Archive for November, 2011
In celebration of “National Freelancers Day,” I present to thee an article that never saw the light of day or the Internet.
New York- On the cold damp morning of November 17, hundreds of protestors marked the two-month anniversary of the birth of the Occupy Wall Street movement. By the day’s end, tens of thousands streamed into Foley Square, an otherwise non descript plaza at the nexus of the city, state, and federal government bodies. Shortly after dawn marchers began their “Day of Action” by attempting to blockade the New York Stock Exchange.
The area surrounding the stock exchange was heavily secured ten years ago following 9/11 when America’s financial institutions were viewed as particularly vulnerable to another terror attack by al-Qaeda. Defiant protestors were summarily hauled away and detained on one of the most security conscious blocks in the United States while a vast maze of aluminum barricades manned by countless members of local police sought to ensure business go on as unhindered as possible. Protestors then reconvened at the now infamous Zuccotti Park, a half acre granite plaza opposite the site of the former and soon to be new World Trade Center. In the very early hours of November 15, police staged a planned raid to forcibly evict protestors who set up camp on the plaza’s pink stone ground. The official line from the city administration and the park’s owner Brookfield Properties, whose chairman John E. Zuccotti is the space’s current namesake, was that the area had to be cleared for its poor sanitary conditions and numerous safety concerns.
The eviction appeared only to galvanize the larger movement by painting the city’s plutocrat Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as a defender of the rights of corporations over freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed by the American constitution. The day went from small scale fits of violence between protestors and police to a festive atmosphere by nightfall as the Occupy movement was reenergized by what local police estimates estimated to be 32,000 demonstrators.
Of the many criticisms of the amorphous Occupy movement, that most oft repeated is that it is a fissiparous shouting match whose only common thread is a shared, incoherent seeming rage. To be sure, the messages being hurled by the Occupy movement are many but that merely reflects the diversity of voices in a growing class of disenfranchised Americans affected by an economic crisis that has either denied them opportunity or sucked the oxygen out of their middle class standing. Though an element at Zuccotti Park clearly seeks to simply taunt the city’s police, themselves a hulking blue collar work force, the massive marches which culminated in a rally at the steps of Manhattan’s court complex displayed the Occupy movement’s overarching, more articulate strains.
Several of the country’s most powerful labor unions delivered thousands of demonstrators in support of Occupy Wall Street. City authorities did not have the liberty of describing such a large display of solidarity as a small group of troublemakers in soiled tents. Demonstrators took cues from more successful global people power movements in the European Union and the Arab World with placards in several languages. The viewed themselves not as citizens of a veritable island nation safeguarded by two oceans but as victims of a sort of globalized economic pillaging that integrated American with the rest of the world’s oppressed peoples. Messages ranged from the traditional union sentiments of wage and class preservation to more radical anti-capitalist memes that seek to graft some form of democratic socialism onto American society. Much of the anger was directed at Mayor Bloomberg personally.
For those rallying in the streets of New York, Bloomberg is the embodiment of everything they are attempting to overturn. The world’s 30th richest man used his immense wealth to become the city’s three term mayor while sitting atop a media and business technology empire that continues to accrue him further wealth at what appears to be a Malthusian growth rate. Bloomberg often could barely mask his disdain for the Occupy movement blighting the otherwise tourist friendly financial district, struggling to be polite at press conferences explaining his decision making process aimed at handicapping the Occupiers. In another earlier era devoid of nuisances like social media and smart phones, a disproportionately powerful big city mayor would have had an easier go of simply crushing a protest movement with brute force without batting an eye.
The protestors in New York, around the United States, and several European Union capitals seek to end the confluence of corporate citizenry and big money politics that Bloomberg and those he has a naked interest in protecting epitomize. Calling for limits on wealth, the biggest anathema in a no limits, free market capitalist system that traditionally rewards race-to-the-bottom economics, is a demand made by protestors of every imaginable demographic. Such a call only a few years ago would have been instantaneously dismissed as a fringe notion. It has taken on real traction among a generation that feels they have been deprived of an economically sustainable future in a legalized Ponzi scheme writ large.
Mayor Bloomberg’s aggressive eviction of the encampment at Zuccotti Park has only hardened views on either side and provided OWS a new slogan with which to rally around: “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.” Employing New York’s public servants as proletarian enforcers of corporate power will unlikely have the all-powerful mayor’s desired effect of simply claiming to be maintaining democratic law and order. The Occupiers had been an unsightly blemish on the belated post-9/11 rejuvenation of lower Manhattan’s Financial District in the view of the real estate barons who seek to transform the area into yet one more playground for the extremely wealthy in New York City. For a time the tent squatters even became a tourist attraction due to the camp’s proximity to the new World Trade Center site. Bloomberg no doubt viewed the swift night raid to destroy the protest camp as one more of his pragmatic gestures designed to uphold the city’s stiffening health and safety codes his administration have held as a priority. But the rubbishing of Zuccotti Park will have to opposite effect in light of its profound symbolism. In the twilight of his 12 years in office, Michael Bloomberg’s city-state will not collapse overnight like a fractious southern European coalition government, but it may fade into history with its legacy more muddled and tarnished in the billionaire mayor’s final act.
New York- I saw one of these living, contrasting images on the subway here the other day where I wonder if I am the only one observant or nosey enough to notice these things. An older man boarded the train donning a black leather vest with a green outline of Viet Nam divided rather starkly between North and South by a US Marine Corps rank insignia. I was born the year Viet Nam’s indigenous war ended and two years after it effectively ended for the United States. The political fervor of the Johnson and early Nixon era, where fighting Communism was deemed as an existential fight for America’s values at home as well as the biggest external challenge to American supremacy in the Pacific and Eurasian rimland realms, defined the imagery of my upbringing. We were all “All Along the Watchtower.” Standing next to this man was a smartly dressed, city chic thirty-ish woman reading a fresh paperback.
Curious to know what others are reading to pass the commute time, I glanced over her shoulder to see who the author was and noticed it was a novel by a Vietnamese writer called Aimee Phan. The book was titled The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, a post-Viet Nam war odyssey of sorts. Looking it up on Amazon when I got home, I saw it won’t be out for some time, meaning the reader on the subway either worked for the publisher or a media outlet provided an advance copy to review the book. So here was a man representing the blood, death, and tears of a futile war with an invisible, unreachable goal and next to him a confident post-feminist woman born after his war’s end reviewing a book putting the war more firmly in history rather than the still very present tense of the vest wearer. Both of them appeared to stand oblivious to one another.
Sure perhaps we can revise our view and say that the war was either to buffer the vehemently anti-Communist but far from democratic South Vietnamese state or overturn its Communist peer competitor in the North. But in the context of the era, the American public was often extolled of the virtue of defeating such an evil ideology. That must not be forgotten. In 30 years, will there be a young person reviewing a book-in whatever form books will be in 30 years (assuming they still exist)-written by a second generation Iraqi-American author putting that war in the appropriate perspective with a grizzled yet proud Iraqi Freedom veteran nearby looking off the other direction?
Militaries and sometimes insurgencies can be defeated on the battlefield with overwhelming force and a scorched earth campaigns respectively (think Operation Desert Storm for the former and the Filipino insurgency in Luzon during the Spanish-American war for the latter). Though it may be possible to let the gun barrels cool down once both sides have exhausted themselves through the implementation of physical and psychological violence, it is impossible to kill ideas. Ideas can only be bested by more innovative, successful ideas, not columns of tanks and harsh secrecy laws. This is the eternal struggle between the short and long views of the intellectually ill-equipped men who describe themselves as “history’s actors.”