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 . . .

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