Eyes Open, Imagination Awake

NEW YORK (Frameshop) – Yesterday, at 1am, the three-term billionaire Mayor of New York City sealed off all bridges, roads, and public access to lower Manhattan, then sent police in riot gear to raid Zuccotti Park in the name of public safety.  Don Hazen expressed it best when he described Bloomberg’s  offensive–thrust upon the protesters like a knife in the night–as the latest failure of imagination by America’s ruling class.  Beyond all the legitimate outrage against  ridiculously out of proportion police violence, Hazen directs us to a clarifying keyword.  What has OWS achieved in this first stage of the movement? It has pulled back the veil for so many millions of Americans, helping us find the courage to see past the endless cycle of corruption, violence, and failures. 

Juan Cole sums up well what it is that so many people see thanks to the OWS movement:

Whether in Egypt or the United States, young rebels are reacting to a single stunning worldwide development: the extreme concentration of wealth in a few hands thanks to neoliberal policies of deregulation and union busting.  They have taken to the streets, parks, plazas, and squares to protest against the resulting corruption, the way politicians can be bought and sold, and the impunity of the white-collar criminals who have run riot in societies everywhere.  They are objecting to high rates of unemployment, reduced social services, blighted futures, and above all the substitution of the market for all other values as the matrix of human ethics and life.

Maybe we have not all had a chance to read David Harvey’s masterful A Brief History of Neoliberalism, but now it does not really matter.  We see it now. Our imaginations–asleep for so many decades–are awake, again. We are present, now, for more than just the spectacle of a society that claims to be acting in our interests while in fact, acting against us. We can see past all this, now.
Disparate groups of people, young and old, various levels of education, various degrees of prior political engagement, different locations–all enter the public square to occupy space and be seen.  To this monumental act, the media could only respond with petty questions.
Will the protesters submit a demand that can be circulated on an index car, bounced from laptop to email, forwarded, cut-and-pasted in time for the 5pm edition, fact-checked by an intern, slotted into public debate before the weather report?
We see, now, that was not the right question.
It was hard at first, but we can see now.  We can see past the failure of the media–the failure of a vast network of information to step inside the conversation already raging in our  heads for years,  already driving millions of us to the boundary separating frustration from rage.
OWS inspired us to listen again–not to the idle chatter, the mindless chatter generated to justify vast sections of cable, print, and internet media.  OWS inspired us to listen to each other.
What is our demand?
We demand that those figures in office stop corrupting the system.
We demand a new generation of leadership.
We demand a new paradigm for understanding citizenship.
We demand a system that values consensus over endless conflict.
We demand a world not suffocated by a neoliberal economic logic that starves, bludgeons, bombs, and manipulates a hard-working majority so that an obscenely wealthy minority may become even more obscenely wealthy.
That is the demand.  Put away your notecards.  It is not on a list, but in our own voices.  If you cannot see it and hear it, now, after all these months of watching and listening to OWS–if your imagination is still asleep–then there is no point in writing it down for you.
Even if we were not sleeping in a park or public square, we were, nonetheless out there.  All this time, we have been watching, not a group of strangers, but ourselves.  And as we watched, we have been waking up, feeling our eyes opening again.
We have all ben so tired, so exhausted by the endless cycle of demands, the endless circle of asking, voting, promising, betraying.  And so a group of us stepped into the public square–without asking permission–and simply started acting as they knew things should be.
Millions of us had no idea what horizontal organizing or consensus discussions or human megaphones were before the people in OWS stood in those squares and did it.  And even if we did not understand at first what they were doing, we understood enough to watch, to listen, to learn.
Before OWS, we could not even imagine a system of public deliberation beyond the dysfunctional, wholly corrupted circus that we have now. But now we can see past that mess.
Before OWS, we could not even imagine a form of politics that did not involve a two-party system so bloated with corporate money that even the most basic decisions were undercut and blunted.  But now we can see past that mess.
Before OWS, we could not even imagine such a public outcry–not merely for economic “reforms,” but for a system that refused to accept the terms of the current debate–refused to begin with genuflections to the common-sense of “free markets” that are not free. But now we can see past that mess.
Before OWS, we could not even imagine a public debate that did not vilify labor unions and working people, undercut ethnic or religious or sexual difference, and generally divide people against each other.  But now we can see past that mess.
By simply acting as we wanted to act–without asking if it was acceptable to start–OWS has tipped on its head and kicked to the curb the political, economic, and culture common-sense of the last 20 years.  And because it has, our imaginations are on fire once again.
It is autumn, now, and winter will soon be here.  And so the physical terms of OWS will shift.   But none of that matters.  Eyes, once open, stay open.  Cold, warm, it does not matter: eyes open.
An imagination, once found again, stays active. Rain, snow, it does not matter: imagination awake.
We have finally felt our way in the dark to the doorway that leads out.  We can hear our own thoughts again.  We have found our own voice, once again.
The courage to see past the corruption, cruelty, and collapse of the system as it is–as it has been condemned to be–the courage to see that such a system will no longer endure because of what we have done for the past few months, because of what we do now–because of who we are from this point forward.  All that will endure, no matter the weather.
It will endure through dawn raids and teargas shells, night sticks and jail cells.  It will endure through PR strategies and press conferences, politicians and police commissioners.
Eyes are open.
Imaginations are awake.


One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. This year I finished J.G.A. Pocock’s The Machiavellian Moment: what a wonderful piece of eloquent intellectual history. I became addicted to reading it, even though I am a plodder. It was inspiring and the phrase I remember most is ‘the cultivation of civic republican virtue’ . That’s what struck me when I read your eloquent essay, the marriage of style and substance and that phrase from Mr. Pocock’s history as a guide to action in the present moment, without surrender to fear or cynicism.
    Best regards,

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