I’ve been to pretty much everything, from abandoned castles to top of the line penthouses, but an Adirondacks vacation house built over a defunct Cold War-era missile silo? That’s something special.
Since the sixties, starting with the backlash within the New Left against those same celebrities, the political counterculture has been ruled by loosey-goosey, bottom-up organizational precepts: horizontal and decentralized structures, an antipathy to hierarchy, a fetish for consensus. And this is true in spades of OWS. In such an environment, formal claims to leadership are invariably and forcefully rejected, leaving the processes for accomplishing anything in a state of near chaos, while at the same time opening the door to (indeed compelling) ad hoc reins-taking by those with the force of personality to gain ratification for their ideas about how to proceed. “In reality,” says Yotam Marom, one of the key OWS organizers, “movements like this are most conducive to being led by people already most conditioned to lead.”
And so in coffee shops and borrowed conference rooms around the city, far from the sound and fury in the park and on the streets, the prime movers have been doing just that—meeting, planning, talking (and talking) about the future of OWS. The debates between them have been fierce. Tensions have been laid bare, factions fomented, and ideological cleavages exposed—all of it a familiar recapitulation of the growing pains experienced by protesters of the past, from those in favor of civil rights and against the Vietnam War in the sixties to those fighting for workers’ rights in the thirties.
I spent a few hours down there tonight.
The crowd is diverse, not as predominately young as I perceived from afar. They’re well organized, they have places set up for medics, food, media, etc. The General Assembly hosts a wide variety of speakers, of all ages, gender, race and socio-economic background. The crowd listens intently to the GA speaker, on the people’s mic, and they do call-and-response so those further back in the crowd can hear the person who has been given the soapbox. This was a real honor to watch.
The folks down there are a lot more nuanced than how they’ve been portrayed. They’re not unsympathetic to the people who have to make a living working for some of the corporations that led to the financial crisis, in fact there are some who spoke at General Assembly tonight who work for or had worked for similar corporations. They’re pragmatic, they’re not anarchists. The whole process is surprisingly organized and democractic. They’re working towards coming up with realistic action items. These people aren’t waiting for someone to save them, they’re working towards how they can save themselves.
Well, there’s the thing about New York. New York is such a monolith that it’s pointless to have an opinion about it. It’s like bitching about the weather. It certainly won’t accomplish anything and it certainly won’t make you feel better about what you didn’t like. New York has a couple of characteristics that are undeniable and one of those is that it’s a magnet for assholes who couldn’t get any attention at home and decided that the problem wasn’t that they weren’t interesting but that there were all these squares around them in Dubuque or whatever and they need to go to some big cosmopolitan city like New York where people will appreciate them. So if you can imagine that scenario playing out within every city in North America and every one of those assholes with an opinion slightly outreaching his ability getting on a fucking Greyhound. You end up with a pretty good description of what’s annoying about New York is that it’s full of people whose self-image just ever-so-slightly outstrips their ability.
I studied painting under in college under Ed Paschke, who is dead now, he was a brilliant, brilliant educator. He was one of the only people in college who actually taught me anything. I mean, I learned a lot while I was in college, don’t get me wrong, but not a lot of it was academic and not much of it was taught to me, it was primarily stuff I learned on my own. But he was one of the few people that actually taught me anything. But at one point, and he was the first person to make me aware of this, of being in New York. He described it as the “catch-all of runners up.” And I think that’s probably what annoys me about New York when I’m annoyed by it. Whatever they’re doing at the moment, that’s not really them, in their minds. Like, I’m working in this bookstore but I’m not a bookstore clerk, I’m a writer. Or like, I’m working in the restaurant but I’m not a waiter, I’m an actor. There are all these people who are not the thing that they are doing at the moment and therefore feel demeaned by every second of their existence. And the chip on New York’s shoulder is the thing that keeps everything on the ground there. It’s the massive weight that causes all of the gravity that happens in New York.
Having said that. I’m going to do that English thing. Oh, he’s such a cunt. [Fake British accent] I mean that in the nicest way. [Laughter] I mean this in the nicest way really but he is just such a cunt, you know. Really I just want to murder him, I mean I love him, but I just want to murder him.
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