Having spent the past week visiting the encampment at Zuccotti Park, following news reports and blogs, and talking with Occupy Wall Street protesters, I find a striking absence in the event: any intellectual or political figure of notability. I am not sure that Roseanne Barr 's appearance lent much legitimacy to the movement, let alone the support of rapper Lupe Fiasco who, when interviewed, spoke mostly of a 911 "Building 7" conspiracy theory. Nevertheless, as far as notability goes, that has been about it.
The blatant absence of notable intellectuals, political leaders, civil rights activists, and talk show "journalists" is not due to the incendiary topic of corporatocracy. College professors and public intellectuals have been writing books and teaching classes on the issue of corporate abuses of democracy, and what has come to be called late capitalism, since the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Living intellectuals and academics including Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Michael Hardt, and many others make the state of American democracy and capitalism the stuff of best selling books, documentaries, and lecture tours.
So where are the voices of the radical academics, the public intellectuals, and the always eager entertainment "journalists" who speak on the same injustices as do the protesters of the "American Autumn"? I have three reasons why the most intelligent minds of the day are having nothing to do with it.
1. Adbusters. The Vancouver based Adbusters magazine was first published by the insightful thinker Kalle Lasn in 1989. This culture jamming magazine quickly became the periodical of choice for the anti-consumerist counterculture by using the methods of mainstream advertising to bring attention to the oppressive dark side of capitalism. Although the anti-consumerist position of the magazine is shared by many radical intellectuals, its superficial glorification of "the coming revolution" is not.
Today the magazine and website comes off more like an advertising campaign appealing to adolescent angst, than as a sincere call for social change. Photoshopped images of young, armed, teenage revolutionaries, occupying American streets, marks nearly every page. The magazine feels almost like a propaganda appeal to teen anger than to social reform. In the words of an undergraduate student at The New School, "The idea of revolution for these people is the one against the father, mother, the one who limits pleasure." This is a magazine that is largely unread by the intellectual radicals in colleges and universities. The magazine promotes a certain cult like ingroup.
2. Anonymous. The real celebrities at Zuccotti Park are Anonymous. Known as "Anons" to protesters who talk of them with a certain Schwarmerei, this group often wears Guy Fawkes masks to distinguish their anonymity (one wonders if they realize that wearing the mask removes their anonymity). This is an internethacktivist group who is notorious for attacking corporate and religious websites with DDoS software such as the Low Orbit Ion Canon (LOIC).
Most of the arrests that took place in the first days of the Occupy Wall Street movement were made against Anonymous individuals for concealing their faces in public. According to the New York Times, NYC Police are using a 150-year-old statute that prohibits more than three people gathered in a public place to have their faces covered.
As far as can be gathered from the imageboards where Anonymous communicates, this is a group that is capable of threatening the civil rights of others through their actions. It is a leaderless movement that emulates the postmodern condition.
As of tonight, Anonymous is planning a "Day of Vengeance" on September 24th which has led to the arrest of one of its most notable members. No thoughtful intellectual, regardless of their radicalism, wants to be part of a group that has the potential to become as tyrannical as the oppressors it fights against.
3. Generation Me. If one watches the film footage of the successful civil rights marches and protests of the 1960s, two things are plainly observable. Firstly, the protesters are not only organized and committed, they are self-respecting and humble. These protesters did not alienate potential supporters and sympathizers with their anger and outrage, instead they focused that discontent into a controlled demonstration of respect towards those who spat, struck, or beat them. They did not instigate confrontation with police and onlookers, instead they conducted themselves with the utmost display of restraint for those who berated and abused them.
Secondly, the achievements of the civil rights protesters of the 1960s were further bolstered by the activists' style of dress. These brothers and sisters, of all ethnicities, arrived at protests dressed for church. Slacks, shirts, jackets, and shoes, these radicals (think of the most radical Malcom X) knew that how they presented themselves visually would either alienate or win over those who were potential supporters of their cause.
The "Occupy Wall Street" participants are largely adolescents who dress as one should dress when one is a protester. Unlike those radicals of the 1960s civil rights movement who were successful in changing this country for the better, the protesters of today dress as if they were reenacting some scene from a movie on Che Guevara, the P.L.O., or the West German R.A.F. of the 1980s. One gets the sense, spending time with these protesters, that they are experiencing themselves as if they were characters in some film about revolutionaries. In psychology there is a term for this, it is called buying into your own story.
The costumes, lingo, and actions of these protesters makes one thing transparent; there is an absence of humility. As those extraordinary agents of change of the 1960s showed us, one must put the issue before the ego to achieve success. As long as the protesters are arrogant, self-righteous, and entitled, they will alienate those whose support would lend credibility to their cause.