Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guest Post: Seamus O'Sullivan on Occupying Space

In defense of the preservation of Occupy's open space
By: Seamus O'Sullivan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—The discursive “open space” created by the Occupy movement is driving pundits and bosses of just about every political persuasion absolutely nuts. It’s almost worth the price of admission.

Critics are desperate for anything to discredit the Occupy movement. As soon as a policy statement is developed, the hegemons of public discourse will unleash their rhetorical weaponry to reduce the proposal, no more how sophisticated or reasoned it might be, into an emotionally saturated thought fragment that can force fit into one or more of the available binary oppositional paradigms like capitalism/command economy, pragmatic/ hopeless idealistic, patriotism/treason, unregulated/strangled, liberty/Big Brother, and eventually good/evil. Some critics are trying to discredit the moment with tired, unimaginative claims that it is Marxist/Leninism in disguise or by invoking comparisons with the stinky hippy hedonist stereotype they last had some success with 40 years ago. Dull and insipid yes, but also mean-spirited, which is often useful when dominance not reason is the aim of the game.

Many Americans, it seems, do not need a pamphlet or a written explanation to understand or palpably feel the gross economic inequality fueling this movement. A recent New York Times poll revealed that 46% of those surveyed have a favorable view of the Occupy movement. One of the things I have been struck by as a participant in the Saturday rallies and marches organized by (Un)Occupy Albuquerque is the huge numbers of passers-by who enthusiastically gesture or shout their support. Few people are neutral in their response and even fewer are opposed.

One of the latest tactics of the Occupy critics is the charge that many protestors are breaking laws by violating municipal permit requirements, exercising constitutional rights outside of designated “free-speech zones,” or in the case of Albuquerque for violating the on-again, off-again directives of the president of the University of New Mexico against overnight demonstrations on campus. Where was their pious concern that the law should be applied equally to everyone when it came to investigating the financial elite who pillaged the economy for personal gain in actions that destroyed jobs, emptied out pension plans, and fueled poverty for millions of Americans? Where was their righteous concern for the rule of law and calls for investigations as the evidence mounted that Pres. Bush and now Pres. Obama have ransacked the Constitution in pursuit of the war on terror?

The duplicitous charge of lawlessness is simply a means to an end, justification for the use of state violence against protestors, a shameless strategy that backfired last week in Oakland, California, when police action there resulted in serious head injuries sustained by a 24-year-old Marine veteran, Scott Olsen. Demonstrations around the world last weekend suggested that heavy handed police retaliations against non-violent protesters can also generate new enthusiasm for the movement.

At some point, the movement will be required to articulate a program. The value of the current open space is that it is showing that the most vociferous critics are dull, mean-spirited and eager to deploy coercive violence. Their responses are creating new support. Meanwhile, organizers can use this space to imagine the previously unimaginable, like an economy that values the common good over the obscene accumulation of riches by the privileged few.

Seamus O'Sullivan is a world-traveled scholar and cultural observer most recently back from five years teaching "American Studies" and other things in the American University system in Central Asia, first in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and then in Kabul, Afghanistan. He blogs at
Insubordinate in Albuquerque.

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