The smell of a deadline.
I’m not sure if was born this way, of if I’ve been trained to develop a Pavlovian adrenaline rush when they’re dangled in front of my face, but there’s nothing like a deadline to get me focused. My little brain wants to stray, all day, but it just can’t. Not for long, and not as often as usual. It’s just do, do, do, do, do, do, stop. And all of a sudden I just did something to be proud of. Or, like today, 3 things to be proud of. The whole week will be like this. I’m having fantasies of being so productive for the rest of my life. If only.
Starting an international art magazine…
Is a very Amerigerian thing to do, I’d say.
Even Though I’m Not Sure Protest Works
(Some thoughts re-posted from another blog I run.)
I can’t help but wonder, what other spaces should be occupied right now? Wall Street is a good spot if your protest has mainly to do with corporate aspects of distribution of wealth in your country. Because occupation is always an act of privilege and will, Occupy Wall Street is a complex movement. It is at once a visual reminder of the ways in which the will and privileges of high finance occupy our shared and private spaces daily, and also a reminder of how will and privilege manifest at the grassroots.
That said, I’m fascinated by how hundreds of bodies gathered together in the first days of the protest had the effect of giving a physical shape to the “Wall Street” whose fortunes and concerns are so often compared to those of “Main Street.” I cannot count how many times I’ve heard (over the past couple of years especially) some brief news item about how “Main Street” is in some form of distress, while “Wall Street” was optimistic about some announcement of a buyout speculation, a new CEO, or good news about “futures.” It’s true: something needs to be done.
Yet to be honest, the OWS actions popping up all over the country* haven’t led me to dwell much more than usual on the wrongs of economic power and policy in America. Having known since middle school that corporate personhood in America is older than cars with engines, last year’s outrage over corporations being considered “persons” surprised me. Even as a kid I sensed something was amiss, and the ensuing years haven’t presented much evidence to the contrary. So today I’m much more interested in how OWS, now almost a month old, is giving a physicality to economics. Sitting on Wall Street or anywhere else – getting maced, cuffed, hugged, fed, photographed, and baby-sat by police – gives what happens there a sense of mass. If you’ve ever actually been there, you know that the energy and fervor that comes with moving massive amounts of money around isn’t exactly palpable on a Wall Street sidewalk on an average day. I was once wandering around New York and was surprised to see a street sign alerting me that I was on
the Wall Street. Having already noted the increased number of dark suits in the area, I looked around again, glanced back up at the sign, and continued walking. Now you have to wonder, “if all these people are out HERE, then who’s in THERE?”
That’s valuable, but I’m afraid that might be the limit. I have reservations about how mass protest works in America today. It is good for shoring up the human spirit, for turning commiseration into a festivity, and for letting people know they are not alone in their discontent. The theater of it can be powerful. To me, however, protest is a little seed with just enough energy to push down into the soil and up toward the sun, and the rest of the power must come – continually – from other sources. My own personal experience of protesting the Iraq war in crowd of hundreds of thousands over Martin Luther King weekend in Washington DC followed by millions more worldwide, and then watching as the war unfolded anyway, snuffed out the flame of promise that had kept me warm on that freezing January day. And just last week, seeing more vigils and hearing more lamentations over the death of Steve Jobs than over that of the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, I question the idea that a bunch of people showing up means what we’re often led to believe it means.
That is not to say that massive grassroots action is ineffective. It’s just to say that to get the attention of an entity supposedly driven by profits alone, a more truly effective move would be to cut those profits with a boycott, not sit outside where business continues as usual.
It would be silly to deny how powerful OWS has been in many places, for many people, and how protesters just being there leads directly to the consideration of how Wall Street occupies other spaces in our society. But here’s something that might be more important: deserted spaces. I’ve felt Detroit, for instance, as a deserted space on our shared landscape ever since I met a couple in Michigan whose entire family had been employed in a factory that made the little plastic buttons you push to lock and unlock your car door; now they were itinerant carnival workers who had quit after working without pay for two months. That was BEFORE the recession. I thought of them and experienced genuine optimism over the decision to “occupy” Detroit with the 2010 World Social Forum. Other groups have made it a point to convene and spend their money in New Orleans for similar reasons. So what other spaces should be occupied right now? Where are the deserted places that the presence of passionate people could animate, perhaps with even greater impact than sitting outside the doorsteps of the power brokers while they step over people on their way to clock in and continue to exercise that power? How about occupying that mom and pop store that’s been missing your dollar? How about occupying that PTA meeting, or the classroom for that matter? How about occupying that park around the way where you know people are being exploited every night? Gathering is great, but systemic problems require systemic actions. It’s still too early to judge OWS, but I guess I’m just really hoping this thing moves from Wall Street back to Main Street. Soon.
*Shout out to the first small, wary group in downtown Greenville, South Carolina Saturday.
Wanna join my club?
Today, I’m officially launching WorldSalon. There. I just did it. What is it?
"World Salon aims to build a global community of people rooted in their particular places, and fascinated with everywhere else. The mission is to increase knowledge and understanding of the world’s people’s and places, face-to-face, one story at a time. Peace and Sustainability are the big goals, chit-chat, dinners, artsy-fartsiness are the small steps."
That’s what I’ve got so far. For now, it’ll mean 1) a meet-up group in the Upstate South Carolina area where people get together to explore the many cultures in this area and beyond and 2) great stuff to read and see at http://worldsalon.tumblr.com/ and examiner.com and http://www.examiner.com/ethnic-community-in-greenville/6-ethnic-grocery-stores-greenville.
Baby steps, people. Baby steps. But I’m excited.
The difference between good music and bad music is truth. How honest is the work? I think this goes for any artistic expression: visual, performance, whatever. And sometimes truth, or honesty, makes art out of unexpected statements or circumstances. This is what I mean:
New documentary on punk rock in Southern Africa, from the 1970s to today. Of course the music is never just about the music, so it’s a social history as well. Can’t wait to check this one out. Check out the website, punkinafrica.co.za, or catch them on facebook.