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May Day Mutiny: Radical Transformation Rises

Today is our “spring forward” day in the U.S., when we move the clocks forward an hour thus “losing an hour” in the morning, but gaining an additional hour of light at the end of the day.

It’s a beautiful sunny day here in Massachusetts, with birds singing their love songs in the trees, and the sap rising steadily in the thick sugar maple forests.

It’s hard to feel gloomy or pessimistic on a day like today, with our great source energy, the Sun, shining so brilliantly and steadily down on us.

Even contemplating the social landscape, it seems that there are reasons to be hopeful.

Yesterday I read Tidal 2, the second journal put out by a group calling itself Occupy Theory.

The journal, entirely web-based, includes articles by Judith Butler and Gayatri Spivak, written in as accessible a voice as I have ever heard those two formidable theorists muster.

It also includes articles by unnamed CUNY Graduate Center students on a variety of issues, as well as a wealth of other interesting short pieces and vivid photos and artwork of the Occupy movement.

Butler makes the excellent point, in reference to the call by the political/media establishment for “a list of demands,” that “the appeal or demand that sought to be satisfied by the existing state, global monetary institutions, or corporations, national or transnational, would be giving more power to the very sources of inequality, and in that way aiding and abetting the reproduction of inequality itself.”

Instead, Butler calls for a movement for “radical equality,” the achievement of which would require “the making of new institutions,” rather than trying to push existing institutions to change radically while still maintaining their social dominance.

She also envisions an Occupy strategy that would be strategically “episodic and targeted,” rather than the sitting-duck encampment strategy of last fall.

Such a strategy might build on the historical model of the General Strike, as Gayatri Spivak discusses in her contribution to Tidal 2.

The General Strike, as undertaken by Gandhi against the British, “has always been special because it is undertaken by those who suffer, not by morally outraged ideologues,” Spivak says.  “It is by definition non-violent…though the repressive apparatus of the state has used great violence against the strikers. Although the results are transformative, the demands are usually focused on laws….If one sees the connection between the General Strike and the Law, one realizes that this is not legal reformism, but a will to social justice….Unlike a party, a general strike refuses to cooperate until things change.”

Tidal 2 ends with a bold call for a General Strike on the symbolically important day of May 1, 2012, May Day.

I have no doubt that it will happen, and that it will be big.

I am sure police forces across the world are already planning their own response strategies.

The truth is that if the 99%, “those who suffer” from the structural inequality of globalized capitalism, were to come out in large enough numbers on May Day, and refuse to go home until those in power began a serious dialogue on transformative, institutional change that included the retooling of our political, social and environmental systems for 21st century realities—the truth is that we might actually get somewhere.

Somewhere new, somewhere joyful, somewhere beyond the bruising, gridlocked, decrepit and corrupt politics that currently has our entire planet in a stranglehold.

The social and political elites who have inherited the 20th century reins of power and do not want to let go need to be made aware that they are driving us all over a cliff with their refusal to summon the political will and the technological know-how to adapt to anthropogenic global heating.

They must be made to understand that they and their children will go down with the rest of us!

That is the one blind spot in this issue of Tidal 2: there is very little mention of the impact of climate change and human overpopulation on the carrying capacity of the planet.

This awareness shows up more in metaphor than head-on, but metaphor is powerful too.

At one point, the anonymous authors of Tidal 2 describe the 1% as the captain of a ship “who steers while we shovel coal and swab decks.  He seems to have us headed towards a typhoon.

“The captain stares at the impending doom on the horizon and grins ecstatically.  He’s clearly thrilled to be captain.  He faces down a storm that we can only wincingly glance at with one squinting eye, and he jabbers incessantly about hope and destiny.  We realize that he does not see as a normal person, by passively receiving light through his pupils.  Rather he uses his eyes offensively to project what he wants to see on the world.  He has become so practiced at his fantasia that he can no longer recognize what we, cringing on deck, see as certain catastrophe.”

Well, my friends, it is time to stop cringing on deck.

Mutiny is justified if the captain is a raving maniac and the alternative to mutiny is catastrophe.

On this sunny day, let’s pledge to take a great leap forward this spring, take charge and steer ourselves into safer waters.

See you on May Day.

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