Pre-Occupied in St. Louis

I am not, in the normal course of things, a “shoe-leather journalist.” Nothing against covering a story on the ground, mind you, but I’ve been there and done that (starting more than 30 years ago), and while political commentary may not pay as well or garner as much respect as on-the-scene, five-point-lede, just-the-facts-ma’am reportage, it puts less wear and tear on the ol’ carcass.

Nonetheless, I’m loath to comment on a mass movement without actually getting out to take its temperature, live and in 3D. So I schlepped said carcass, complete with Guy Fawkes mask and “Smash the State/No War But Class War” sign down to Kiener Plaza to have a look at Occupy St. Louis on Friday evening.

First descriptive pass: A few hundred people — a full order of magnitude fewer than I saw in the same place two years ago at the early Tea Party rallies — with an ideological center of gravity somewhere in the neighborhood of “mild reform Democrat.”

Not to sneer at conventional liberals (I really believe that they really believe, bless their hearts), or to minimize the movement’s diversity. There were all kinds of people assembled at Kiener, ranging out to Ron Paul “End the Fed” types and even real anarchists.

But, while everyone I met seems sincere in their desire for Change [TM], and everyone seems to really, really want to see America coming together in a mass movement for that Change [TM], the most coherent versions of the Occupy movement’s goals are minor tweaks at best, and at worst more of the same old wrong-headed stuff with a thin coat of populist whitewash: Reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act. Overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United. Generic “get the corporations under control” fluff.

I heard one guy say “you know something big is up when you see librarians marching” (I saw no visible organized librarian presence, but what the hey …)

Maybe he’s right, but I think it’s at least as likely that you know something is safely under control and already buttoning down into just another co-opted partisan astroturf noise machine when you see librarians marching and detect not so much as a whiff of tear gas.

If you’ve ever been to an effective demonstration, you know the feeling. It may not be full-blown revolutionary consciousness, but there’s something crackling in the air, a current flowing through the crowd and throwing nearly visible sparks into the atmosphere.

When the crowd chants “What do we want? [Insert goal here] When do we want it? Now!” you know that they will walk in front of the tanks, if the tanks come. When the crowd takes an intersection and the police order it cleared, the crowd faces the police line and silently, collectively says “come and clear it … if you’ve got the stones.”

Usually that high-voltage unity burns itself out when the tanks don’t come or the police line doesn’t charge, or when it does go down and metal trumps meat. But it was there, and everyone knows it was there, and maybe next time …

Maybe the Occupy movement has that kind of mojo going for it elsewhere, but I just didn’t feel it in St. Louis. And I have to think that the problem is the goals. We’re way beyond the point where a little tinkering will resolve anything, or sustain the energy necessary for resolving anything.

People: The President of the United States has now openly exercised the power to murder at will, without charge, without process, without trial, on the word of a secret death panel which declines to reveal its criteria or even its composition. In front of our very eyes, he’s become Peter Boyle’s Nixon character in Where the Buffalo Roam: “I’m the President of the United States, and I can do anything I want.” And virtually every American politician of note has endorsed that transfiguration!

The political class has always been at war with the productive class, but here in America that war has now been openly declared and then some … and make no mistake, the corporations are our enemy’s quartermasters. Adding a few lines to the list of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s powers isn’t just not enough, it’s a terrible joke at an unfunny moment.

Any goal short of “perish the state” (and with it its symbiotes, the corporations) is, at this point, a suicide wish.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory