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Outing the Ringers

Ooh! I missed that Jay Smooth had a new video up on Occupy Wall Street. Luckily John Moeller clued me in.

Oh, how I envy his knack for explaining complicated things without oversimplifying them. His note on the video:

By the way when I say some news media people are “ringers,” I don’t necessarily mean that they deliberately obfuscate, or get orders from some shadowy figure to do so. I think they’ll often just have a personal investment in the system and status quo that’s being critiqued/threatened, so they’ll naturally–without any need to conspire–have their perception skewed by an instinct to protect the status quo they’re invested in. So though it’s quite possibly not their intention to play the ringer, it’s the function they wind up serving nonetheless.

Pay particular attention to his comment at the end of the video about being co-opted. The Occupy movement is about fundamental change in many things: how and for whom our financial system works, political influence in this country, the basic relationship between the public and everything tagged with their name: public service and public property being the foremost. It is, at heart, a radical movement.

There is a very real danger of this message being drowned out. There are plenty of people for whom the system was working just fine until it didn’t. You can see the extreme examples of the 53%-ers who take some kind of comfort in not being “those people,” but there are more subtle examples as well. Our financial and political systems got to be the way they are by exploitation of a class war that has been going on for a very long time–middle class versus the lower class.

Now, though, the system isn’t working for the middle class either, so they’re joining the protests. This is good, in that they provide numbers. They’ve been fetishized to the point where they provide moral legitimacy to the protests. They carry the message to people who won’t talk to the lower classes or those who are doing their best to undermine or sidestep the class system altogether.

It is not so good in that they have been largely responsible for the legitimization of the corrupt system up to this point. It has worked for them to be able to say, “NOT lower class. NOT classless.” It has given them identity and purpose in a world they didn’t control. It is the tiny prize they’ve been offered in a system that requires risk to change. It’s not surprising that they went that route. It’s not even particularly a judgment. Those tiny prizes are often all it takes.

However, their presence now can’t be allowed to make these protests less radical. They need to learn, to understand in ways that most of them don’t already, that cosmetic changes that make life and politics slightly better for them in the short term aren’t going to solve the big problems. They need to know that the first politician who comes along offering them a jobs bill can’t be allowed to take their time and attention away from those radical changes that are actually needed.

Without the radical changes, that jobs bill will be gone when the next Wall Street politician comes along, and they’ll have to start over. If this movement is allowed to become less radical, if it is co-opted, we’ll all be back in the same place in five years, starting over. This movement is good. It’s doing good things. Let’s not let that fail.

Comments

  1. says

    They need to know that the first politician who comes along offering them a jobs bill can’t be allowed to take their time and attention away from those radical changes that are actually needed.

    Particularly when that jobs bill is barely a tenth what is required, and it won’t pass anyway. That’s our current political process in a nutshell – not even able to bring itself to do something that’s wholly inadequate.

  2. says

    I am hoping that this stays radical, but fear that it won’t. I have seen this discomfort between the “unwashed poor” and the middle class all too up close and personal. There is this phenom that happens in Portland (and most midsize, left leaning urban centers). It starts out with starving artists, students and queers essentially taking over neighborhoods over the course of a few years (the gays and lesbians come in a second wave – I am absolutely fucking serious). As the second wave starts trickling in, you see businesses popping up – a neighborhood pub to start, as well as coffeehouse. Then a fresh produce market – mostly organic and cheap. Somewhere in there you will see art galleries start opening up – which is ironic, because that is when the middle class starts into the neighborhood and edges out the artists and students. Some of the gays will stick around, but many can’t afford to and of those who can, many of them actually like the “unwashed poor.”

    But what the middle class does – even as they buy the art of the starving artists, is takes over the neighborhood. Not just in terms of driving up property values to unobtainable highs – they tend to organize and drive out all but the most stalwart indie businesses. They even want to see the artists who produce the works the buy, but only in the gallery when an exhibit of their work opens. They certainly don’t want them living in their neighborhood. Never mind that they came because it was hip and trendy and that they destroy the very heart of what made it hip and trendy to begin with. When it comes down to it, they don’t want to be associated with the menagerie of freaks who started it all.

    I was reminded of this often, when with the rare client I actually became friendly with, I forgot my place. This never happened with the wealthier of my clients, because either they had little to do with me (I had several clients pass along their desires through maids and the like, never seeing the bills because they went directly to their accountants), or they were at a level of wealth that allowed them the freedom to be real. It was with clients who came closest to middle (upper middle to be sure) who were very quick to put me in my place whenever I slipped and implied some equality between the client and myself. Usually just a somewhat disturbed look to remind me that I was in the presence of my “betters.”

    I truly hope that doesn’t happen here. But I have seen many examples of what happens when the middle class moves into territory after freaks paved the way. The problem being that the bulk of the freaks tend to be rather more clever than the bulk of the middle class. They recognize things that the yuppies can’t even begin to see until the freaks throw it into sharp relief. Then – once recognized as something beautiful or important, they push out the freaks and fuck it up.

  3. says

    I should just like to clarify that I am not trying to romanticize living anywhere close to poverty level, it really sucks. Nor am I trying to imply that anyone who is middle class is stupid and blind. I am just describing a pattern that I have seen time and time again.

    Of course I have seen it so many times, from the perspective of the freak – there is the possibility that my view is not entirely unbiased…

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