Guns and the Art of Protest: Thinking about What is to be Done on the Left

Protesters at the March on Washington for Gun Control, Jan. 26, 2013 © Jo Freeman

Obama’s deeds don’t always match his words. Thus, he is a hypocrite and worse: a corporate stooge, the commander and chief of the prison industrial complex, and a war criminal. This is the sort of judgment one hears from the left. It seems this was the ground of Cornel West’s recent expression of self-righteous anger. And this, I believe, is all the result of a lack of understanding about the relationship between politics as a vocation and the art of protest.

In my last post, I expressed my indignation, my criticism of West and this sort of criticism (not for the first time, and certainly not the last). It is with the same concern that I have regretted the lost opportunities of Occupy Wall Street, which had real prospects to expand its influence, but fled instead, for the most part, into utopian fantasies and irrelevance. In Weber’s terms OWS activists chose completely the ethics of ultimate ends and fled responsibility, the articulation of the dreams over consequential actions. For me personally, the saddest manifestation of this was in the events of Occupy New School and its aftermath. Students and colleagues posturing to express themselves, to reveal their sober judgment of the realistic or their credentials as true radicals had little or nothing to do with the important ideas and actions of OWS, centered on the concerns of the 99% and the call for equality and a decent life for the 99%.

But my hope springs eternal. Perhaps with Obama’s new inauguration the protesters will get it.

A friend on my Facebook page summed up the problem. “It’s really difficult to be on the left of the current White House in the US nowadays.” Apparently hard, I think, because both easy full-throated opposition and full-throated support don’t make sense. Binary opposition is off the table. Struggles for public visibility of political concerns and consequential action are the order of the day. It’s difficult but far from impossible. Politicians will do their jobs, well or poorly, but so will social . . .

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Against Cornell West / For Barack Hussein Obama: MLK’s Bible, the Inauguration and the Left

President Barack Obama takes the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., right, in a public ceremony at the U.S. Capitol before thousands of people in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2013. Roberts administered the oath in an official ceremony at the White House, Jan., 20, 2013 (cropped). © Sonya N. Hebert |

I wonder if Cornell West ever has second thoughts.

At a “Poverty in America” forum held at George Washington University on January 17th, West forcefully criticized Barack Obama for taking his oath of office at his second inauguration on Martin King Jr.’s bible. See below for a clip of West’s remarks.

West was sure and authoritative, as a self appointed spokesman for the oppressed, in the name of the oppressed, and their great leader, Martin Luther King Jr.:

“You don’t play with Martin Luther King, Jr. and you don’t play with his people. By his people, I mean people of good conscience, fundamentally good people committed to peace and truth and justice, especially the Black tradition that produced it.

All of the blood, sweat and tears that went into producing a Martin Luther King, Jr. generated a brother of such high decency and dignity that you don’t use his prophetic fire for a moment of presidential pageantry without understanding the challenge he represents to all of those in power regardless of what color they are.

The righteous indignation of a Martin Luther King, Jr. becomes a moment of political calculation. And that makes my blood boil. Why? Because Martin Luther King, Jr. died…he died…for the three crimes against humanity that he was wrestling with. Jim Crow, traumatizing, terrorizing, stigmatizing Black people. Lynching, not just ‘segregation’ as the press likes to talk about.

Second: Carpet bombing in Vietnam killing innocent people, especially innocent children, those are war crimes that Martin Luther King , Jr. was willing to die for. And thirdly, was poverty of all colors, he said it is a crime against humanity for the richest nation in the world to have so many of it’s precious children of all colors living in poverty and especially on the chocolate side of the nation, . . .

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The People Should Lead: The Meaning of the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Wall St. protest sign saying "We are the 99%" © Scott Beck

The other day someone working for the mainstream media (MSM) seemed to be undecided about how exactly they should disparage a burgeoning movement. First the hypertext link on MSNBC’s website read, “Protesters want to tame Wall Street’s wild ways, but they’re a little wild themselves.” Later in the day it read, “Wall Street protesters spread murky message.” In both cases, clicking on the link would reveal the title of the article, “Familiar refrain: Wall Street protest lacks leaders, clear message,” with the opening lines, “It’s messy. It’s disorganized. At times, the message is all but incoherent.” With the accompanying photos focusing on the disheveled belongings of the protesters scattered about their home base, Liberty Park, the theme was that the seeming lack of organization and consensus of the “Wall Street Protesters” was analogous to the dysfunctional state of American political discourse. Being unsympathetic, skeptical, or even cynical, reporters do find what they’re looking for. Yet such a jaundiced look at the protests, as is typical of much of the media’s coverage, misses something strikingly obvious: what has largely faded in the rest of the country is still alive in Liberty Park– hope and change.

Last week, a young couple from Virginia Beach paid a visit to the park with their two children, one about five or six years old, the other not older than three. They met a young man who was writing a message on a cardboard to protest corporate malfeasance. The couple asked him to explain to their eldest daughter what it was he was protesting about. The young man smiled, and looked at the girl, who shyly averted his glance.  “So basically, a few people have a lot of power, and they’re using that power to take advantage of everybody else.” At that point, the girl began to give the young man her undivided attention.  “You know, it’s like a bully, we’ve all had plenty of bullies in our lives, and they think of different ways to better their position. And what we have is just that, on a larger . . .

Read more: The People Should Lead: The Meaning of the Occupy Wall Street Movement