Direct Action and Direct Actors

Right this moment there are 1,500 Palestinian prisoners participating in a hunger strike to petition Israel’s apartheid government for fair trials; meanwhile in a wide network of suburban homes, corporate coffee shops, and lunch-break cubicles, a swarm of slightly-overweight opinioneers is debating, defeating, and prefiguring the validity of whatever we could call the democratic, anti-capitalist awakening which is taking hold of this country. Even as violent armed struggles in Arab countries were unequivocally supported (in retrospect, some of us wonder why), the notion of anything more extreme than reposting a banner raises some red flags. On May Day, the not-so-failed renaissance of democratic resistance in the U.S. and all over the world took form and showed its multifaceted face to the sunlight—in New York City, the overcast weather broke into sunlight as a crowd of ten thousand in Union Square surged to more than double that number marching down Broadway. The media didn’t quite cover this, but I suppose that this is what alternative media like BNV is for: I personally spoke to a Reuters reporter, saw her cameraman film a protester whose face was smashed into the pavement and then wound with a hoodie to conceal it, third-world-torture-chamber style, only to find December ’11 footage on the Reuter’s website later that day. Classic.

What I want to draw attention to is the value of protesting, of inciting riots and disrupting the flow of capital for its own sake. Many readers might ask what such actions will accomplish; to them I will answer that whatever marching and physically claiming public space accomplish, it’s a whole lot more than snide and snarky comments do. For one thing, the physical act of occupying shows you the extent of what we’re fighting against: it’s not just corporations, it’s not just ignorant Republicans, and it’s not just a few issues which can be changed with legislature. This is an endemic problem which will require sweeping, systematic change; first and foremost it will require that we change the ways we think. Physically protesting and facing police brutality really makes you consider the existential implications of what you believe in: you are fighting tooth and nail because this, getting kicked and pushed by officers of the law while your friend gets put in a holding cell overnight for bogus charges, this is precisely what some people in our country face every day. When you see legions of Bloomberg’s army, you realize for a moment that the entire system is flawlessly rigged against you, that even if you’re shot by a cop, the cop will walk; his actions will be justified in the eyes of the judicial establishment.

Stepping outside of our bubbles of privilege is the first step: we have to realize that to really strive for democracy and freedom; we need to realize that it’s not just about each person saving him-or-herself, paying of his-or-her own mortgage, staying out of prison. We need to realize that these are problems which affect others, and affect them even more than they affect us. This isn’t about inciting class warfare: the wealthy already set the ball rolling when Reagan started cutting taxes in the 80s and put an end to the economic prosperity this country enjoyed since WWII. This is about putting an end to the heaps of comments and comments-of-comments which inundate our political discourse but which, come election time, chose between the crazier fascists or the friendlier fascists. This is about not buying into the media attention which steals our dreams, remanufactures them, and sells them back to us. This is about actually going to an occupation and talking with real people about the political problems your facing; sneer all you want, just that simple action is a lot more than whatever it is you’re doing now.

And don’t buy into the hype that OWS doesn’t know what it’s about: every single person down there knows exactly why we’re here and what it is we want. To reduce it to catchphrases or demands would be to let it be consumed and re-appropriated by the corporate-political machine and sold back to us in November; and that’s not what it’s about, because elections in this country haven’t been valid since the Supreme Court appointed a president in 2000.

The system is broken, let’s get started on fixing it.

Remember the words of Mahatma Ghandi, facing a very similar situation: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.