November 2011 — Occupy Wall Street holds national attention. The Left is at its most visible in decades. Thousands march in New York. There’s a general strike in Oakland. The New York Review of Books publishes a reasonable young liberal with a lust for properly punctuated policy memos.
They don’t realize we are in the last throes of the era of Ezra Klein.
There’s room for a polemic here and, scribbled on the back of a month-old Politico, I actually have the outline of one next to me. But it feels absurd to denounce the self-evidently hilarious state of criticism. Who now is turning to the decaying organs of the liberal-left to understand unfolding events?
Jacobin has managed to find writers outside the Washington Post’s op-ed circuit. And here’s the result, an outstanding issue – largely the product of precariously employed twentysomethings. Most of whom have never even seen a print copy of the New York Review of Books. The scene a few blocks away from that esteemed office offers inspiration enough — students and workers actively engaged in class struggle. Well, the majority of the protesters wouldn’t immediately embrace a term like “class struggle.” It strikes an arcane note, at which those weary of the radical left’s sectarianism and general insanity instinctively recoil. Yet this is language that needs to be reclaimed and confidently articulated. It’s political language that might have seemed out of place during decades of dormancy, but that will be increasingly relevant in the period to come.
The chasm between reality and rhetoric is impossible to ignore. Introducing a profile of web traffic and survey data taken from occupywallst.org by CUNY’s Héctor R. Cordero-Guzmán, the site’s operators proclaimed:
Among the most telling of his findings is that 70.3% of respondents identified as politically independent.
Dr. Cordero-Guzmán’s findings strongly reinforce what we’ve known all along: Occupy Wall Street is a post-political movement representing something far greater than failed party politics. We are a movement of people empowerment, a collective realization that we ourselves have the power to create change from the bottom-up, because we don’t need Wall Street and we don’t need politicians.
A “post-political movement” of people who recognize they have the power to create change? It’s an obvious contradiction. If one side is pushing austerity and the other is countering with calls for income redistribution and public goods, a high-stakes class struggle is being waged. Far from post-political, this is a reassertion of democratic politics at its purest.
Overcoming the conflation of Democrat-Republican partisanship with real politics requires clarifying what’s implicit in the movement: it’s class warfare, us versus them. The forces pushing austerity know what kind of fight they’re waging; it behooves our side to understand the same. This doesn’t mean we need sectarian sloganeering. The beauty of the “we are the 99%” proclamation is that it not only creates a polarization, it does so in a way that appeals to the vast majority. Inclusive rhetoric in defense of popular public goods does the same. And all that’s a return to the political. We’re just waiting for the language to catch up with this fact.
And it soon will. Movements can get politicized. No broad movement emerges out of an apolitical era and latches immediately onto some sort of unified and comprehensive critique. And new politics will emerge, in part, from the cauldron of occupation.
But real debates, the clash of ideas, beyond just rosy, impressionistic reports from the front, are required now more than ever. Our October roundtable on OWS political strategy caught some glib national attention (one of the reasons I was hanging onto that copy of Politico) after freelancer Natasha Lennard was dropped from the New York Times for committing the unforgivable sin of talking about a left-wing movement on a panel hosted by a left-wing magazine.
The fatwa hurled at us by Andrew, Rush, and Glenn overshadowed what was actually going on that night. We were having a political debate on pertinent topics – from anarchism and the state to demands and the role of unions – that needed to happen. There was even talk of Foucauldian sexual subjectivities that “real America” won’t be ready for until at least 2014. At any rate, the room was packed.
We hope to foster this discussion. After all, with state repression ramping up and encampment after encampment dismantled by police, many are asking, “What’s next?” I’m not exactly sure. All I know is that it won’t have shit to do with Ezra Klein.
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