Occupy Wall Street rediscovers the radical imagination

I am going to start off with some quotes from this piece in The Guardian.

We are watching the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt. Most, I found, were of working-class or otherwise modest backgrounds, kids who did exactly what they were told they should: studied, got into college, and are now not just being punished for it, but humiliated – faced with a life of being treated as deadbeats, moral reprobates. Is it really surprising they would like to have a word with the financial magnates who stole their future?

Just as in Europe, we are seeing the results of colossal social failure. The occupiers are the very sort of people, brimming with ideas, whose energies a healthy society would be marshaling to improve life for everyone. Instead, they are using it to envision ways to bring the whole system down.

But the ultimate failure here is of imagination. What we are witnessing can also be seen as a demand to finally have a conversation we were all supposed to have back in 2008. There was a moment, after the near-collapse of the world’s financial architecture, when anything seemed possible.

Everything we’d been told for the last decade turned out to be a lie. Markets did not run themselves; creators of financial instruments were not infallible geniuses; and debts did not really need to be repaid – in fact, money itself was revealed to be a political instrument, trillions of dollars of which could be whisked in or out of existence overnight if governments or central banks required it. Even the Economist was running headlines like “Capitalism: Was it a Good Idea?”

It seemed the time had come to rethink everything: the very nature of markets, money, debt; to ask what an “economy” is actually for. This lasted perhaps two weeks. Then, in one of the most colossal failures of nerve in history, we all collectively clapped our hands over our ears and tried to put things back as close as possible to the way they’d been before.

Yes we and those in Washington just wanted it to go away. Bring back the good times. Those on the right were convinced – by those with the money and power – that by getting government out of the way, the good times would come back. And a lot on the left were convinced that by the mere regulation of those that caused the situation or if enough money were to be thrown at the problems –  the good times would come back. But the good times did not and now we know will not come back unless some very major changes to our economic and political system are made. So with out any other recourse left open to them, people began to take to the streets to attempt to make this very clear.  That our current system does not work and has to be replaced. They do not yet know exactly how, yet but they will in time.

 

When the history is finally written, though, it’s likely all of this tumult – beginning with the Arab Spring – will be remembered as the opening salvo in a wave of negotiations over the dissolution of the American Empire. Thirty years of relentless prioritising of propaganda over substance, and snuffing out anything that might look like a political basis for opposition, might make the prospects for the young protesters look bleak; and it’s clear that the rich are determined to seize as large a share of the spoils as remain, tossing a whole generation of young people to the wolves in order to do so. But history is not on their side.

We might do well to consider the collapse of the European colonial empires. It certainly did not lead to the rich successfully grabbing all the cookies, but to the creation of the modern welfare state. We don’t know precisely what will come out of this round. But if the occupiers finally manage to break the 30-year stranglehold that has been placed on the human imagination, as in those first weeks after September 2008, everything will once again be on the table – and the occupiers of Wall Street and other cities around the US will have done us the greatest favour anyone possibly can. [emphasis mine]

That last paragraph is very key. For people are waking up and are aware now of how we got here and what has to be done. I know because of the conversations I have had. With the maintenance fellow for my apartment who says “Don’t believe the TV and politicians and the statistics. This depression not recession is not over. They do not see what is happening here.” Or the middle aged lady at the Occupy Cleveland gathering that said she heard about it from her daughter and came down. She had lost everything and it was hard. Be she had learned so much from being there and will remain for as long as it takes.

And I told her that the Occupy movement has already accomplished a lot. It has taken ideas that were a few months ago considered fringe and now they are becoming main stream and more and more people are taking them seriously, which is a very big deal.

And this is a good thing.

 

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