From my article in The Sociological Quarterly‘s new special issue on Occupy Wall Street:
Public Performance and Backstage
We know that Rosa Parks was not merely tired when she refused to give up her bus seat. She was acting with agency, and the appearance of spontaneity was part of an intentional performance designed for strategic effect (Polletta 2006). It was fine—intended even—for most people to see and sympathize with her as a tired woman who had simply had enough. It would not be fine, however, for students and strategists of social movements to take her performance at face value. We must also look behind the scenes.
Accordingly, it behooves us to explore Occupy Wall Street’s (OWS’s) backstage and not take its bountiful public performances at face value when assessing the movement (Goffman 1954). What complicates matters is that what we might usually think of as a movement’s backstage—for example, decision-making processes, general meetings, working groups, planning, and so on—is not really behind the scenes with OWS. It is all part of the public performance. To many OWS participants, internal democratic processes were often indistinguishable from external messages. To me OWS’s hyperdemocratic process was an important part of the public message. General Assemblies at Zuccotti Park in New York City operated as a brilliant theater, dramatically juxtaposing a visibly participatory people’s movement against what OWS participants and sympathizers perceived to be a rotted political system that has effectively disenfranchised most Americans. The downside is that General Assemblies were not functional forums for actual decision making. Because they were so cumbersome and easily derailed, many of the most active OWS organizers, myself included, eventually stopped going to them. Thus, much of the real decision making was pushed back-backstage into underground centers of informal power…
Read the full article on The Sociological Quarterly website (no paywall). Check out the full special section on Occupy Wall Street here.
It’s funny how much conservatives like to talk about “entitlements”. Because, when I think of the word entitlement, I think of white people crying at public meetings about wanting their country back. I think of Mitt Romney not bothering to write a concession speech because he feels that the universe somehow owes him the presidency.
Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the Republican Party has behaved as if it still has a mandate. They want it to be the early 1980s. Whoa is them; there’s the small detail that the country’s values and demographics have changed profoundly since the conservative cultural backlash ushered in by Reagan. These values shifts will likely continue moving away from conservatives.
Leonard Cohen wrote (in Sisters of Mercy) about “you who must leave everything that you cannot control. It begins with your family, but soon it comes round to your soul.” I think of today’s Republican Party in relation to “their country”. Except for the leaving part. They don’t strike me as the leaving kind. Forgive the metaphor, but their actions—especially around sequestration—remind me more of a murder/suicide scenario. They must destroy everything they cannot control. If you prefer a lighter metaphor, think of a spoiled child playing with a toy; when forced to share, the child opts instead to destroy the toy.
But back to the suicide analogy, which Paul Rosenberg made a few weeks back at Al Jazeera:
The United States is on the verge of committing suicide. Slow suicide, perhaps, which may take decades to fully play out, but suicide nonetheless. The proximate event is the sequester – deep across-the-board cuts to military and discretionary domestic spending, originally conceived as a Sword of Damocles, but which Tea Party-dominated Republicans now see as just the perfect budget axe. And that’s just one of several successive and mostly recurring crisis points at which Republicans are obstinantly demanding deep budget cuts that will inevitably slow, if not cripple the already weak economy – as well as debilitating or destroying vital government functions in the long run.
If I can’t own America — if I can’t count on America to be my rightful inheritance, to do with what I will — then I’m going to burn it down.