“Co-optation” is a hot topic among OWSer strategists this week. Besides the enormous support of several large unions, the possible support of the NAACP (reportedly, Ben Jealous is mulling it) and the considerable news coverage, there is the very real possibility of the movement being smothered by its own inclusiveness. Zuccotti Park has become a Babylonian sprawl of ideological dialects mirrored by a barely-contained material/matériel disorder.
Some appreciate this inclusiveness for self-serving reasons. I checked in with Solomon on 10/8/11, whom I had mentioned in my first #OWS post as “S.” in case he didn’t want to be known. I asked him what he was getting out of #OWS and he said with a leer, “entertainment, sex, free food. Look at that line to the kitchen, that’s socialism.” He gave me a wristband that led me to this website. He told me it was a “cooperative of artists and entrepreneurs,” but that’s not how it comes off. Now I know why he’s so cocky and arch: He aspires to cult leadership, and is trawling OWS for the impressionable.
The NY Times has attacked the inclusiveness and its sullying sequelae for local residents and the park, and rightly so. I have watched the movement get steadily ruder and messier as it grows. (In fairness, this partly a consequence of Zuccotti Park being too small.) Organizer C., whom I respect, told me the movement is founded on the anarchist cooperatives that briefly flourished during the Spanish Civil War. By all accounts those were truly democratic and responsible collectives. But he said this near a triad of 40″ plasma screens set up by “some leftist group,” and the red glow of whatever they showed illuminated several of the hypnotized tele-faces that I believe OWS exists to obviate. “Twenty people could sleep there,” he criticized, but the screens were gone when I returned to investigate.
I’ve hoped to scrap with artists who went to OWS only when it became a media platform to cynically promote themselves, but I haven’t really found any. Noah and his coin masks has incorporated OWS into his larger “Summer of Change” narrative, which manages to be both elegant and pointed, and he’s been a periodic fixture from dawn. Someone who painted a ~3’x6′ mural including the Statue of Liberty, the Towers, an eagle etc. in oils that I first saw on “Radiohead Hoax Day” (9-30) only signed it on the back, which I discovered when I rolled it up to protect it. And the wonderful Maine-based Beehive Collective (right) made a one-day appearance (10-07) where they owned the area under di Suvero’s orange megalith Joie de Vivre (indeed!) with their posters, patches and a printed supermural. When I asked their member L. about it, almost all of their “merch” was suggested donation, and the quality and topicality was unassailable. Really, I was only slightly annoyed by someone selling vaguely lefty buttons for his profit and a drummer (9-30) who played great funk breaks and solos to draw attention to his email address on the bass drum.
Will we continue to deserve the world’s attention? With freedom comes responsibility. Every OWSer, as an autonomous unit qua representative, should remember the dictum from Thus Spake Zarathustra: “Ask not free from what, but rather free for what?”