Midnight thoughts on Occupy

It’s almost midnight here, but I’ve been watching what’s going on in America this week, and I really need to write about it.

I’ve been following Occupy Wall Street for most of its existence. I presented a short speech about it in Japanese class a week or two after it began, and I’ve been keeping my eyes on the news about it through the social media site Reddit since then. I’ve watched as it’s grown from a small protest in New York to a national, then global movement. And while I would almost certainly be following and thinking similar things while in America, from Japan, I feel like I can see things particularly clearly.

The long and short of it is that America is fucked up.

I could say “messed up”, or maybe “in trouble”, but that’s not really the feeling I want. This isn’t about being politically correct and not offending. America is fucked up.

Last spring, during the uprisings in the Arab states, I was surprised to learn that Al-Jazeera was covering the Wisconsin protests in the same manner as they were covering the Arab Spring. To realize that people in the rest of the world saw the American situation not in terms of your everyday liberal-vs.-conservative political disagreement, but as a case of oppressor vs. oppressed, of a corrupt government vs. its beleaguered citizens was a massive shock.

I’m getting that right now, only about ten times as much.

America is fucked up. This is what Occupy is protesting, and it’s what the protests are demonstrating. For instance, it’s becoming disgustingly clear how much power corporations have. Corporations are lobbying Congress to institute measures that would allow the government or private entities to, to quote the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “to redirect or dump users’ attempts to reach certain websites’ URLs”–those websites being websites suspected of providing copyrighted content. What’s more, it would pressure service providers to increase surveillance of their users’ activities.

This bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is yet another initiative by corporations to restrict the internet. If passed, it would set an unbelievably dangerous precedent–that the previously free flow of information on the internet could be restricted by sufficiently powerful corporate or governmental agencies.

This would gut the internet. The strength of the internet has always been that it’s free (as in speech, not as in beer). Whether you’re visiting Facebook, Flickr, or Google; CNN, MSNBC, or FOX, the information sent to and from your computer travels at the same speed through the internet. Corporations don’t control it. There aren’t varying service levels that determine which sites you can visit. It is a free domain, where independent publishing and creativity can flourish, and allowing special interests to infringe upon that is a step toward destroying the principles that make the internet such a unique medium. As a friend put it, the internet is not “a decided medium”. This could change that.

Of course, piracy is a problem. But it’s a problem that the RIAA and MPAA’s current tactics will not solve. Instituting the SOPA could be, if I’m feeling generous, one of the most perilously short-sighted decisions ever. If I’m feeling more cynical, it would be an indicative blow against Americans’ civil liberties.

And Congress wants to pass this.

Or the fact that the TSA, no longer content with treating all airline passengers as potential terrorists and subjecting them to an ever-escalating level of opaque security theater, is extending operations to include highway checkpoints through its VIPR program. You’d think that they must have some suspicion of increased terrorist activity to justify this with, but no, as officials themselves admit, the VIPR operation that began in Tennessee a week ago “isn’t in response to any particular threat“. Instead, they’re hoping to provide a visible presence and deterrence to terrorism. And sure, maybe you could argue that the presence will stop the 0.00001% of people on American highways who are considering terrorism, but for every other American, this police presence isn’t doing anything but intimidating and controlling.

It’s bad enough to see this happening. But you know what’s worse? Watching America accept it.

Americans are fighting so damn hard for their own subjugation. How many people are taking the apathetic stance against Occupy?”They’re a public nuisance.” “I was late to work because of them.” “They’re too radical.” How many times have you heard the excuse, “Well, that’s just politics for you?” We have normalized apathy. For some reason, it’s accepted that there’s not a lick we can do about political issues. Americans accept that their civil responsibility is to vote, but beyond that, there’s not much they can do. We accept as immutable truth that politicians will be corrupt, and while we vaguely hope for better days, we don’t do a goddamn thing about it, because politics is too complicated and messy and there are too many issues and it won’t change anything, and on and on and on… Rather than fight–or even acknowledge–the system that is steadily (or increasingly) driving toward oligarchy at the expense of everyday Americans, we accept it and excuse it.

This is worse than the corruption (although, arguably, it’s actually due to it thanks to corporate mass media). It’s bad enough to watch this shit happening, but to watch Americans either oblivious to the fucked-up status quo or actively supporting it is the most sickening part of it all.

That’s what Occupy is protesting. In the responses to Occupy, there’s more that can be seen, and it’s terrifying me equally.

For instance, the fact that despite a global presence, mass media coverage of Occupy has been largely negative, if even existent. When people were protesting in the ’60s, there was media coverage everywhere. Journalists investigated and reported. The civil rights movement caught national attention. Occupy has been relatively quiet in the news, and when it has shown up, stories have been spun against the protesters. Protesters are “othered” as violent revolutionaries, anarchist hippies, or out-of-touch youth. Despite a fairly unified anti-corporatism message, the movement continues to be portrayed as aimless and hopeless. It seems as though such a large, populist movement as Occupy would be gaining a ton of positive press.

When you remember that the media is controlled by the same type of giant corporations that Occupy is protesting, however, it makes grim sense.

Or there’s the increasingly draconian measures being undertaken by police officers (especially in Oakland and New York)–such as beating protesters, attempting to enforce a press blackout, refusing to recognize press badges, and using pepper spray, tear gas, and LRAD sound cannons. Nevermind the apparent us-versus-them mentality that these police officers seem to have adopted, viewing the protesters as lazy hippies or criminals who deserve all the pain that’s coming to them. These police officers are so far detached from morality that they can do these things and not recoil in horror. (Then, of course, people support them, as if any sort of protester exercising his or her free speech automatically deserves to be injured or incapacitated.) When I watch these videos, I can’t help but wonder whose interests the police are serving.

Or the lack of word from the White House–the same White House that promised to stand up for the right to free speech and free assembly no matter where in the world it was challenged.

I see these and I despair. I won’t be home for another 5 months, and that’s a lot of time. I don’t want to be cynical, but I’m severely concerned that the America I return to will be three or four steps closer to a full realization of the inverted totalitarianism idea than it was when I left.

I can’t say with any honesty that I want to live in that country.

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1 Comment

  1. Joe

    Spencer, this is a blog which should copied to the White House. It is terrific, and right to the point. Thanks for writing it, keep it up. You are the future.

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