Occupation Chess

Dec 12, 2011 by

Straight from folksinger and New Orleans resident Ani DiFranco:

Did you visit Occupy NOLA?

Yeah, I did go down there, two or three weeks ago. I hung out for two or three hours. It was pretty low-key—a lot of people camping down there by City Hall, a lot of boards specifying a lot of meetings about how to get through the daily food and dishes and trying to figure out the daily biz of urban camping.

What did you take away after visiting Occupy NOLA?

I think that it’s great that there are people in the streets calling attention to the disparity of wealth in this city, and to the exploits of the top one percent. I agree with all the commentators commenting that the movement needs to articulate more specifically the solutions, to grow beyond pointing out huge problems and begin to point out some of the solutions.

I wish I lived back in New York right now and could participate directly in one of the epicenters of the movement. I heard on the news last night a very cool film director, Robert Greenwald, who makes progressive documentaries. He was saying, “Now we need to identify the One Percent. Who are these people?” And I was thinking, “No, I don’t think we should go on personal vendettas even though we would love to shame these people who are ruining our country and our lives. I don’t think that’s the best way to go.” Naming the laws that were enacted and de-acted nd all of the systematic devices these people use to exploit the system—that’s what we need to focus on.

In only two paragraphs, Ani’s got it mostly right.

For one thing, the Occupations across the country – and the world – are in danger of drowning in their own petty minutiae as well as that of others: the emphases on locations rather than the issues (even the fake locations), the cities’ officials’ responses that range from brutality via police actions to treating protesters as biohazards, the marginalization of the media (a marginalization partially accepted by the major media outlets) that tips over into outright mockery. Some aspects of the movements are already toppling into political theater that wouldn’t be out of place on Punk’d (or in, say, Krewe du Vieux, for that matter…hmmmm…), while those wanting to keep the issues alive are moving on to occupy foreclosed, still-vacant houses in order to raise awareness of what the subprime mortgage fiascoes have done to us all (of course, many people all over this country are doing that already as a sad matter of course right now). It’s all insanely impressive ado. Its bombast has quite the siren song, perfect for attracting performers like DiFranco…but how much this ado is changing things right now is anybody’s guess.

In New Orleans, the Occupation has been largely a token one, a solidarity move…and its life throbs from the things that make this city great and suffers from the things that will ultimately cause its demise.

People here have never had problems standing up for the things they care about – the problems have come in the follow-through to effect lasting, healing change. We’ve been so full to overflowing of the mess that has been the follow-through since 8/29/2005 that Occupy NOLA just seems, on one level, like so far behind we’re ahead. Another major battle over the soul of the rest of the country feels, at times like these, like a diversion of energy that could still be used towards keeping the Isle d’Orleans from melting into the sea after another likely levee collapse. Thing is, though, three years ago, the point was repeatedly being made to the rest of the United States by activist New Orleanians that “our fate is your fate,” so it seems a tad crazy to be turning our backs on the rest of a country in distress that we are still a part of. Hence, an Occupation in Duncan Plaza.

The tokenism of this latest airing of grievances belittles the many ongoing, quite serious local issues that have been folded into the countrywide ones of income inequality and a political process that continues to fail the majority of U.S. citizens – the big local issues concerning housing for the poor and the homeless, the (mis)handling of crime and the justice system in need of an overhaul, and the size of the new jail are stirred up in the goings-on across from City Hall, giving it all the sheen of a static satirical Carnival parade, so the impact of it is minimal. It also ignores the people who have been working very hard – and who continue to work hard – on these issues locally who may not necessarily be a part of the Occupy movement. If you are one of those people, I invite you to leave your comments and the information on what you’re doing below this post. In all fairness to some of what the occupiers are talking about, maybe some of that isn’t getting out to them, or they have not had specific problems effectively addressed. Of course, the flip side to that is the very realness of the ordeals of many that is still being collected and chronicled at sites like We Are The 99%. There are more Catch-22s than ever before just to simply live.

The funniest part about our local Occupation, though, is how Mitch Landrieu has been dealing with it. Perhaps, he, too, has memories of the first “occupation” of Duncan Plaza. More likely, the image of upcoming sporting events such as the BCS Championship being sullied by attention to some too-near encampment (God forbid a houndstooth-hatted Bama fan bring a bad opinion of New Orleans back to Tuscaloosa) was the greater motivator in his recent efforts to evict the occupiers. At any rate, after being much more sympathetic to the occupiers than most other mayors have been with theirs (even, especially ironically, Jean Quan), Mitch trotted out the biohazard excuse – minus the use of hazmat suits – as well as the one pertaining to occupiers’ “safety,” and the late-night eviction was overturned, giving a victory to OccupyNOLA (and at least one loophole for the NOPD to exploit if they so choose – “no weapons of any kind” is ripe for broad interpretation if a police force in crisis deigns to do so) and, in the process, moving the theater of it out of the streets and into the courts. With Bill Quigley fighting valiantly for the Occupation, things could get even more interesting in court. What will Mitch claim if some occupiers are still in the Plaza come January 9th? “You college ball fans wanna see a real tussle? Head over to the courthouse while you’re in town.” His (probably unavoidable)direct involvement threatens to make this a professional vendetta along the lines of what Ani DiFranco fears – and threatens to further take protesters’ eyes off the reasons why they were in the Plaza in the first place.

The moves in all of this are hardly Bobby Fischer-worthy, but no less fascinating for their complexity…however, it all leaves me a little cold. Slogans can only go so far. What can we all do to make this more than a game?



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