From Kremlin to the White House

In what concerns the protests against the fraudulent elections in Russia, according to rumors, Kremlin has decided to “let those losers protest as much as they want.”

Does anybody else feel that similar conversations might have taken place in the White House about the #OWS protests?

Students on #OWS Protests

We were discussing Spain’s Indignados movement today and, of course, I simply couldn’t resist asking my students what they thought about the #Occupy protests.

Here are their responses:

“What’s #Occupy Wall Street?”

“Never heard of it.”

“I’m opposed because they are all corrupt.”

“I’m in favor because they want to stop the corruption in the government.”

“I’m in favor because they want to stick it to the big corporations.”

“I’m opposed because they keep whining how they are in debt. And if they took out all those credit cards to buy stuff, that’s their own fault.”

“They are OK, I guess.”

“Oh, that’s all just silly. I have no patience for those people.”

“I don’t care. I have more important things to think about.”


The other 55 students valiantly resisted my efforts to elicit their opinions on the subject. Many smiled enigmatically. I believe they didn’t want to share what they think because I made it impossible for them to guess what I thought of the #OWS.

And that’s a shame because I don’t grade on political opinions.

Eve Ensler’s Article on Rape

Eve Ensler’s recent anti-rape manifesto puzzled me. I fully support Ensler’s sentiment that rape is a horrible crime that should never be tolerated. However, I find some of her assertions to be very troubling. Take this one, for example:

 I am over women getting raped at Occupy Wall Street and being quiet about it because they were protecting a movement which is fighting to end the pillaging and raping of the economy and the earth, as if the rape of their bodies was something separate.

First, we saw progressive journalists drop hints as to the possibility of sexual harassment occurring at #Occupy rallies. Why such suggestions had never been made about the Tea Party protests is a mystery to me. Is there any evidence that progressively minded people are more likely to rape than conservatives?

Then, these suggestions about sexual harassment among the #Occupiers transformed into hints that women might fear being raped during the protests. Now, Ensler talks about rapes taking place during the protests as if they were an established fact.  Several questions arise, however. If, as Ensler says, women are keeping quiet about the rapes to protect the movement, then how did Ensler find out about these crimes? Did the raped victims share their stories with her? This makes no sense because if the goal of these rape victims is to protect the #OWS, letting Ensler write about it in such a charged format is probably the worst thing to do.

I also have no idea how Ensler arrived at her statistic of 1 billion of women on the planet having been raped. The OCCUPYRAPE term she introduces is very disturbing to me, too. Rape is a horrible crime and I see nothing positive in “occupying” something like this. And what is the “escalation” that Ensler is proposing? If this is a legitimate attempt at political activism, why not be a bit more specific about what the plan here is. This “let’s end rape by February of 2013” reminds me of the promises endlessly made by the Communist Party of the USSR to create a fully communist society by the year 2000.

It would be great if Ensler’s impassioned but hopelessly vague verbiage included references to the fact that the rates of violent crime (including rape) in this country have been on a steady decline in the past 40 years. The legalization of abortion in the US was a significant contributing factor to this phenomenon. Now that we know this, any anti-rape activism needs to include efforts to guarantee that all women have the right to control their procreation when and how they see fit.

This will do a lot more to end rape than passionate manifestos that make wild claims and operate on the basis of unsubstantiated statistics.

Conservatives Wimp Out, Too

What is it with people across the political spectrum not daring to express their opinions openly? If you hate the #Occupy movement, why not just come out and say, “I hate these snooty little bastards and find the idea of them getting pepper-sprayed to be highly enjoyable”? Why come out with this wimpy and ridiculous response that pepper spray is food?

Are Women in Danger at the #Occupy Protests?

I have no idea why there are fewer women at the #Occupy protests. I’m not even sure it is, indeed, the case that there are fewer women, because all of the footage I’ve seen of the protests seems very balanced in terms of gender representation. But suggesting that women don’t join the protests because they fear being raped or sexually harassed sounds completely bizarre.

We’ve already heard baseless and offensive suggestions that #Occupiers are anti-Semites, looters, litterers, and criminals. Now we are hearing they are all potential rapists. And the really shocking thing is that I found this appalling and unsubstantiated suggestion at a progressive blog. It kind of annoys me that progressive news sources are so bent on convincing women we should be afraid of being politically active because any appearance in a public space will supposedly get us raped. I thought this was a tactic normally adopted by the anti-feminists.

Does anybody need to be reminded that the place where women get raped most often is not a political protest but, rather, their own home?

P.S. And I just found yet another progressive blogger who gushes over the protests and then suggests women don’t join them because they are afraid of being raped. Have these bloggers even tried consulting the statistics? According to every study on rape, the best thing women could do to avoid being raped would be to stay away from home and spend time with strangers.

Greedy Banks

Protesting greed. But why stop here? Wouldn't it be so much cooler to protest human mortality? Also, the weather could take some protesting.

Yes, banks are greedy. That’s kind of in their job description. Which is why that’s where we keep our money. For some reason, we don’t keep it in charitable institutions which will immediately distribute our savings to the needy. A bank that is not driven by greed, by the desire to make as much money as possible is no bank at all.

Since people often choose to be very obtuse about this topic, I’ll provide the following disclaimer: the banking industry in this country has engaged in activities that are outright criminal. They were aided in robbing the country blind by corrupt politicians. The removal of the regulations of the financial system has been a disaster and resulted in a global financial crisis. These issues need to be addressed, discussed, and protested as loudly as possible. Vague discussions of the big, bad greed annoy me so much precisely because they rob protesters of all credibility and make them sound like whiny, pseudo-Christian proselytizers.

In my efforts to find out more about the #Occupy movement, I only and exclusively consult sources that are very supportive of the movement. Whenever I see an article that sounds like it might be hostile to the protesters, I scroll it down without reading it. I do it because I really, really, really don’t want to be disappointed in the movement. But the images and the stories that the passionate advocates of the #Occupiers provide, do the job of disillusioning me about the protests perfectly well on their own.

How Can a Child Be in Debt?

I’ve been staring at this photo for two days but I honestly don’t get it. How can a child be in debt? Do banks lend money to small children? Can anybody explain?

I have to confess that I find the banking system in this country to be very mystifying.

I found the photo here but the accompanying post provides no explanation for it.

More on 99% vs 1%

This is from a post on Womanist Musings that addresses the #Occupy movement:

I am so damn sick and tired of Occupy Wall Street. Every so called “progressive” I know of is riding the #OWS dick like it is going out of style. Me? I can’t stand the shit. For the most part, I see most of the protests that have been inspired by Occupy Wall Street to be strictly the work of some spoiled little (previously) rich brats who can’t handle the fact that the college education that mommy and daddy paid for did not get them the high paid cushy job that they truly believe they deserve. I would be willing to bet that almost all of those who are running around with signs about being the 99% would not give a FUCK about economic injustice if they were not directly impacted by it in the present moment. And I bet in five years, most of them will be sitting in some multinational corporation’s headquarters shaking their heads and chuckling about the days when they were “radicals”. . . So, no, I will not be joining in the mindless adulation shown in progressive circles towards Occupy Wall Street. I have better things to do with my time than join up with some folks who are upset because a tiny percentage of their privilege is slipping away.

I have to tell you, people, that even though I try hard to be open-minded about the protests and hope for the best, I honestly can’t help feeling the exact same way about them. I look at the footage of the protests and I don’t see my students from low-income blue-collar and farming families among the protesters. I don’t see my minority students. I don’t see immigrants such as myself represented at the protests. What I see (and what I’m trying as hard as I can to resist seeing) is what the blogger I quoted above sees.

I remember how when I was an undergrad a super-duper progressive acquaintance tried to berate me for not participating in the WTO protests. As the only child of a high-powered trial lawyer and a famous surgeon, he simply couldn’t envision a reality of a recent immigrant who had to work 3-4 part-time jobs at any given time to have at least a small portion of what his parents provided for him freely. The saddest thing about this discussion that this passionate defender of the rights of the dispossessed grew very petulant and snarky when I pointed out that I couldn’t even imagine affording a trip to Quebec City to participate in the protests and that being away from work for several days would create extreme economic hardship for me.

“It’s people like you who can’t see past their need to be efficient corporate robots who are making the world such an unfair place,” said this guy. Of course, his rich parents made it easy for him not to need to be an efficient corporate robot, which is something he conveniently preferred to forget whenever an opportunity to berate those who actually needed to work for their living arose.

I also remember trying to explain to fellow grad students why I couldn’t risk losing my student visa by participating in an anti-patriarchy civil disobedience protest. The only way I could describe these folks after that conversation is “spoiled rich brats.”

A reader of my blog wondered why my students don’t identify with the #Occupy protesters and only see them as an inspiration for Halloween costumes. I have to ask myself, though, who are those people who can stay at a protest for many days at a time, listening to beautiful speeches and waving slogans around. These are obviously not people who know that if they don’t work today they will not eat tomorrow. These are obviously not people who have family obligations. They definitely don’t have small children, younger siblings, or sick elderly people to take care of at home. So who are these folks, and how come they have so much free time and resources to be at the protests?

I’ve heard a suggestion that the participants of the #Occupy protests are unemployed. I find this explanation to be quite offensive to the unemployed, to be honest. I’ve been living with an unemployed person for a while now, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that unemployed people work extremely hard. They work for free a lot, trying to create opportunities for employment in the future, sometimes in a pretty distant future.

Something tells me, however, that this is a reality that many of the #Occupy protesters can neither understand nor feel any solidarity with.

Zizek and the Occupy Movement, Part II

The reason why I love Zizek in spite of all his outdated Marxist rhetoric is that he is great at coming up with pithy statements that summarize the issue perfectly. Take the following for example:

They are called losers – but are the true losers not there on Wall Street, who received massive bailouts? They are called socialists – but in the US, there already is socialism for the rich. They are accused of not respecting private property – but the Wall Street speculations that led to the crash of 2008 erased more hard-earned private property than if the protesters were to be destroying it night and day – just think of thousands of homes repossessed.

This is, in my opinion, a perfect response to many of the superficial critics of the movement.

Zizek also has something crucial to say about the false friends of the movement:

The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, those in power will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture.

I couldn’t agree more. There is nothing more potentially dangerous to the #Occupy movement than the attempts to drown the legitimate economic grievances and the important political message of the protesters in the sea of moralizing inanities about the evilness of greed. I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but this is a central concern. Morality cannot and should not be addressed by political means. A political movement that has any chance of succeeding needs to abandon the weepy personal stories (many of which are not even that weepy and make the protesters look like spoiled brats) and exhortations about compassion and voice concrete factual demands. These demands should be addressed solely and exclusively to the elected representatives of the people, not to some private citizens who have no obligation whatsoever not to be greedy or to show compassion.

Zizek, of course, disagrees:

What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of concrete pragmatic demands. . . What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on enemy’s turf; time is needed to deploy the new content.

I understand what Zizek is saying and why he believes it is too soon to begin to formulate what the practical demands can be at this stage. However, I’m not convinced that there is time. Winter is coming and it sounds like it will be a pretty harsh one. In Montreal, we are promised the coldest winter in 20 years, and New York always gets whatever weather Montreal does. Then, the holiday season will be upon us with its triple whammy of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Who can judge the protesters if they decide not to show up when it’s cold outside and there are things to celebrate?

The #Occupy movement is the most hopeful, promising and wonderful thing to happen in the US public arena for a long time. People are waking up, getting angry, getting engaged. I watch the coverage that shows the protesters magnifying the voices of the speakers by repeating what they say in a ripple effect and I feel that finally, finally we are seeing the children and the grandchildren of those Americans who stunned the world with their dedication to social justice in the 1960s and 1970s.

Those of us who wept with joy during Obama’s election victory speech and then listened in stunned horrified silence to him appointing Summers and Geithner to key positions almost immediately after that don’t want another major disappointment. We bought into the vague rhetoric of hope and change but as soon as our “hopey-changey” leader got elected, we realized that hope and change meant completely different things to many of us. We need to abandon the meaningless feel-good slogan-making of “99% vs 1%” and “greed is bad” and start voicing concrete demands.

If we let this opportunity to get something done go to waste, we might not get another one.

Does the “99% vs 1%” Slogan Make Sense?

Reader n8chz says on the subject of whether the “99% vs 1%” slogan makes sense:

I take it as a political statement that the middle class have more interests in common with the lower class than with the upper class.

My question is, really? Is this a convenient myth we are telling ourselves, or is this actually true?

There is a grievous lack of a social safety net in this country. Let me remind you, however, where the money for this social safety net comes from in the countries of Western Europe and in Quebec that have it. It is financed by the very high taxes paid by the middle class.

In Sweden, the income tax rate is 57.7%. In Germany, it’s 42%. In Belgium, it’s 50%.

We like to pretend that if we prevent the hedge fund managers from paying smaller taxes than they should on their investments, that is going to make a massive difference to the economy. It’s all a convenient illusion, though. Every more or less socialist system in existence right now is based on taxing the middle class heavily.

This is precisely why the #Occupy movement is so invested into promoting the myth that we are all 99% and that we have the same interests and goals. You can nationalize every single private jet and every single private island in this country outright, however, and that is not going to finance a passable social safety net even for as short a time as the next 50 years.

It’s so much fun to protest and wave catchy slogans on Wall Street while feeling like you are bravely fighting for the cause of the dispossessed. It is a little harder, though, to agree to be taxed at the same rates that one’s Western European and Quebecois sisters and brothers do.

I have a question for my middle class readers. Are you willing to give away between 50% and 60% of what you make in taxes to pay for the universal free healthcare, very cheap or free higher education, very high unemployment benefits, free amazing daycare for the poor, etc.?