When I read the diatribes launched by my Republican friends against the Occupy movement - the smug, delegitimizing comments about the trash, the way they snarl traffic, that the crowd is crawling with transients - it seems to me they are trying to de-cool the whole street movement thing. Under all that I sense a subsurface vibe, a fear that the cool factor might transform Occupy into something that matters, something that will cause our congressional folk to shiver a little. The terms "occupy" and "cool" need to be decoupled at all costs.
My R friends may argue that what I'm sensing is more akin to nausea than fear of cool, but me thinks they protest overly much. One wonders whether some of this fear stems from the fact that these same detractors did, in fact, think the sit-ins and what Bill McKibben calls "body movements," or using our selves as political tools, were way cool once upon a time. Way back then, in the 1960s and 1970s. I know for a fact that some of these same complainers were at Woodstock. And proud of it. Sh...
hanging chads in Florida decided our presidential election for the man with fewer votes - that Americans have simply stopped caring. When I think about our historically low voter turn-out, the general paucity of public debate over our latest round of wars, the gradual but significant progression away from hard journalistic news, toward "infotainment" in the only sources the public has for becoming educated on matters of public policy, I can't help but worry.
It seems to me that we are too complacent, too content with powering our individual hamster wheels, going round and round just trying to move our financial lives forward far enough to own the latest toy, or take the kids to Disneyland. So complacent that we've foregone our duty to participate in shaping the public debate - a duty that our Founding Fathers insisted be the cornerstone of a democracy that serves the people. A whole lot of us have begged off.
This morning's whole little conversation has its beginnings in an article by Bill McKibben, founder of 360.org, a climate change advocacy group, entitled The Art of Civil Disobedience. Here's a little quote from it:
I will skip over his comment about money being the root cause of political failure. That's a post for another day. Instead, I will focus you on McKibben's attempt to strategically unnerve the very arguments (trash, traffic, transients) made by my Republican friends by manipulating his crowd.
My students who are reading this will right away notice that I've used the word "manipulate," a loaded word that signals I perhaps don't approve. Yes, I'm really struggling with this. I'm trying to decide how I feel about McKibben putting a conservative, older face on his crowd. On the one hand, those well-dressed older voters he brings out are real. Empowering their visibility is both exciting and a lesson for conservatives about who, really, is the "other side."
playing right into the Republican frame. By insisting on an older, more conservative face to deliver his message, he is helping his opponent marginalize the rest of his base and keeping their voices, the voices of actual citizens of our country, if younger, scruffier, tattoo'd & pierced - even, sometimes, hungrier, homeless - away from the discussion table as surely as the Republicans are.
Using the "right tools" is something I understand deeply as a lobbyist. In fact, I just proposed something of the sort the other day that a group of us who have run up against a wall in our fight to get the human trafficking of minors law in our state to cover girls between 13 and 17, and not just girls under 13. The chair of our judiciary committee has refused to hear this bill. I suggested we pull his campaign contribution records and find a sympathetic someone from among his own donors to put some pressure on him.
So, I understand pragmatics.
And yet, I'd like to propose an alternative vision. What if, instead of trying to neuter the crowds, we work to enhance the cool factor in body movements? What if, instead of playing to the Republican frame, we play on their fear and turn street movements into the biggest, coolest new cool of all? What if street movements became popular, and we orchestrate them more like fairs and festivals so that they attracted people and people came out to learn, talk, hear, play political music together, make political art and just become the new gig where the cool people want to be? Festivals with planning and stages and port-a-potties and food vendors. Festivals even Republicans can love.
Be the Party you want to attend. Take it to the streets!