I think that the form of Occupy Wall Street expresses its content, as Scott Beck showed in his earlier post on the occupation. I observe, further, that the way people use social media contributes to this form, as does the setting of the occupation. And I believe deliberating about the movement and connecting the debate to other political, social and cultural activities are keys to the democratic contribution of the movement to broader politics in America and beyond.
Jenny Davis in her post last week makes cogent points about the role of social media in social movements in general and in Occupy Wall Street in particular. Her key observation is very important. Digital activism is not only a means to the end of embodied social action. It also is an end in itself, a new type of politics that can make the previously hidden visible and can contribute to what she calls “the zeitgeist,” what I would prefer calling the prevailing common sense. I would add that it can constitute a space for free action, a public, a point made by Judith Butler in a recent lecture. This is especially telling as David Peppas and Barbara note in the two comments to Davis’s post, because the occupation doesn’t have a simple meaning or political end. The act of protesting, as well as the act of posting, makes the world look differently, and looking at the world differently is what is most needed at this time, to face up to stark social realities that have been ignored and develop the capacity to act on this. It is interesting how the way this happens is structured by social media actions, no longer a monopoly of the mass media, while the power of the movement, is quite material. It’s embedded in a specific geography and its link to political culture.
The place of the occupation in an important way contributes to its power. Situated in lower Manhattan, the New York Stock Market and the World Trade Center have been symbols of advanced capitalism and American economic power in the global order and have been actual centers of the order. And, thus, to my mind, Occupy Wall Street is the ground zero social movement.
Ironically, mine is first of all a “pedestrian observation,” based on very particular experience. In recent weeks, I walked around the area on the tenth anniversary of the attack with my friend, Steve Assael, who survived the 9/11 attack, including a stroll on Wall Street. And last week, I walked and observed the very same area when I went to take a look and to support the occupation at Zuccotti Park, passing by the site of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque as well.
Because it is at the symbolic center, the media are paying attention to OWS. A relatively small social demonstration is capturing global attention, exciting political imagination. In the U.S., apparently the Tea Party has met its match. A report yesterday indicates that Occupy Wall Street is more popular than the Tea Party. Occupations of public spaces are spreading around the country, and, as the old slogan goes: the whole world is watching. Occupations are going global, eminating from ground zero to London, Seoul back to Los Angeles and Washington D.C. and many points in between.
They have been watching in Gdansk. I was surprised by the interest in the Occupy Wall Street demonstration when I lectured there, and surprised and pleased to read that an important figure from that city, indeed the city’s most important historic figure, Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity Trade Union, is planning on coming to NY to support the occupation.
As reported in an unlikely source, The New York Daily News:
“Walesa has warned of a ‘worldwide revolt against capitalism’ if the Wall St. protests are ignored.
They are protesting the ‘unfairness’ of an economy that enriches a few and ‘throws the people to the curb,’ he said in a recent interview.
‘That’s why union leaders and capitalists need to figure out what to do, because otherwise they will have to contend with a worldwide revolt against capitalism.’ ”
The news is spreading through mainstream media and publications. But I think it is also important how social media are spreading the word. I don’t read the Daily News. It’s the American classic tabloid, similar to Murdoch’s NY Post, though not as bad. I got wind of the report through a friend’s (Elzbieta Matynia’s) Facebook page. The world is watching the world as mediated by our friends and our interpretation of things. As Davis observes:
“This sharing, of course, is rarely (if ever) done in a neutral manner. Rather, Tweeters and Facebookers accompany shared news stories and web links with commentary that reveals a particular bent, or interpretation of the content. The content is therefore not just made visible, but impregnated with meaning in a web of social relations.”
The Ground Zero occupation is leading to a global response. An articulate critique of the global order of things is being expressed in simple bodily presence and demonstrating expressions, capturing the attention of the world that is watching and acting upon what it sees, with the potential of changing the terms of public deliberations. Those who are concerned about jobs, inequality, global warming and much more have found their voices and are making visible their very real concerns. Indeed, I believe, in the U.S., the Tea Party has been directly engaged. Both OWS and the Tea Party reveal the power of the politics of small things. In this sense, they are quite similar, but there is a major difference. OWS is grounded in the reality based community, while much of the Tea Party concerns are based on fictoids, as we have been observing here at Deliberately Considered over the last year. As an unreconstructed enlightenment partisan, I think this suggests the long term power of the newest development on the global stage. As I observed in concluding my comparison between OWS and a social movement in South Korea, the candle light movement, a candle is, indeed, being lit.