Occupy this space

The Occupy Movement, however unclear in its message and agenda, has been much more politically influential than a decade of blogging by so-called progressive bloggers. Human bodies are much more newsworthy, and donations of time and energy in person are so much more effective than the hundreds of millions of hours spent in virtual spaces by bloggers and their readers.

Social media has not transformed politics, although it may have transformed political organizing and communications. The only thing that really gets attention is showing up in person and making some non-virtual noise.

17 thoughts on “Occupy this space

  1. I totally agree on “he Occupy Movement … has been much more politically influential than a decade of blogging by so-called progressive bloggers.”

    I disagree on “however unclear in its message and agenda”. Do we expect a single message to protest the state of a society with at least 10 major problems? The message is quite clear although OWS doesn’t have Fox News to convey its messages to the populace. All OWS groups object to the widening inequality, the preferential treatment the 1% get in every area, the lose of democracy we experience, the dire shortage of jobs and the high cost of college education.

    This list is specific, applicable, votable, argueable and fought for.

    As for “progressive bloggers,” we have less than handful of quality progressive bloggers. We have endless number of pretenders who are either hardly smart or not really progressives. I do agree that even if we had ten times more progressive bloggers, OWS would still be more effective.


  2. Koshembos–I think we’re still in agreement. The message of OWS & allied Occupy movements are united by your distillation of the message, although the movement is not nearly as united (or as simplistic) as the TEA party (Taxed Enough Already.)


  3. It would take some fairly sophisticated electronic text-mining, but I think the “1%/99%” trope has penetrated fairly remarkably into the cultural vocabulary in less than three months, and that’s a focused use of attention-grabbing. On the other hand, the cahiers de doleance(s?) of 1789 didn’t exactly have a laser focus and yet collectively they gave a pretty good shove to the regime etabli. I think it’s just as possible and maybe somewhat more necessary to have that kind of doubled feature in this post-whatever epoch. We’ll see where it goes from here. To report from a particular point in space, the Philadelphia “Occupy” encampment is being dismantled at this very moment by the local authorities. I think in general it was/is/will be necessary to have another phase, besides the mere possession of space, and this will be an interesting test of what that might become. For whatever it was that they may have (helped to) accomplish in the 1960s–and I’m not sure it was very much–groups like the Yipees certainly understood that tactically you have to zig when the system zags, and always at least try to stay ahead of the cliche.


  4. I agree that the presence of actual bodies in physical space has made much more of an imprint than the “virtual” presence on-line. It makes visible a set of messages that had been relatively latent. And the police repression has also made visible the militarization of police post-9/11–on campus and off–which may open up a useful dialogue. If the big Occupy movements are driven off the streets that might make the message dwindle…but I’m pretty confident it’s too late for any kind of complete repression. And there are lots of medium-small Occupy groups that will persist.


  5. The other question is, though, would the occupy movement exist if counter-discourses hadn’t continued to be perpetrated online and elsewhere. Most major revolutionary movements in the last few hundred years have been accompanied by an ‘underground’ press, who keep the coversation about the ‘alternative’ alive (or for that matter, suggested what the alternative might actually be). At particular moments, these discourses are then taken to the streets by the masses (often motivated by economic distress, interestingly enough), and allow change to happen. But, as historians, we usually recognise the significance of these u/ground presses in the creation of revolution- why would it be different here?

    I do agree, however, that in this sense social media has not changed politics- it’s just a different vehicle for the same processes.


  6. FA: I see your point about the underground. I think that’s a good way of looking at social media.

    I guess in this post I’m also responding to a common sentiment I used to see when I started reading political blogs in ca. 2002-04, “blog triumphalism,” which really was a completely delusional belief that blogs would be transformational of American politics. I thought that was stupid and short-sighted then (really? So if blogs replace newspapers, who will do the actual reporting that blogs like to snark on? How exactly are a bunch of people getting angry at what they see on their computer monitors going to be “transformational” of anything?), but I believe that the past few years have illustrated the limits of social media (not to mention their hackability.)

    So I see social media as necessary to our current politics but hardly sufficient without the bodies on the ground in the meat world.

    Speaking of hacking, widgeon: I remember that you highly recommended Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad for my summer reading. I took your recommendation, and loved the book, especially the latter chapters which illustrated the hackability of social media in Egan’s imagined very-near future. I wanted to blog about this of course, but I thought that blogging about the metahacking at the end of the book would not just describe but would represent a hacking of my blog.

    I suppose Egan’s a novelist I wouldn’t mind promoting, but it just feels dirty after her brilliant description of the hackitude.


  7. H, I am not looking for a disagreement; I just try to explain (several times a week) the “agenda.” Not being Tea P is a compliment. Democrats (small d) don’t thrive to be fascists no matter how much Berkeley professors encourage them to be.


  8. I believe Egan’s dystopian ideas about social media at the end of her novel have gotten some criticism. Probably warranted. (Also I’m a bit thrilled you read it on my recommendation). But I agree with FA that the underground discourse is significant. As an urban historian mildly obsessed with issues of space it’s fascinating to me how bodies in physical spaces create such “problems” and possibilities. And, of course, huge historical continuities. Being physically present has meaning. But being cyber present has meaning too.


  9. I thought Egan’s portrait of how easily hacked social media could be was very realistic! I don’t write about it here, but I (like any blogger who has any measurable traffic, I am sure) get all kinds of e-mails alerting me to new books or movies I might like, offers of swag, etc. I just summarily delete them–but I think that’s clearly where social media is going. The main value of blogs like this one is that 1) we have an imagined community, and 2) I have some kind of authority or influence over the people who read the blog. It’s even more valuable on a blog like this one that doesn’t accept advertising, see?

    Like I said: dirty dirty dirty.


  10. @koshembos, I don’t understand (don’t have context for) this comment and I’m curious – what are you referring to?

    “Democrats (small d) don’t thrive to be fascists no matter how much Berkeley professors encourage them to be.”


    Pamphleteers in the French Revolution, is what my youngest brother said about progressive blogs a few years ago. So yes, I echo the point on underground press.

    This piece on the origins of OWS is fun to read – it was started by correspondence – http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/11/28/111128fa_fact_schwartz


  11. This weekend I realized how far the 1/99 percent has travelled when my father used it, correctly. My Republican Uncle ™ has even began to vocally challenge his party, and the Democrats, to a degree I have never heard before. He hates occupy, but actually, “gets their anger at the banks and government working together.”

    But, I think the really exciting potential, for me, is the political mobilization of the millenials. It seems that a transition is happening (for some) from the so-called entitled generation into something new. Seeing those students pepper sprayed, still sitting there has shocked some of my students. For the most part, I have been drawn into the movement’s growing power among the young ‘uns. The complaints about student loans at first sounded greedy, but the more sustained the argument, the more I’ve been intrigued by the underlying messages about tuition and the economy.

    In addition, it is drawing important attention to the militaritarization of our police forces. I witnessed the following: 2 dozen marchers circling San francisco’s shopping district on black Friday, yelling at people to stop shopping. (or, protesting Christmas, more or less) Accompanying this was a dozen, stuffed police cars following them, and SWAT teams in the roofs of three buildings, particularily ominous over the hundreds of people gawking at the ice


  12. Jeebus, Wini: that’s one impressive display of anti-Americanism right there! 24 resisting citizens–call out the SWAT team! The SWAT team costumes I’ve seen in several photos and videos from around the country are very striking. One gets the sense that local P.D.s have been waiting for a decade to use these shiny, expensive suits that were purchased in the first rush of post-9/11 panic & the first flush of Homeland Security $$$.

    The Millennials are far from an entitled generation. It’s always bothered me that people describe them that way, when (after all) they’ve just been young. This is the generation that is devoted to volunteer work, and this is the generation that volunteered for military service in the past decade. I have former students who in their mid-20s have seen and experienced more of the harsh realitites of life than I ever have, or ever want to. My life has been so cosseted, cushioned, and sheltered by comparison. What was my big hardship? Maybe a diet heavy on the pasta and the beans & rice in grad school, and an un-air-conditioned apartment in Baltimore one summer, but that’s about it.

    If there is an entitled generation, it’s my generation, Generation X. For us, “VC” meant not VietCong, but Venture Captial. I think our big contribution to American life is the dot-com boom and bust of the late 90s-early 2000s, and several memoirs inspired by marination in our parents’ divorces and/or substance abuse.

    Then again, influence in American society is a numbers game. The boomers and the Millennials are just numerically and proportionally much larger generations–my generation was the baby bust, when elementary schools were being closed and Prop 13 out in California really got the de-funding of public education underway. So I am not surprised that an Occupation movement led by Millennials will go much farther than any activism led by my generation.


  13. Clarification, I didn’t mean to uncritically repeat the “entitled” nature of the millenials. Just, that they are growing into their political voices at an important time. I think they have an extremely importent voice right now, and that listening to what they are saying about the world left to them has taught me a lot.


  14. I’m going to nominate us Boomers for the entitled generation. Free parental rides to college (and not just in the station wagon), relatively little (school year) actual hard-core employment, then pass along the world of student loans and real in-semester jobs to the next generation(s).


  15. IMHO, faculty need to get out of our offices and into the campus square with our students. We share a common cause and could do a lot of good work together. Students at my public university get this and the the rhetoric of our Occupy is all about solidarity. Students get it that growth on the backs of overworked and underpaid adjuncts is not in their best interest. They get it that year upon year without raises but with unfunded mandates demoralizes both faculty and staff and thus affects their education. They get it that real estate development deals are as much about presidential resume building as they are about creating instructional space. They get it that soda vendors have more pull than students when it comes to campus sustainability goals.

    Our students are smart and they are paying attention. They are young and their ability to argue their points is still developing but they see how their future debt is being invested and they are not satisfied. If faculty fail to stand with students we will loose the best allies we could ever have.


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