we’ve been more about sedation than provocation
December 13, 2011 § 10 Comments
A: So . . . I love to see all this action on the ports — light years ahead of anything that’s happened in our lifetime, in terms of activism. But there’s this nagging question in the back of my head — what’s the point?
B: My first (admittedly facile) counter: what’s the point of doing nothing?
A: Duly noted.
B: My second (slightly less facile) counter: it empowers those who are doing it. To be doing something, anything, no matter how miniscule, is a grand gesture in contemporary America.
A: I can also see it as a kind of preparatory exercise.
B: It’s a tiny slice of empowerment –basically what people used to think voting was, vaguely participating in a system, that has no room for them.
[standard conversational deviations ensued . . .]
B: I think what these protests in particular are setting in motion are relationships, as strained as they will be, between non-unionized workers and unions. This action in particular is a provocation on many fronts: toward the obvious players, Goldman Sachs, capital, etc., but also toward those with whom we want allied, the mainstream unions, some of whom rightfully regard this as an undemocratic imposition on the rank & file. But, you know, nothing happens without adequate tension. In contemporary America, we’ve been more about sedation than provocation. If nothing else, this is something different.
A: And I guess just doing SOMETHING keeps the movement going/growing/etc.
B: Yes. And ideally, the “something” to which this might lead is more pro-union reform, where rank & file start pushing for more legislation to make strikes easier/legal. The day’s success cannot be measured by its media coverage, whether that’s positive or negative, though that plays a role. Assessing its success will take much longer than the attention deficient media cycle, though, since we’re talking about building connections that haven’t existed for quite some time.
A: Then we might get a Democrat elected president on a wave of popular support not seen in a generation, with a palpable debt to union organizers — OH WAIT. . . . Maybe the nation should go on a general strike until the fillibuster is abolished.
B: Given my tendency toward ambivalent positions that don’t make for very good slogans, I tend to approach the “what’s all this good for” question from the perspective of “this is all well & good, but do recall, we’re doomed.” For some, I realize, this takes away the need to do anything at all, so it must be advertised with discretion. But for me, it just takes away the need to quantify what success would mean. With that out of the way you’re freed to try just about anything.