This weekend, Marina Sitrin of the Occupy Legal Working Group appeared on
MSNBC's "Up with Chris Hayes." Hayes introduced Sitrin as someone
with a "radical perspective outside" the world of Washington politics. True
to her billing, Sitrin offered a vision so far outside the
mainstream of American politics that even left-wing Rep. Jerrold Nadler
pushed back on it:
Marina Sitrin: People who've been involved
in the Occupy movements around the US, the movement's around the world but
there's a similarity, but we're talking about tens of thousands, hundreds of
thousands of people who are in a different conversation, which is not
hostile, it's just a different conversation all together which is the
government is not meeting people's needs it's not going to meet people's
needs, is kind of the expectation I think of a lot of people, so we need to
come together and figure something else out entirely. So it's a different
conversation about kind of what the government even can do. I think there's
a total rejection of the kind of politics that come from representation.
People believing that actually we're not represented.
Lack of representation was one of the major grievances that led to the
Revolutionary War. Sitrin seems to be suggesting the Occupy movement sees us
at a similar point in history. Even Rep. Jerrold Nadler (0% ACU, 99% AFL-CIO
rating) felt forced to push back:
Rep. Nadler: Well, it's interesting if
people reject the concept of representation but there is no other concept
unless your back to the small Greek city-state you have to have a
representative government. Hopefully it's a democratic government with a
small 'd' because otherwise what have you got? So you have to work through
representative government and the question is how do you make representative
government work? How do you eliminate or reduce the power of money which is
destroying our democratic system? Those are the relevant questions. You
can't just reject democratic government because there's no alternative.
Sitrin: I actually think we need to open the
conversation about what democracy means. And I think that's what the Occupy
movements in the US, the movements in Greece and Spain and all over the
world have been doing. If we have no say in our lives, we regular people,
around economics, war, social questions--all questions, economic, social,
political, then what kind of democracy...it's a question?
In case it wasn't clear enough that Sitrin sees Occupy as a revolutionary
force that seeks to replace our system with something quite different, she
had this to say
about the kickoff of tomorrow's May Day general strike:
Hayes: Just tell me a little bit about how
the movement is envisioning it.
Sitrin: I'm gonna, yeah, I will talk about how the
movement's envisioning it and to help give a sense of both kind of Occupy
May Day and the concept of general strike I want use actually
there's this phrase by Walter Benjamin who is this thinker and
decades he wrote--actually paraphrasing something by Karl Marx--
about, um, you think about revolution as being this locomotive in history
and Benjamin said maybe we need to rethink that and maybe actually we need
to think of revolution as this concept of when people pull the emergency
brake who are on the train. And I think in a lot of way you know with what
we were talking about with inequality and you know rising inequality and
lower union density and everything else. I think as a population we've
pulled the emergency brake. I think that's what the Occupy movement is about
is just saying stop. And we're going to create something different. And May
Day and a general strike is another kind of stop. Stopping in the sense
of...you know, will we shut down all production, no I don't think so.
Hayes: [Laughter] I think that's a safe bet.
Sitrin: That's not out of the question at other times in
the future. People around the world do it regularly.
Walter Benjamin was a Marxist critic and philosopher with ties to the
Frankfurt School. Whether you prefer his take on revolution (pulling the
brake on the train) or Marx's original one (revolution as the locomotive of
history), the fact remains that we no longer seem to be talking about
reforming the system via the mechanisms specified in the Constitution. As
Sitrin said initially, this is "a different conversation."
Given the reaction of Chris Hayes and Rep. Nadler, it's safe to say that
OWS remains well outside the bounds of conventional, even far-left, American
politics. This is not a side issue but a central one, because OWS has always
been about generating sympathetic media buzz. They simply don't have the
numbers to achieve anything much without from the force-multiplier of the
national media. Last fall, it took weeks before the national media began
reporting on the unseemly aspects of OWS. There's no excuse for another
honeymoon phase this time around.
Starting tomorrow, OWS is back and more radical than ever. Will the media
report on the radical goals espoused by their own spokespeople or will they
insulate the public from this reality? You can bet that if Tea Party members
were talking about ending representative democracy and starting over, it
would be the lede, not a fact omitted for brevity. It's time for the US
media to apply the same standard to OWS. It's time, in other words, for the
revolution to be televised.
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