Sunday, 20 November 2011

Wanted: An Alternative to Debate

Ok, I admit it: I’ve only been half-heartedly following the “Occupy” movement. And I’m not sure why.

When you are a political activist, you spend your whole life dealing with the question at the back of your mind… “if things are so bad… why aren’t people on the streets?”. Then, like the proverbial three buses arriving at the same time, all of a sudden there are people on the streets. On the actual streets; occupying them; refusing to go anywhere.
And I fail to muster more interest than the average politically minded person.

Part of the reason for my lack of interest in the occupations has to do with the absence of… well… politics. There are no grand theories to explain the present, no plans on how to change things for the future… Everyone is rightfully and mightily pissed off, but when it comes to the “whys” and the “hows” people get so anxious they can’t take a step forward. A simple debate on producing a list of “demands” turns into “well, should we or shouldn’t we?”. And the conclusion to that is… “we need to have a debate over this”.

Ah, yes. “Talking” will surely provide the answer. “Talking” is, however, the only answer being provided. And I would be more excited about the prospect of “debating” within the Occupy movement if I hadn’t seen its effects within the feminist movement way too many times.

This trend takes place throughout the political spectrum, actually; I’m just focusing on feminism because it’s what I know best. Whenever you see a feminist in the mainstream media, and she’s asked about the “solution” to any problem that could be filed under “regulating industries”, aka: “telling corporations to do as we want, not as they want”, said feminist’s reply will invariably be… “I think we need to have a national debate over this”.

“This” could be pr0n, lapdancing, maternity leave, sexualisation in the media, etc. Feminism’s answer to it all is “let’s have a big debate”.

I’m beginning to fear that calls to “debate” are actually an attempt to “disengage” from the situation, to not deal with the issue at hand. Because to arrive at an actual plan of action would mean upsetting someone who disagrees, leaving someone out.

True, the “we are the 99%” surely joins everyone under the same collective grief. But when it comes to deciding what to do with that “99%”, everyone freezes.

This scares me for several reasons. First, because “life must go on”, and if “occupiers” don’t spring into action, the momentum of the status quo will sweep over them.

Madrid was one of the first cities to become “occupied”. It was so early on, in fact, that nobody thinks of it as part of the “Occupy” movement. Never mind the fact that the very word “occupy” was used, since the word “ocupa” in Spanish describes “squatter”, and the tactics were the same, ie: tents, kitchen, pharmacy and, you guessed it, “public debates”.

That was summer. 15th of May, to be precise.

Today, the Conservative party has won a “landslide victory”in Spain. Something tells me this is not what the “occupiers” at Puerta del Sol wanted, seeing as how they rejected “all political parties”.

What are the plans of the conservatives to deal with the economic crisis and reduce unemployment? If your answer contains the words “austerity” and “deficit reduction” give yourself 1000 points. The very same “policies” that the Tory government has been ruthlessly forcing through since they rose to power… achieving precisely no reduction of unemployment or bettering of the “economic crisis”. As my dad said about the elected president: “he also wants to fail, he doesn’t want to be left out”.

What happened to the occupiers? I don’t know. What came out of their debates? I can’t remember. And I say this having listened to actual members of the Puerta del Sol occupation during Marxism in July.

Now, political debates are lots of fun. But eventually a decision must be agreed on and actions must be taken. The alternative is no alternative at all; that is, if we fail to change course, course doesn’t change. We get the same politicians, with the same policies favouring the same people.  

But there’s something else lurking under the surface… and that’s a general sense of “frozenness” throughout the whole of society. People are emotionally and ideologically exhausted. Nobody can come up with an alternative, and nobody is enthusiastic about the future. It’s a sense of “bleh”, followed by “what’s on the telly”.

I am by no means the first to point this out. Mark Fisher does so in his book “Capitalist Realism”, for instance. There’s a collective “apathy”, fear of moving in any direction, and the result of that is paralysis.

And I’m scared because I don’t just see it all around me, showing up also within the Occupy movement. I’m scared because I feel it in my bones. I struggle with this feeling of “frozenness” every day. I notice other people struggling as well. We want to move, but we don’t know how, or where to.

We are petrified, literally scared stiff. And because we can’t do much else, we talk.

I’m afraid I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that it isn’t more “talking”. Something must be agreed upon and put into action. Quickly. Before the momentum of the status quo squashes us with “more of the same”.

It’s getting to the point when anything, yes, “anything”, would be preferable to “more of the same”. If only to save our minds and hearts from paralysing ennui.   

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