Saturday, November 19, 2011

It's Just a Shot Away

(photo via Digby, probably more or less viral at this point)

Yesterday someone being interviewed by NPR at an Occupy site said something along the lines of, "well, either the system is going to change, or we're going to smash them." That's a brave statement, coming from what sounded like a nice young woman of 20-something. Now what? Are we rushing towards Kent State? Four Dead in Ohio. It made a hell of a hook for Neil Young.

It might be argued that Nixon's over-reach at the Watergate is why Vietnam finally ended, and not with a bang but with more or less a whimper. And the military-industrial complex did not end with Vietnam, but went to school. And after a time we got Reagan, and Iran/Contra, and a country uninterested in more congressional inquiries into Presidential illegalities.

One hopes the righteous indignation fueling OWS finds some clear focus. There's no doubt the state efforts in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere are related to the spirit of OWS. But I fear that street battles with police will galvanize no one but a hard Right that already fantasizes new Kent States and worse. People trying to drive home from work, and thwarted in their effort by masses of pedestrians with vague objections to overpaid speculators and bankers will most likely just pound their steering wheels and honk their horns till the jam is cleared. People trying to get home from work are, mostly, in the 99%. The bankers can, if necessary, rent a chopper.

I hope for the best. It seems to me that if there are to be changes for the better, they must come through a revitalization of good government--a government that can push back against this same 1%. The problem is, money is power. It's not a new problem, and the government we built to mitigate money has been systematically destroyed over the past forty or fifty years. There are countless studies of this process, if you care to find them. Our only real choice remains the simple bipolar one our politics gives us--D/R. We need a lot more good Ds. It's that simple. The statistic of the week is an historical one--in the aftermath of the Kent State massacre, most Americans sympathized with the Ohio National Guard.

While the exercise of homespun democracy in the Occupy camps seems to cause joy and wonderment to those who experience it, the fact is that the Occupy Movement needs seasoned leadership and focus. There was a moment in the immediate aftermath of Woodstock when some imagined a new world had been invented. It wasn't that long before Altamont revised that view. I'd recommend a nice Saturday night double feature, before you head out to the barracades: Woodstock, then Gimme Shelter.

In the fall of '69 I headed out to San Francisco. I'd heard about all the fun, the new world awaiting. It was fun, when I got there. At the movies, joints would simply come down the aisles. Same with catching a ride from San Francisco over to Oakland. Everybody was stoned. At the corner of Height and Ashbury, bikers would lounge on their Harleys whispering "acid, speed, pot." People drummed in the park for hours on end. After a winter of poverty, I got on a Trailways and headed back to North Carolina realities. I applied for a job in the Durham County social services system, and was told not to wear "curious shoes" to my next interview. I was also told that I was "overqualified." Kent State was still in the future, and the Vietnam war had 5 years to run. I started playing fiddle in the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, and edited books at Duke University Press for a living. My draft number was 310 as I recall.

Smashing the system, that's the ticket. Thing is, people want order. If you don't take that fact into account, you may run into it on a dark night, unexpected.

Update: The plain fact that we humans can manage to hold contradictory "positions" at the same instance is well illustrated by the Occupy situation, and by the following post:

If voters would just take the small step of noticing the gross inconsistencies which emanate daily from the Right, they could then reach out for opportunities to improve government which come their way now and then in the form of honest, capable candidates and even now and then folks hoping for re-election. Without the endless appeals to cliche, prejudice, illusory class snobbery and down right panic, the Republicans have absolutely nothing to run on in their quest to destroy government. Mr. Romney is their "best" candidate; he could have been drawn by Tom Tomorrow.


  1. and then they get pepper sprayed on a college campus in california.

  2. ps can you publish a picture of your curious shoes? and i didn't know you'd edited books; we're in the same biz after all.

  3. The most remarkable line in popular music belongs perhaps to David Byrne--"same as it ever was." My curious shoes were merely boots, suede as I recall, the pull-on kind you might ride a motorcycle with, not lace-up work boots. I had ridden a motorcycle during my time in grad school, which ended with my orals and the trip west to SF--still had the gear, leather jacket and boots. The curiosity of them was surely more in the mind of the beholder, and I should thank jesus daily that I didn't get that horrible job with that horrible boss.