Thursday, November 10, 2011

American Fall

Every year I make sure to travel upstate and photo-document the autumnal changes to the scenery. In taking the long view of my history, and a quick tour through my external hard drive, I have gigabytes of space dedicated to pictures of trees from prior years. The shot above is from the Katonah Reservoir, a town in upper Westchester county where I used to teach at a private school early in my career as an educator. The picturesque clouds reflected in mirror-smooth water are like something out of a fantasy, and it's part of why I do this. Back when I still had my motorcycle, the ride was very nearly religious - crisp New York air, smells of earth, and leaves, and the bike. There's a really funny story about how on Sunday afternoon ride came to a sudden halt due to a family of wild turkeys quite literally, crossing the road. It's a great motivation for me to get back to a different financial paradigm. But late-year nostalgic musings are not the reason for the title, however it may be tangentially related.

Insofar as this blog is frequently a study of topics related to Public Administration, I will follow a suggestion put forth by the Rachel Maddow show that the reliable theme to use for parsing the national conversation is the Occupy Everything movement. I have spent a considerable amount of time following it, and even been on site, interviewing participants, following the action for my news column. But of late, Michael Moore - despite emphatically refusing any responsibility for leadership of the movement - has become something of a celebrated representative for media outlets far and wide. Whether this is good or bad is still subject to speculation and your own preferences. However, one thing did come up as Moore visited even greater numbers of demonstrations and talk shows along the way: he decided his was an expert voice for the revolution, and even decided that he had the proper ideas for parenting a living, breathing, global political imbroglio successfully towards adulthood. Where this falls apart is in the direct purpose for formation of the Occupation to begin with yeah these many long months ago. Initially, Occupy Wall Street was a movement that included all viewpoints, all idealogical convictions, all regions of the nation. It was also definitively leaderless.

Moore's positioning of himself in the interview spots on the massive slew of talk shows in which he appears fails the movement on both counts: in being a recognizable, frequently seen celebrity in relation to this movement, he drives directly against his own messaging to the movement, which has regularly been 'do not allow yourselves to be coopted by any political party.' Moore's extreme leftist leanings, and his almost ubiquitous appearance at as many OWS rallies as humanly possible alongside his television appearances creates the risk of his face being quickly associated with leadership of the movement. Secondly, this past week he made an egregious error: for some unknown reason, and in accordance with the demands of mainstream media outlets (the New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN among them,) have all habitually called for the dedicated list of demands to which the Occupation adheres as reasoning for their continued unrest. This is fallacious in the extreme. Part of the genius of the Occupy movement was the fact that no such list existed, and that the occupiers existed as a repository for the frustrations and discontent of the American people towards a non-functional political class, and a well fleeced elite playing the stock market as if it were the nickel ante table somewhere in a forgotten corner of Las Vegas where the edges of neon lights no longer reach. But the crucial piece was that no set list of demands existed for the simple reason that the second a list of demands exists, the moment a central core document listing the movement's ideals crystallizes, an opposition can be created, and in the same moment begins the chilling denouement of a once powerful and growing, impassioned drive for social change.

So, how does this become resolved? While Moore's appearances, and celebrity do in fact draw greater attention to the movement, organizers would do well to caution him to not be so visible in terms of talk shows, interviews, or the like lest the media establishment erroneously begin to equate his characteristic Detroit hat and fair figure with representing the movement itself. Also, they should remain adamantly devoid of a central core set of demands upon which politicos, the pundit-tree, and legions of naysayers could glom on and declare "these are un-American." Lastly, and this is perhaps the most crucial piece, the direct action portion of the movement - that which facilitated Bank Transfer Day, which is organizing around voting and the campaign season, - must continue with their plans and endeavor to create many more direct actions. The exact extent of the power of the people has yet to be proved, thought recently, in direct correlation to this movement, ever greater numbers of citizens are awakening to the idea that the governments and corporations exist to serve us, not the other way around.

Whatever dreams may come, this is certain to be quite an adventurous time. A time for us to break free of feeling like just another brick in the wall.