November 4, 2011
In Africa, I’ve been out of the loop on this Occupiers and their 99 percent thing, and so a couple days after returning to the States this week I was delighted to turn a corner in downtown LA and come face-to-face with them – lots of baggie-jeaned, hoodied youth sitting on the trampled grass beneath the towering Mausoleum-of-Mausolus-inspired phallus of City Hall, a raspy-throated woman complementing a passer-by on his “rad” shirt, a super-tan, whispy-haired elder handing out leaflets on GMOs, a bearded dude in a beret stroking a cat and, for sure, the sweet pungency of kind bud keeping it all real.
I don’t want to suggest that the hippie vibe is all there was. But it certainly leapt out at you – predominated.
Around me on tents were signs – about fluoride, “Hemp Jobs in the USA,” “Sovereign Nation of Freedom of Peace,” quotes from Marx. A Vietnam flag curtained the doorway of one.
“It’s all about love,” one Occupier explained.
It would be discriminatory to suggest that the hippies should keep their distance; Occupy Wall St. should be open to all; indeed the 99 percent they speak of cuts across race, creed, class and lifestyle. And yet too much of a hippie vibe is sure to alienate a good portion of America and limit the “movement’s” reach. And understandably so. Today, suspicion of hippiedom isn’t the knee-jerk defense of the status quo it was during the subculture’s rise in the 1960s. In 2011, hippiedom is seen even among a good many nonconformists to be stale and unimaginative if not downright poserish, with the quoting of Marx and kicking around of Flower Power slogans having no relevance to America’s crisis.
What the hippies do bring along with nearly every Occupier is the spirit of collective action, a lack of which, for decades now, has allowed corporations and the one percenters to destroy the foundations of American exceptionalism and usher in our unsustainable present.
“It’s about standing up. We don’t do that anymore,” the all-about-love Occupier told me.
But as Tony Judt notes in his seminal work on the waywardness of the the developed world today, Ill Fares the Land, “If we do not talk differently, we shall not live differently.”
Free market capitalism, tax breaks for the rich and a hands-off government, as we all know by now, is not the solution. But nor is harking back to peace and love and notions of a socialist utopia. They’re both narrow orthodoxies that have given “legitimacy” to each other. And while each contains grains of wisdom worth preserving – indeed any successful future will preserve aspects of our past – a fresh rhetoric and even aesthetic will be required if Occupy is to occupy more than a cul-de-sac of our collective consciousness.