Monday, September 19, 2011

comments on two current events (and one more in the comments section)

This post -- well, part 2 -- feels more like a sketch for something lengthier. But since I'll never end up writing the lengthier piece, the seed will have to suffice.

1.) Today President Obama unveiled his new deficit reduction plan which includes a minimum tax for all households earning more than $1 million a year. The tax is officially called the "Buffet rule" after the popular editorial, Stop Coddling the Super-Rich, that billionaire Warren Buffet wrote for the New York Times in mid-August. The twisted irony here is amusing. Once again, it's only the super-rich whose opinions seem to get any traction!

2.) The Occupation of Wall Street has thus far been underwhelming. Two thousand people (at most) showed up on Saturday, with somewhere between 200-400 people camping out overnight. The event is supposed to (I think) continue on for about two months, so it could easily swell to various sizes throughout or dwindle and fade into nothing after a few days. Time will tell.

But that isn't why I'm writing this.

Reading about the event I came to find out that $2,800 in pizza orders were called in to Liberato's Pizza (NYC) on Sunday. The orders came in from all over the world. (This also happened, I just found out, to a pizza place in Wisconsin back when protestors were occupying the Capitol building.) What's interesting to me about this is the hint it gives about the future of protesting.

I think we can all agree that the effectiveness of the traditional protest model -- getting approved for a permit, advertising, showing up at the appointed time and leaving when the permit has expired -- is minimal, at best. But now, because of the ease with which we're able connect with one another, new ways and models are becoming possible.

I wrote the following in June, 2009 (at the outset of the Iranian uprising): "Not only do we feel part of it, but because of the way technology was utilized, people from all over the world can (to some degree) take part in, and support, revolutions. The implications of this are obviously immense." The form this took in Iran was the sharing of uncensored outside information, as well as people around the world helping Iranians access the Internet. Recently -- as we saw in Wisconsin and Wall Street and presumably many other places as well -- the form this "outside participation" took was simply that which was most practical: the supplying of food. But isn't this seemingly insignificant act another harbinger of what is to come? Does it not suggest that the potential for large scale, sustained, high pressure protests is greater than it has ever been? Protests that can shut down entire cities (or corporations) for months. Protests that have real leverage. Protests that don't cede their power on the dotted line.

Granted, protests that have lasted for months have happened before -- Egypt, recently, and Syria, currently (once they last long enough they're called uprisings and revolutions). In America, however, the prospect of this seems increasingly less likely (the many reasons for this are a subject for another time, though the single largest contributor is probably the fact that Americans don't view themselves as being ruled by a tyrannical elite). But now the young -- who have the unique ability to spend long stretches of time doing as they please, especially during the summer -- and the poor/unemployed -- who obviously lack the means to travel somewhere distant or to stay somewhere overnight if it costs money -- now these two large groups have the potential opportunity to mobilize in unprecedented ways. Instead of a few thousand people having to emerge from a single location, both of these groups can now be freed up to swarm any city in the country with nothing but a bag of clothes in their hand and money for a return trip home in their pocket. And they can stay as long as they're being supported. Granted, this would have to be incredibly well organized -- a Kickstarter of sorts (though it'd have to be live and mutable) -- for protests and revolutions.

It's certainly true that this might be overly idealistic -- apathy might be a barrier too great to be overcome -- but, unlike a decade ago, it's not impossible. And, for me at least, I think it's potentially a very real way to create change without resorting to violence (which is something I'd all but given up on).

The pessimistic way to view the slew of worldwide pizza orders is to see it as evidence of an ideological shift in the way people perceive themselves. Adbusters, who organized the event, promoted the occupation by saying, "On September 17, 20,000 people will swarm into lower Manhattan and occupy Wall Street." The joke that has apparently been circulating on the Internet is that they did show up... on Twitter. As the online and off-line worlds continue to mingle, this kind of "virtual participation" could easily become a way for people to shift the responsibility they feel burdened with from the real to the virtual. And, let's face it, this has probably already happened to some extent. (Isn't it likely that more people would have gone to New York on Saturday had they not been able to "show up" virtually?) The end result of such a mentality might be summed up with the following image: a computer screen sitting in front of the White House displaying a live chat room filled with 1.1 million people texting voraciously. The room is called "End the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan NOW!!!"

* * *

Watching CNN this evening I was surprised to see Wolf Blitzer mention the Wall Street Occupation. Like everything seems to be on the news, it was perpetually "up next," so I sat and sat, and watched and waited, and many hours or days or weeks later (I lost track), the brief coverage of the protest/occupation finally arrived. And what route do you think CNN took to cover it? An interview. Who did they interview? Ray Kelly, New York City's Police Commissioner! I'm not making that up.


Tyler said...

I also saw (on CNN -- for the first time) a segment on the Alberta tar sands, specifically on the protests that have been going on since mid-August. They prefaced the story by mentioning that Robert Redford and Leonardo Dicaprio were involved and that Daryl Hannah had recently been arrested at the protest in Washington D.C. ("Celebrities" often seem to be a major factor in why CNN decides to make a televised story out of something.) The anchor began the segment by saying that the tar sands pipeline (which, if built, will stretch from Canada to Texas) was "a big battle" that "you might not have heard much about." (It's only been going on for over a month!) Anyway, CNN's law-of-celebrity worship surely contributed to them selecting -- for the sake of some glitz -- Daryl Hannah as the interviewee. Naturally she was there to represent those opposed to the pipeline. The other side of the discussion was reserved for a spokesman for TransCanada Corporation. Interestingly, here are the questions the anchor asked Hannah (these aren't exact but they're close):

"Give me three reasons why this pipe-line should not be built."

"Let me jump in on your point about... You mentioned the bitumen, and I know Robert Redford recently wrote an editorial about it. [...] But if you talk to TransCanada, they maintain that it's not the most corrosive oil in the world. They've been doing this for decades, transporting it by pipeline... They say, 'why would we spend all this money for something that wouldn't work?'"

"The issue [of the pipeline being built or not built] will be decided by the end of the year. Why protest so late? Why really speak up now, why not before?"

Then, after saying "I think a lot of Americans looking at you probably agree," the anchor starts talking about jobs and goes on to quote the oil industry: "'They say this will 'immediately put 20,000 Americans to work, with 118,000 more spin off jobs. And it will inject 5 billion into the US economy...' If you tell a family of four that the environment is more important than a father or mother going back to work... How do you explain that?"

"Thank you very much. That is certainly one side of it."

Tyler said...

Here are the first three questions she asked the TransCanda spokesman (only three -- it might end there, I don't remember -- because the YouTube video I watched as a recap ended prematurely):

"First let's address the jobs issue. The numbers in the Houston Chronicle from your company said [building this pipeline] will immediately put 20,000 Americans to work. Where did you get those numbers, and, can you be more precise? What kinds of jobs are we talking about here?"

"One of [Daryl's] concerns... She mentioned 12 spills in 12 months... I know I could find that there was a spill in May -- a 500 barrel spill. Can you just clear up some of those numbers? And also, to take it a step further, just assure the people -- if and when this pipe-line is built -- assure these people that it won't affect their aquifers, their water supply."

It's clear which side the supposedly objective CNN anchor was on.

Now, Daryl Hannah did fine, but the fact that she was chosen to give one side of the story -- a story that has gotten very little mainstream coverage -- is ridiculous. It would have made much more sense for them to have had NASA's leading climate scientist James Hansen (who also got arrested at the protest) as their guest. His opinion on the tar sands trumps all arguments about job creation: "The principal requirement [for a stable climate] is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground. If the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.