Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cultural gap between Occupiers and "establishment"...will only grow

By Terence Chea and Lisa Leff, The Associated Press, in Globe and Mail, November 2, 2011 

OAKLAND, CALIF—Several thousand Occupy Wall Street demonstrators forced a halt to operations at the United States' fifth busiest port Wednesday evening, escalating a movement whose tactics had largely been limited to rallies and tent camps since it began in September.

Police estimated that a crowd of about 3,000 had gathered at the Port of Oakland by early evening. Some had marched from the California city's downtown, while others had been bused to the port.
Port spokesman Isaac Kos-Read said maritime operations had effectively been shut down. Interim Oakland police chief Howard Jordan warned that protesters who went inside the port's gates would be committing a federal offence.

In New York, Los Angeles and other cities where the movement against economic inequality has spread, demonstrators planned rallies in solidarity with the Oakland protesters, who called for Wednesday's “general strike” after an Iraq War veteran was injured in clashes with police last week.
Organizers of the march said they want to stop the “flow of capital.” The port sends goods primarily to Asia, including wine as well as rice, fruits and nuts, and handles imported electronics, apparel and manufacturing equipment, mostly from Asia, as well as cars and parts from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai.
And this by Gary Mason, Globe and Mail, November 3, 2011
Is the Occupy movement growing or dying? Are groups such as the one that set up camp on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery hurting the cause or helping it? Does a leaderless protest organization have any promise of forcing change?
If you talk to the person considered largely responsible for the whole thing, the amorphous, anti-hierarchical nature of Occupy is part of its mystique and will eventually be the reason for its success. And if you’re tempted to ask Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn how a protest group that doesn’t have a specific set of demands can accomplish anything, he’ll tell you that you don’t get what’s really going on....
But now I watch the 75 or so people occupying the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery and question whether there’s any hope for the movement. The spirit of optimism that imbued the site early on has dissipated. Many campers have left, frustrated by the clash of varying ideologues and agendas. It seems to exist with no purpose.
“People expect this to be the old-style revolution,” says Mr. Lasn, whose counterculture magazine sparked the movement. “They expect it to be one that is vertical, that has demands, that has a leader who will tell you what’s going on so it’s crystal clear. But this movement is horizontal. It grew out of the culture of the Internet and learned something from the encampments in Spain and some of the anarchism going on in Greece.”

Instead, Mr. Lasn told me, Occupy is egalitarian and doesn’t like leaders or demands. It’s trying to create a new model for democracy, transcending failed revolutions of the past and eschewing simplistic left-wing slogans such as Tax the Rich.
Perhaps. But Occupy has certainly relied on catchphrases of its own – “the 99 per cent,” “the 1 per cent” – to convey its anti-establishment message. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I think what many people are struggling with is where Occupy goes from here. Does it have any hope of building on the early momentum it had behind the message that corporate greed, represented by the obscene profits and bonuses seen on Wall Street, symbolizes a world fundamentally out of sync?


There is a real divide in perceptions between those activitists who actually sleep in tents on the streets of cities around the world, and "the establishment" whose need for "the list" of demands, or of responsibilities, or of chores for the day, or of obligations from business partners drives their businesses, their personal career goals, their relationships and their "vision" of the world in which they wish to live.
A brief anecdote to illustrate: A few years ago, I was interviewed by a consulting firm, headed by a former high school principal and former mathematics teacher, whose company, along with the testing from Waco Texas on personality profiles, provided a service in interviewing, testing and hiring for their clients. Among other things their approach was to "test" all applicants, and then provide an "interview" conducted by at least eight of their key personnel. At the end of 90 minutes, after the others had departed, the CEO commented directly to me, "Every time we ask you a question, you answer with a story; you never give us a list!"
"That's because I do not think in lists, I think in stories and pictures!" I instantly retorted.
Obviously, we did not go forward together, thankfully.
His company, in my view, represents what is absolutely the worse feature of the new economy: that it is driven by those who think in LISTS...those whose parameters of the intellect, of the imagination, of the potential and of the possibilities can be reduced to lists, whose power to command others seems foreordained. It is not only that gloabization has wreaked havoc with the millions at the bottom of the pyramid; it is that those at the top have reduced everything, including themselve, to fit into the lists of goals, objectives, expectations, and the measurements necessary to document their success.
This methodology, while efficient on the surface, negates any "story" that does fit with the parameters of the lists. And the lists provide talking points for anyone, or any group, to fit the parameters of the "media" seeking to generate stories for their readers, who, themselves, seek to "grasp" the "meaning" of any person, or group, by repeating the list of objectives of that person/group. So, from a public relations perspective, a single source in any organization can provide "talking points" on any subject, and the most simple of his/her acolytes can and will deliver those "bullets" to the waiting camera, or reporter's recording device, and the mission is accomplished. Even questions from those reporters that require answers not on the "talking points" are ignored and walked on with answers that are completely irrelevant to the question or the questioner.
We have in effect legitimized a charade of "public information" by replacing full and honest and authentic answers with "talking points" of lists generated by a single "brain" who can therefore do all the thinking for the organization.
And we are all complicit in the process. It now takes a Noam Chomsky, or a Chris Hedges lecture, on a television program like "Big Ideas" on TVO, to explicate the complexities of a situation, because most of what is referred to as "public discourse" is merely the vacuuous repetition of talking points of lists.
And Occupy Wall Street, or Occupy Together, is about a different mind set. It is about peeling away the veneer of those lists of demands, of requirements, of expectations, that can so quickly and easily reduce any group to the "definition" prescribed by those in the media whose self-interest trumps their willing capacity to actually learn about complexities, nuances, and even uncertainties of the movement.
John Turner, former Prime Minister and Liberal leader, tells the story in a recent CBC interview with Peter Mansbridge, about receiving a call from a then prominent American politician running for office who said, "John I do not know very much about Canada so would you meet me in Wisconsin with a list a 'bullets' about your country?" Mr Turner replied affirmatively and met the U.S. politician in the Field House of the University of Wisconsin and privately delivered those "bullets". And three days later, that same U.S. politician was shot by an assassin in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel. His name was Bobby Kennedy.
Here is a story illustrating the appropriate use of "bullets" for a "quick learn" about the complexities of Canada, by a neighbouring politician then at his prime. No one would or could imagine Bobby Kennedy reducing Canada to Turner's list of "bullets" following his conversation with the Canadian; and no one would or could image John Turner reducing Canada to a list of "bullet"s that would capture the complexities of Canada. However, when this is the metaphor for a "quick" learn by people generally, given the multiple complexities of multiple stories, it often is taken as replacement for learning, understanding, and "grasp" of any situation.
The other driving force for such "lists" is the marketing impulse, which reduces all products and services to a list of benefits, for the purpose of a quick and easy "sell line" delivered at the end of a "story" commercial, crafted to "intrigue" the audience.
So, instead of the story being the "essence" of the product's story, it has become the icing on the cake, and we are suffocating from a diet of sugar "icings," while we are all starved for understanding, meaning and connection.
I would never have developed a connection with the CEO of the "staffing firm" if I were to work with him for  many decades; we talk a different language; we think a different set of thoughts; we expect completely different things from the other. And our mental, emotional and spiritual cultures are virtually incompatible.
And he lost a potentially useful voice at his table of consultants when he dismissed me as a "story-teller" without lists.
And a similar divide separates the Occupiers from the "establishment" today.
And this space will continue to support the admittedly amorphous, and somewhat ambiguous and clearly undefined and potentially undefinable movement that is gathering in the streets of cities around the world.
(See also, Chris Hedges: A Masterclass for the "occupy" movement, acorncentreblog.com, November 3, 2011)

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