have worked to develop a New York City that is a playground for the ultra rich, catering to their every infantile whim, while making life next to impossible for the groups of working people who made New York City what it was.
There are hundreds of thousands, probably millions of people who would love a chance to say "Fuck you" to Michael Bloomberg in the flesh, and I couldn't be happier that the protesters took their opportunity.
But yes, all hail Bloomberg. Respect your Pluto in Capricorn authority figures like good little citizens. So says Joan Baez.
If Kalle Lasn and Joan Baez are representative of what's left of the Pluto in Leo counter-culture, calling it out-of-touch would be charitable.
In reality, though they've been given a certain public role and may have the articulation to sway the crowd, they aren't the real heart and soul of the Pluto in Leo counter-culture. They're just people who have been held up to keep everyone else in line.
That said, pie-in-the-sky Pluto in Leo nostalgia for a 1960s reality that never even existed will continue to hinder the efforts of the Pluto in Virgos - the generation now responsible for practically and realistically applying the energy of the 1960s revolutionary movements.
We need to speak truth to power, but we also need to speak truth to power within the supposed counter-culture constructs. Things have gotten far too crystallized there. People are looking for leadership in areas that have grown fat, pampered, and a little too cosy with the good life offered by the systems they once critiqued.
We need to examine the personality politics and determine if the people held up as "voices of the times" really know what the hell they're talking about, really have any legitimacy at all under the current conditions.
And the people who do know what they're talking about: Please speak. Often. And loudly.