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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupying the Middle at the Fringes

As the Occupation movements spread across the U.S. to different cities interesting geographies of protest have emerged. The movements in Dallas, Texas provide a poignant case study. The movements have taken the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas as their symbolic point of attack, but they're late to the party, and something tells me that provisions of Tea will be served for refreshments.

Ron Paulians, Tea Partyers, End the Fed-ers, and A.M. Talk Radio Fans have been rallying against the Fed for years. Now that there is a larger contingent of people protesting the Fed there has been an interesting convergence between the New New Left and the Far Right. The Fed's always possessed  enigmatic affective traces, but now it will be stuck with mutually reinforcing associations from both sides.

The resonance and alliance of right and left provokes a paradoxical moment for protesters on both ends. When you have Rush Limbaugh and Ron Paul leading side-by-side with Cornel West and Slavoj Zizek how can any outcome be predicted? The uncertainty and complexity of the situation is awe inspiring. The proliferation of interpretations, passionate displays of angst, and rationalizations for the status quo and its supplementary resistance has made for quite a potent political cocktail. The question is will the more mild public drink it down or humbly choose to abstain?

Zizek recently spoke to the Occupy Wall St. movement, #OWS, at Liberty Park. He encouraged the group but also offered a few pieces of pointed criticism.
There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember: carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after. When we will have to return to normal life. Will there be any changes then. I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like - oh, we were young, it was beautiful. Remember that our basic message is: We are allowed to think about alternatives. The rule is broken. We do not live in the best possible world. But there is a long road ahead. There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?
He ended with a simple injunction to not just desire but actually want the other world that is possible;
We know that people often desire something but do not really want it. Don’t be afraid to really want what you desire.
He also told the groups that they should not paint the far right and the Tea Partyers as enemies. His basic point was that even if they are stupid, they should be on the left and so the movement should reach out rather than alienate such publics. His speech offered some tactical pieces of advice for the movement as it continues to unfold. He told the group to focus on the systemic totality not on individuals or abstract claims about greed, to reclaim family values and religion as better represented by the left, and to fight for 'the commons' not communism as such.

What are the implications for such a shift in leftist appeals? Can such traditional values be affectively recoded in a surge of emotional appeals and attacks on systemic violence? Or will it take something more? What is the role of media in these new protests? I will try to explore some of these questions more as the movement continues to develop and their strategy manifests itself in relation to more specific value questions rather than just the economy in the abstract.

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