Sean Hannity calls Occupy Wall Street protesters traitors. A US Marine (in uniform, although perhaps a former marine, not important) standing with the protesters on Wall Street, when asked how he would respond to Hannity says: “I’d tell him to fuck off”. CBC Television interviews Chris Hedges on his view of Occupy Wall Street, and ‘reporter’ Kevin O’Leary asks him if he is a “nut bar”. Hedges tells CBC at the end of the interview that he won’t be interviewed by them again. Thus is the public discourse on matters political framed; few sane people wish to participate, and only the bravest, stupidest, or those being paid in one way or another do so. Meanwhile, the world faces economic volatility – you have to love that phrase – massive uncertainties about what climate change will bring to pass, horrific images from around the globe of bloodshed and starvation, fears about energy dependency and peak oil, and an ever increasing population of people feeling totally demoralized.
I heard that word ‘demoralized’ used as a descriptive of how the western world – or the 99%, if you like – is feeling, and it struck a deep chord in me. My feelings of inchoate helplessness have certainly grown in recent months, and deeply thoughtful conversations with friends, and acquaintances, and anybody who cares to converse in that fashion revealed this common thread. Not despairing, not depressed or filled with rage. People simply struck dumb by the brute ugliness of what leaders, opinion makers, and the media think it worthwhile to speak about while we in the millions are homeless, jobless, and otherwise deeply suffering.
I believe if there is any one thing that Occupy Wall Street could be said to be about, perhaps it is this refusal to accept walking through life demoralized. If the public conversation continues to be hate-filled sound bites, empty rhetoric, or pithy, pointless tweets, the private conversation has never the less been energized and emancipated. The use of the word emancipated is purposeful: it appears that this movement, or shift [insert your characterization of choice here] has indeed engendered a freedom to talk about how things ought to be.
I have no shortage of opinions on how things ought to be, but that is not the point here. Nor are your opinions, my imaginary friend. No, the point is this: that every meaningful conversation – conversation, debate, consideration of alternative views, sharing of experiences, and questioning of other’s experiences – is movement in the direction of how things ought to be. We forget, maybe, that this has been the time-honoured way of democracy right up to the very recent past. How shall we live? How shall we do business? How shall we govern ourselves? Yes, these are huge questions, and yet we have traditionally answered them as a body of one kind or another, as a group, as a community, a society.
It strikes me that how to fit the movement of Occupy Wall Street into the existing framework of bought media, partisan politics, or community cronyism is a backwards take. The pressing, crucial, larger idea is to engineer these systems to facilitate the conversations. Although ‘wake-up’ has been used as a catchphrase by protesters, it might serve as the appropriate metaphor, because there is no denying that something is stirring up the hearts and minds and spirits of people. I do not think it will be possible to go back to the demoralized world of even a few weeks ago. It bears repeating that democracy is what we wish back: the participation of all citizens in shaping and defining how things ought to be.