Saturday, November 26, 2011

Changing the Narrative of Protest: How Creative Protest and Occupy Wall Street Have Garnered New Media Attention (and Why That's Only Part of the Point)

Allison Kilkenny's article, "Occupy Wall Street and the Importance of Creative Protest" (The Nation Blog) explores the ways in which the creativity of the movement has garnered more media coverage partly because their protest has been novel in ways that excite the novelty-addicted mass media. 

Yet part of the anarchism of the movement (and some of its anarchy) is related to its attempt to create something beyond hailing the Other, of performing dissent for the news media.  By making the movement about making the movement, OWS has shifted the eros inward, which is partly why the media (and we) are so fascinated--and frustrated--by the way in which OWS partisans refuse to play to the rules of traditional dissent. 

The article, to my mind, does not push far enough in this direction, though its valorizing the creativity of the movement is welcome and necessary.  She's also embedded video of some of the most effective moments of the OWS--in particular, the silent protest at UC Davis.  This from Kilkenny:

Perhaps the single biggest factor that helped lead to the Occupy movement’s success in capturing the media and public’s attention has been its creativity. Novel protest strategies have served as OWS’s foundation since its first days. The very idea of occupying, and sleeping in, a park twenty-four hours a day was new and exciting.

Up until Occupy, most protests had become exercises in futility. Protesters would show up with their sad, limp carboard signs, march around for a little while—maybe press would show up, but most likely not—and then everyone would go home. Hardly effective stuff.

Even when the protests were massive, say during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, media had learned to ignore protests as being the hallmark of a bygone era of granola-munching hippies. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the media helped hand protesters loss after loss, perhaps recognizing the fact that protest waged within the perimeters constructed by city officials is completely ineffective.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Meets U.S. Militarism

The recent clashes between police and occupiers have a kind of traumatic repetition effect for anyone who's lived through past uprisings (the 1999 Battle in Seattle, or further back to the late-1960s protests against Vietnam), and of course it worries me that the clashes become the thing, rather than the attempt at democratic social change.  For a change of pace, here's a visual demonstration The War Resisters League's recent action, making connections between the Occupy Wall Street movement and American militarism and empire.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day, But I Ain't a Marching Anymore

Outside, hail, hail turning to snow, and near the chapel, the names of fallen soldiers during the War on Terror are spoken into a microphone, one by one, all day long. 

In the silence between the names, perhaps, the unnamed dead. 

Always the young to fall.  What I find haunting about Phil Ochs' song is the traumatic repetition of the chorus; it's as if, despite all resistance, we find ourselves, inexorably, marching again and again.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Wayne Miller's new book, The City, Our City, is at once a meditation on The City itself as a human production, a mythic fable of City, and a secret autobiography of a denizen of certain cities; living in a city becomes an extension of ourselves, the way the cover image does, a picture ostensibly of an urban bedroom, when turned upside-down, becomes a massive city block.  One of my favorite poems from the collection is "A Treatise on Power (In 32 Strokes)" for its taut epigrammatic explorations of power, how it lights and blinds, how it leads and lures us.


(1) Even a leaf presses its weight against the table.


(2) In fog, the brighter the lights, the worse the driver’s blinded.


(3) How traffic makes way for the flashing ambulance,

(4) then jostles to ride the wake of its passage.


(5) How the dead keep writing us from down there . . .


(6) And they who lay down in the fields
to be shot—who’s cushioned by their ghosts? Now


(7) the fan in the window is turned by the wind;

(8) now it makes the wind.


(9) Let’s burn the leaders in effigy;
let’s beg for their return.

(From what space is the wind so endlessly hollowed?)


(10) Tonight, the street’s voice is

-----------------[glass breaking].

(11) Tonight, death will empty somebody’s face.


(12) In the abandoned government building,
papers covered the floor like spent lottery tickets.


(13) How quickly we erase ourselves—

(14) in favor of abstractions.


(15) And yet, people can become so cramped
pressed up inside their words—.

(16) (And when they recede into their silences, sometimes
the words remain.)


(17) Observe you father
bend to kiss the wealth on a bishop’s finger.


(18) Beyond the fence, a police helicopter
pinned to the ground by its spotlight—

(19) and by whomever the spotlight is trained upon.


(20) We find we’re not who we said we were.

(21) We ask: is this always the case?


(22) It’s impossible to enter a lake without chaosing the surface,

(23) and thus, how close yellowcake comes to being
the most beautiful word in the English language.


(24) Note how a young man looks
-------------------------------------at a gorgeous nun,


(25) watch as a finely dressed woman gets her luggage
stuck in a revolving door.

(26) There’s no better time for the bellhops
to take their smoke break.


(27) Without power, we’d be stuck in this elevator.

(28) Without power, the world’s submarines would sink silently
to the abyssal plain.


(29) Let’s remember:

(30) every direction meets in the compass rose of a body.


(31) So listen to how the body cries out!—


(32) how the wind dashes in to steal the echo.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Sonny's Lettah (Anti-sus poem)" by Linton Kwesi Johnson

One of the "33 Revolutions" featured in the encyclopedic 33 Revolutions Per Minute:  A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day (2011) by Dorian Lynskey.  Although I know most of the songs featured by Lynskey, this reggae-inflected poem by Linton Kwesi Johnson, "Sonny's Lettah (Anti-sus poem)" was a new one; it was written in protest of the so-called Sus law, which allowed police to detain people suspected (hence, the "sus") of having "intent to commit an arrestable offence," in England.  The story of Sonny is a condensation of many experiences gathered by Johnson into this epistolary song, about a man who fights back, to defend a friend detained and beaten by police.  In our post-9/11, Occupy Wall Street moment, we are thrust back into the past, where it seems yet again that citizens are suspected of guilt by color or creed or association.

Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-sus poem) by Linton Kwesi Johnson

Brixton Prison
Jeb Avenue
London, South West 2

Dear Ma Maa,

Good Day
I hope that when these few lines reach you
they may find you in the best of health
Ma Maa I really don’ know how to tell yu dis
’cause, I did meck a solemn promise
to teck care a likkle Jim and try
mi best fi look out fi ‘im
ma Maa a really did try mi best
but none de less
mi sorry fi tell yu sey
poor likkle Jim get aress’
it was de middle a de rush ‘our
when everybody jus’ a hustle an a bustle
fi go ‘ome fi dem evenin’ shower

Me and Jim stand up waiting pon a bus
not causing no fuss
when all on a sudden a police man
pull up
out jump 3 police man
De ‘ole a dem carrying baton

Dem walk up to me and Jim
one a dem ‘ole on to Jim
sey ‘im teckin ‘im in
Jim tell him fi leggo a ‘im
fa ‘im no do nuttin
an ‘im naw tief, not even a button
Jim start to riggle
De police start to giggle

Ma Maa, meck a tell yu weh dem do to Jim
Ma Maa , meck a tell yu we dem do to him
Dem tump ‘im in ‘im belly
an’ it turn to jelly
Dem lick ‘im pon ‘im back
an ‘im rib get pop
Dem lick ‘im pon ‘im head
but it tuff like lead
Dem kick ‘im in ‘im seed
an it started to bleed

Ma Maa I just couldn’t just stan’ up
deh a no do nutten

So mi juck one ina ‘im eye
an ‘im started to cry
Mi tump one in ‘im mout
an ‘im started to shout
Mi kick one pon ‘im shin
an ‘im started to spin
Mi tump ‘im pon ‘im chin
an ‘im drop pon a bin
an crash an dead

Ma Maa more police man come down
an beat me to de ground

Dem charge Jim fi sus
Dem charge mi fi murder

Ma Ma! Don’t fret
don’t get depress an down ‘earted
be of good courage
Till I hear from yu
I remain your son


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thinking of the Occupy Wall Street Demonstrations, Here's "At the Demonstration"

At the Demonstration

Back when I used to march
in the noon of the green world,

I sang like a crow.
The cacophony of insistence

burnt like lightening.
Now ash lowers the sky

and I gasp through slits in my ribs.
Injustice, are you listening?

Light rises from my round mouth
and my heart jerks in my hand.

Greed hangs among clouds
as we stand here together,

palms up. Whatever sifts down
is our only food.

-Penelope Scambly Schott
Used by permission.

Penelope Scambly Schott is the author of eight collections of poetry, including a verse biography of Protestant dissenter Anne Hutchinson and, most recently, Crow Mercies (2010), available from CALYX Books.

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