While Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs specifically examines the nature of the football mobs, it offers us a much broader understanding of human nature: The history of the behavior of the crowds is a history of fear, of being a victim, of losing property, of a terror so powerful that it needs a name, to be accounted for, distorted into intelligibility, made safe. (184)
The violence, as I always read the next day, had been the work of outsiders, anarchists and agitators. But these thousands were not us. (189)
This line, this boundary, I am compelled, exhilarated, by what I find on the other side. I know no experience greater. (193)
I am attracted to the moment when consciousness ceases, the moments of survival, of animal density, of violence, when there is no multiplicity, no potential for different levels of thought. There is only one, the present in its absoluteness. (205)
Occupy Wall Street’s dramatic days seem much further back than four years ago. Remnants of the movement gathered on Broadway yesterday to promote “a flood on Wall Street”. They had banners and bears. And lots of singing. And yelling at the powers that be.While the police watched and waited.
I remember my second year at university. All of my friends wanted to go down to the field and initiate the freshmen, cover them with whipped cream and blue dye, make them do stupid things, just humiliate them and get them horribly drunk. I looked at these people – my friends, good friends – and they were practically foaming at the mouth, intimidating these kids.I don’t know. It was like rape.
Dazed and Confused (Linklater, 1993)
These kids were only a year younger than us, just a year, but we had had it done to us, and so it was our turn. It was our turn to be bullies. That’s what we were trained to do. We called it a rite of passage or some bullshit about growing up, but it was just rape. And it doesn’t stop there. It’s in everything we do, in school, at work, buying groceries, getting on a plane, walking in the street.
Occupy Wall Street
We learn to accept it. We learn to give it back. Worse than that, we learn to derive pleasure from giving it back. We feel justified in giving it back.That’s why I don’t have faith in us. We’re more infantile than when we were kids.
Much hoopla has surrounded the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, so much of it reveling in the historic words of Martin Luther King Jr. And yet, as iconic as those words and images have become, there must remain a distinct bitterness not only because a second march on Washington, The Poor People’s March of 1968, failed, but because deep-seated racism – the economic and back room sort – has remained as strong as ever. Martin Luther King Jr. made a most remarkable speech the night before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968, remarkable not only for its eloquence and intelligence but for his understanding of what lay ahead. “(W)e are asking you tonight to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola…not to buy Sealtest milk…not to buy Wonder Bread. (W)e must kind of redistribute that pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies…Now not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis.”
Occupy Wall Street’s failure is nothing new.
The problem is that people – that’s you and me – just don’t care that much about helping each other, that action is only galvanized by violent images of oppression, never by the root of the cause.
The violent imagery from Birmingham (1963) that helped galvanize the Civil Rights Movement.
“And so just as I say we aren’t going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around.” The sad thing is that Martin Luther King Jr. was wrong about that; injunctions do turn everyone around because the enemy isn’t the physical acts of oppression but the insidious inaction of indifference.