Illustration: © Erika Rothenberg 911 World Domination (detail)
WHO COULD HAVE ENVISIONED Occupy Wall Street and its sudden wildflower-like profusion in cities large and small?
John Carpenter could have, and did. Almost a quarter of a century ago (1988), the master of date-night terror (Halloween, The Thing), wrote and directed They Live, depicting the Age of Reagan as a catastrophic alien invasion. In one of the film's brilliant early scenes, a huge third-world shantytown is reflected across the Hollywood Freeway in the sinister mirror-glass of Bunker Hill's corporate skyscrapers.
They Live remains Carpenter's subversive tour de force. Few who've seen it could forget his portrayal of billionaire bankers and evil mediacrats and their zombie-distant rule over a pulverized American working class living in tents on a rubble-strewn hillside and begging for jobs. From this negative equality of homelessness and despair, and thanks to the magic dark glasses found by the enigmatic Nada (played by "Rowdy" Roddy Piper), the proletariat finally achieves interracial unity, sees through the subliminal deceptions of capitalism, and gets angry.
Yes, I know, I'm reading ahead. The Occupy the World movement is still looking for its magic glasses (program, demands, strategy, and so on) and its anger remains on Gandhian low heat. But, as Carpenter foresaw, force enough Americans out of their homes and/or careers (or at least torment tens of millions with the possibility) and something new and huge will begin to slouch towards Goldman Sachs. And unlike the "Tea Party," so far it has no puppet strings.
In 1965, when I was just eighteen and on the national staff of Students for a Democratic Society, I planned a sit-in at the Chase Manhattan Bank, for its key role in financing South Africa after the massacre of peaceful demonstrators, for being "a partner in Apartheid." It was the first protest on Wall Street in a generation and 41 people were hauled away by the NYPD.
One of the most important facts about the current uprising is simply that it has occupied the street and created an existential identification with the homeless. (Though, frankly, my generation, trained in the civil rights movement, would have thought first of sitting inside the buildings and waiting for the police to drag and club us out the door; today, the cops prefer pepper spray and "pain compliance techniques.") I think taking over the skyscrapers is a wonderful idea, but for a later stage in the struggle. The genius of Occupy Wall Street, for now, is that it has temporarily liberated some of the most expensive real estate in the world and turned a privatized square into a magnetic public space and catalyst for protest.
Our sit-in 46 years ago was a guerrilla raid; this is Wall Street under siege by the Lilliputians. It's also the triumph of the supposedly archaic principle of face-to-face, dialogic organizing. Social media ...read more