This column appeared in The Gauntlet on Oct. 6, 2011.
“Our politics caught up with who we are,” were the words of Alberta’s new premier-designate, Alison Redford, touting her election victory. While admittedly it is certainly momentous that a woman has finally come to power, and in such regards Redford’s remark is a fair point, it is incredibly embarrassing to hear politicians and media alike believe and announce that our present politics have in any way, shape or form caught up with who we are. In contrast with Redford’s remark, I find myself sympathetic to sociologist Jean Baudrillard’s astute observation that “today, power itself is an embarrassment and there is no one to assume it truly.”
Our political sphere continues to survive on the fiction that it represents we the people, and not the hegemony of capital. In our globalized world held hostage by corporate forces the need to subvert the system and bring about serious and legitimate change has necessarily gone viral. We stand at a juncture in history where through emancipatory enthusiasm we can become the terminal illness that brings an end to a system that has long propagated massive global injustices.
Courtesy Tommi Watts
The Arab Spring, Tahrir Square in Cairo, the acampada in Spain, protests in Greece, London, Iceland and Portugal, the Occupy Wall Street movement and all of the additional Occupy movements are all united in their desire to open up new social, economic and political dialogues and avenues.
In solidarity with the multitude of international movements that have occurred, are ongoing or are yet to come, I urge all Calgarians to stand up on Oct. 15 and show that we too are interested in joining this global conversation of change.
When the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia on Dec. 17, 2010 provided a catalyst for protestors to take to the streets across the Arab world, igniting the Arab Spring, the stations of politics and media were caught off guard. They struggled to make sense of what was happening, what it meant and what brought it about. Watching coverage of these events through mainstream sources reveals that they still don’t truly understand.
Fuelled by an ongoing debt crisis, various austerity measures and an enthusiasm boiling over from the Arab Spring, movements for change have seen their opportunity and have broken out across Europe. The ongoing acampada in Spain, wherein thousands of people have gathered and are continuing to camp in Madrid’s central squares, began on May 15, 2011. The ‘social crisis’ in Greece has continued since May 5, 2010. The London protests held on Mar. 26, 2011 saw upwards of half a million people take to the streets. Early this week on Oct. 2, 2011, some 100,000 people turned up to protest in Portugal. And on Sept. 17, 2011 the Occupy Wall Street initiative got underway, setting up camp in Zucotti ‘Liberty’ park in downtown Manhattan, which continues to grows larger day by day. The “Occupy” movement– inspired by Occupy Wall Street– has already spread to San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Portland (Maine), Portland (Oregon) and is encouragingly anticipated to further spread to most major cities in the western world, including Calgary on Oct. 15.
In reporting specifically on Occupy Wall Street, major American news sources, in trying to explain what is going on, have assessed the situation as Marxism, Post-Marxism, Communism, Socialism, juvenile behaviour, the beginnings of totalitarianism, lefty-nutcase protesting, a non-serious non-event doomed to disaster and on and on and on. The world of media and politics have shown themselves to be utterly confused and somewhat disgusted by the idea of regular, autonomous people camping out on public property to participate in an attempt to create an altruistic, alternative space wherein a dialogue for serious change can be conceived and incubated. In an honest diagnosis of the present political and media culture, their inability to understand seems directly connected to their total reliance on the corporate system of greed which people, such as myself, hope to bring to an end.
The culture of corporate greed has liquidated values, resources and dignity. It has tied itself inextricably into our social and political institutions and has liquidated their cores. Noam Chomsky, in strong support of the Occupy movement, recently made the following remark:
“Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street– financial institutions generally– has caused severe damage to the people of the United States (and the world), and should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power. That has set in motion a vicious cycle that has concentrated immense wealth, and with it political power, in a tiny sector of the population, a fraction of 1 per cent, while the rest increasingly become what is sometimes called “a precariat”– seeking to survive in a precarious existence. They also carry out these ugly activities with almost complete impunity– not only too big to fail, but also too big to jail.
The courageous and honourable protests underway in Wall Street should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.”
The title of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s most recent major book, Living in the End Times, communicates so much about the state of current society. Our mode of political, social and economic existence has been on a steady decline– just look at our global situation– and it doesn’t take much insight to understand that its end is coming closer and closer. Žižek’s “four riders of the apocalypse” come not in the form of their traditional religious conceptualizations, but as forerunners of the “ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself . . . and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions” that will bring about an end-times for capital’s hegemony.
Each of the global movements that have gotten underway or are about to start face different issues, different problems, and require different solutions. While people such as myself are all connected by our desire to end the injustices of our corporate society, economy and politics, each location faces a unique challenge. Here in Canada we often play the ‘calm’ card. You hear platitudes about how easygoing and peaceful we are as a people, as if our very genetics somehow expressed a desire for non-confrontation. This, however, is a mask easily worn by Canadians, allowing each and every one of us to continually fail in participating as citizens of this nation, and as citizens of this world. We find ourselves in a malaise of mutual indifference.
Furthermore, Calgarians are especially guilty of failing to see their role in the continuing injustices occurring both in our own backyards and on a world-wide scale. The overt racism and exploitation of resources and people by economic and political agendas, the tight grip that capital keeps around our necks, is so often passed over in silence or ignorance by all of us. Calgary is, in many ways, a colonial outpost in the corporate network. So many of those in suits working in our downtown core believe themselves to be autonomous– working in the best interests of themselves, our city, our people. What they are, however, are compradors– the privileged middlemen between our vast natural resources and the corporate exploiters abroad. Our resources are extracted, roughly refined then sent elsewhere (generally south) to the benefit of the ultra-wealthy– exploited like the serfs we are. Corporatist hegemony’s social stranglehold and our tendency to apathy has deluded us, bound us, blinded us from the cruel reality in Alberta.
Courtesy Jason Park
It is the enthusiasm for emancipation from corporate hegemony that ties our movements together. Our brothers and sisters who have camped, are camped and will stay camped in the plazas of Madrid, parks across America, central squares of Arab capitals and the streets of Greece believe that now is the time to start the conversation. Revolutions of the past doomed themselves to the repetition of history through traditional modes of coercion, incomplete methods of representation and a tendency towards violence. The global injustices we currently face, propogated by the behemoth of capital that enshrouds us, can be brought to their ends through encouraging, incubating and realizing the conversation started by the global movements.
This time that we, as Calgarians, can begin our own version of this conversation that redefines our social space, bringing an end to injustices at home and abroad. As a press release from Jason Devine, an individual assisting the organization of Occupy Calgary put it:
“Occupy Calgary is a movement with no appointed leadership structure. It is an exercise in participatory democracy, where all members discuss, debate, and make decisions. Its decision-making process takes place through consensus and voting . . . While we share many of the issues raised by our sisters and brothers in the u.s. [and abroad], Calgary is a unique place with problems that are specific to it. Participants of Occupy Calgary are already developing a collective critique of our local society and our various demands for change . . . Each movement has something to say.”
It is in the wake of the end-times of corporate greed’s hegemonic control that an emancipatory enthusiasm like we are seeing across the globe can become capable of taking root, starting the essential conversations and creating the opportunities for the changes we need.