The Paradox of Change in the US

urban decay

I watched a news program last night featuring a series of interviews with the occupiers in New York. The reporter asked each something like, "What do you want to see come out of your gatherings?" All the answers were something like, "Doh." Inarticulate and disconnected. Clearly the many that were gathered had some common notion that underpinned the coordination of their actions to come together. Their complaint about the rampant inequality of the present political economy is a common belief, but it is very hard to discern much beyond this.

Some of gatherings at the smaller scenes are experimenting with forms of direct democracy, voting on their program as they go. It would be difficult to see this play out in the larger demonstrations like the one last night that aimed at closing the Brooklyn Bridge. I looked at the coverage in the New York Times today to gauge the relative priority of this event and others in the same "movement," and found the goings-on have already slipped to the inside pages. The front page headlined stories like, "Mormon Campaign Seeks to Improve Perceptions" and "First Lady Takes on the Role of Staff Energizer." The top headline, "[Hillary] Clinton to Visit Myanmar as Activist Enters Politics Again" showed the huge gap between our concerns on the other side of the world and what is going on right under our noses.

Surely life has been terrible in Myanmar under the rule of a tyrannical dictatorship. The condition there fits our American stereotype of an unacceptable form of government, a form that we go out of our way to counter with all sorts of instruments ranging from propaganda to sanctions and, eventually, warfare. Comparison of the Occupy movement with the activism of Daw Aung Sann Suu Kyi is tricky but there is something in common. Both are speaking out against the oppression of the people and the need to change the rules that govern the society. Not just the rules of the "government," but also the rules of the whole political economy. Where is the power? How is freedom protected? What insures that all people share in the means of well being available in the economy and culture? And so on.

The Occupy movement has yet to find its full voice. Their complaint is evident and is backed up by the reality of our own political economy. But the drama of play in Myanmar is missing or at least has not been seen by our media as equivalent. The tacit agreement of others in the 99% is yet to be voiced. The organizers, if this term is applicable, may be hoping that the numbers will swell to such proportions that the news of their actions cannot fade from the front pages. Still, until the voice focuses on explicit causes of the inequality and other ills that can be addressed with explicit remedies, the roar of the crowd will resonate in a very short operating space.

Paradoxically, our problems in the US may be more difficult to deal with than those in Libya, Egypt, or Myanmar. There is no single despot to topple. Here, the oligarchs and plutocrats mostly hide themselves behind screens. Our processes for real change are cumbersome. The two-party system, as I have written, is limited to make only modest changes at the level of deep cultural or political-economic structure that must be drastically redesigned if the material world is to align itself with our long-established values.

Hopefully, since I share most if not all of the concerns of the Occupiers, their current solidarity will grow to encompass the very large numbers that do not share equitably in the goods, material and intangible, of our country. Then perhaps the complaints we hear without much accompanying clarity in the outcomes will shift to a set of necessary proposals for change together with a new political party that can counter the present stasis and, worse, decay.

|