“I always thought that becoming a professor would mean teaching freedom and exercising freedom. I was wrong.”
-Antonio Negri, A Revolt That Never Ends
And a brief glance into Negri and Hardt on OWS, published October 11, 2011:
Confronting the crisis and seeing clearly the way it is being managed by the current political system, young people populating the various encampments are, with an unexpected maturity, beginning to pose a challenging question: If democracy — that is, the democracy we have been given — is staggering under the blows of the economic crisis and is powerless to assert the will and interests of the multitude, then is now perhaps the moment to consider that form of democracy obsolete?
In the midst of my involvement with Occupy Los Angeles, working my way through Philosophy in the Present (Zizek and Badiou) and exploring various political ideologies and how they function, I recently attended a talk by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. Prior to attending, I did a quick bit of research into West’s CV. One of the more interesting interviews I found was conducted by Jonathan Judaken and Jennifer L. Geddes, speaking with him largely in regard to ‘intellectual life’.
You know the idea that the ‘condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak’ actually comes from the next-to-last line of the section called “The Speculative Moment” in Adorno’s Negative Dialectics. He said the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. That’s very much like Hebrew scripture, very Judaic, and I resonate with that even though he’s got a secular mode of it and a very sophisticated, negative, dialectical way of conceiving it. But he’s always looking for the defeated. It’s important to focus on the most vulnerable, the widow, the stranger. It comes very much out of Hebrew scripture, couched in their very stories and narrative…As you speak a truth, you can do it with a generosity but also with a bite. You speak the truth, expose the lies, but most importantly, you bear witness.
Two of my favorite quotes by West came in response from a woman from the audience: a professor of religion at a local evangelical Christian college. She asked, simply, “Why, Dr. West, if we are all ‘in the faith,’ why do we read the bible so differently, especially in regards to the poor? How is it that there so many on the right and left that cannot see and agree on how we are to treat the poor?”
His response is as follows:
A) “Unfortunately, there are some who’d rather drink the kool aid than be washed in the blood!”
He then more soberly approached the audience and asked,
B) “Do you read the bible as a book of facts, or a book of truth?”
I loved this. It resonated within me-especially thinking personally of my religious/spiritual background. Though I’ll never ‘abandon my faith,’ I’m fear I’m guilty all too often for casting aside the truth that may be found in scripture.
Throughout the continuation of talks by both Smiley and West joined by Rabbi Steven Leder, I was amazed at how many times I simply felt chills run down my body. Calling things to my attention such as “The new poor are the former middle class” and “This is not a political posturing of the future-our democracy is at stake” (West) proved not only enlightening, but also motivated me to decide to get back down to Occupy LA as soon I can. An illustration I thought was very cool was the picture he painted in retort to the following question:
“Do the poor have power?
“Look at Hip-Hop.”
I truly thought this was fantastic-anyone knows the roots to the present state of this industry can see how the culture of any society would not be the same without the near-impoverished demographic. Just look at how it started. We have the term “Starving Artist” for a reason! Brilliant. In conclusion, I’d like to add one last thing I took from last night, and it’s in regard to every political disagreement, and now occupation I have ever been apart of. I’ve never encountered opposition from friends, family members and academic advisors in regards to my political/ethical ideologies like I have during the past couple of years. I am thinking now of my stances on the Egyptian people under Hosni Mubarack. Of those who were imprisoned at Abu Ghraib. Of Troy Davis. And now, of the occupiers around the entire world. But Dr. West has said it before, and he said it last night:
”There are some fights ain’t worth fighting even if you win; there are other fights you have to fight even if you lose.”
Last night, I partnered with someone I’d never met to facilitate/moderate in keeping time and empathy the General Assembly of Occupy Los Angeles on the steps of City Hall. Apart from my somewhat less “glorious” days in college of writing furious letters to congress to abolish the death penalty with Amnesty International, this week has really been my first physical presence in exposure to grassroots activism of this magnitude.
I met my co-moderator for the first time at the facilitation assembly a couple of hours prior. I had learned of this meeting through my new friend Esteban the previous day, who has tirelessly followed the Crisis on Capital all over the world. I simply asked him if there was a main facilitator of the Los Angeles movement that I could follow on some sort of media, and he in turn emailed me his personal reasons for involvement that evening.
I wanted to simply share a couple of reflections on what I learned from my first time facilitating an assembly of upwards of 1,000 people. I will begin by noting something beautiful I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to witness firsthand- feminism/gender equality in action. Though the general mass remained in support of what we were speaking on throughout the assembly, there were quite a few intimidating bodies around the speaker’s area. Soon into the meeting, my co-facilitator (A Caucasian, college-aged male) became discouraged with the rising tension from these provocateurs in our close physical proximity (for some reason in protest that a ‘white man’ was ‘leading’). Finally, the repeated statements from the audience became discernable- Let the woman speak. Though I was angered there had been prejudice in the first place, this was my very first exposure to not only feeling politically and socially equal to a male, but even treasured as a woman and independent mind, fully capable of positive and individual thinking. The respect I was given-only due to my sex-was incredible. Unfortunately, following my speech on Conceptual Presentation and Collective Thought, my co-moderator remained discouraged. From here on out, we simply tried to continue announcing updates from the various assemblies (security, print media, Food Not Bombs, etc.) whilst assuring the masses that there would soon after be an opening of the floor for individual proposals and free speech.
Regrettably, an hour or so in, instances began to take place where hostile bodies rushed us and those around the platform in effort to quiet us with threatening racial suggestions, etc. From here, we digressed from the order so many had worked so hard to establish, and what ensued became an argument from floor to platform about the impending arrival of several policemen, fire trucks and (already present) helicopters. After tersely debating for a half hour the location of where we would camp for the evening, I learned the invaluable lesson I had seen in my friend’s blog: fatigue and hurry are the enemies of consensus. The assembly was soon after adjourned due to the imminent legal curfew and action was made to clean up the area in accordance and respect of the LAPD.
A couple of concretes I witnessed over the evening are as follows: if you’re going to protest/occupy/take a stand for any political or social cause, some type of unifying demand is indispensable. This was one of the main issues at the GA-the 1,000 people couldn’t come to an agreement that we were all in agreement of our demands. There is surely much to be learned from the successful occupation of Wall Street here. Another issue the general facilitation assembly has been emailing back and forth today is never assume anything-even assuming that race would (surely) not be a factor potentially hurt us in hindsight. Though I was afterward encouraged that I responded to racial slurs and comments appropriately and did the best I could, I was not prepared for it. I didn’t imagine people who obviously have a heart big enough to stand up to corporate tyranny and corruption would give into racial issues. I was wrong, and it can be better dealt with in future.
To sum it up, what I personally took from this evening: the reason I agreed to moderate empathy in the first place (with no real experience in facilitating a GA) is that I fervently believe a little compassion and love can transcend ANY conflict. The human voice is can be the most revolutionary tool we have, if we are but willing to listen. I believe this now and I will believe it until the day I am dead. Though I too became discouraged in reaction to the few provocateurs surrounding me, I connected with a thousand people last night, because of my pleading honesty for them to simply listen, and give us a chance to have a fair and just assembly. I have never seen anything like it-to look into the night from the steps of city hall and see so many faces fall respectfully quiet and just listen for a moment. It was excruciatingly beautiful. I am unsure as to the extent of my future involvement in Occupy Los Angeles, but as I told everyone I spoke with following the assembly last night, I am with them in solidarity until the end, and I hope and wish for the best.
Note: It’s a bit late now, but I completely forgot to mention: When I first started reading up on this movement, many of the posts were either completely one-sided/biased, overly passionate to the point of destructing their cause or simply uninformed. Here are a couple of posts I found to be very educating and helpful on the movement overall:
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