From occupations to manifestations: Arundhati Roy imagines another world

I was excited to find in my inbox today an interview with one of my favorite women writers of resistance, Arundhati Roy.

Roy may be most famous for her novel, The God of Small Things, but I am most moved by her political writings.  She is the one who coined that very popular saying, which became a motto of the World Social Forum in the 1990s: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

She has been a shrewd and no-holds-barred critic of transnational corporate capitalism for decades now, long before it became a trendy position to take.

As she wrote in An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, “So much of what I write, fiction as well as non-fiction, is about the relationship between power and powerlessness and the endless, circular conflict they’re engaged in.”

Since she’s been thinking about these issues for so long, it’s not surprising that the comments she made to Arun Gupta, published today in The Guardian,” are right on target.

“I don’t think the whole protest is only about occupying physical territory, but about reigniting a new political imagination.

“I don’t think the state will allow people to occupy a particular space unless it feels that allowing that will end up in a kind of complacency, and the effectiveness and urgency of the protest will be lost.

“The fact that in New York and other places where people are being beaten and evicted suggests nervousness and confusion in the ruling establishment.

“I think the movement will, or at least should, become a protean movement of ideas, as well as action, where the element of surprise remains with the protesters.

“We need to preserve the element of an intellectual ambush and a physical manifestation that takes the government and the police by surprise.

It has to keep re-imagining itself, because holding territory may not be something the movement will be allowed to do in a state as powerful and violent as the United States.”

This certainly speaks to the question that has been worrying at me all day today, as news spread of the violent evictions of Occupy encampments in L.A. and Philadelphia.
Once the physical encampments are gone, will the movement die away?
Or can it keep bubbling up in guerilla fashion, as I advocated in an earlier piece on this blog, like the spontaneous street parties of European cities, that materialize, stage an intervention, and then vanish before they can be contained?
Also, what role will the internet continue to play over the winter?  Perhaps we should be moving from a stage of “occupations” to a new stage of “manifestations,” where the focus will be not on resistantly occupying a physical territory, but on proactively gathering, both virtually and actually, to manifest a new vision of social relations.
In the Guardian interview, Roy ends by pointing to indigenous people, and people who live close to the land, as key mentors in the days and months and years ahead.
As climate change and environmental degradation accelerates,  Roy says, “we are going to confront a crisis from which we cannot return. The people who created the crisis in the first place will not be the ones that come up with a solution.
“That is why we must pay close attention to those with another imagination: an imagination outside of capitalism, as well as communism. We will soon have to admit that those people, like the millions of indigenous people fighting to prevent the takeover of their lands and the destruction of their environment – the people who still know the secrets of sustainable living – are not relics of the past, but the guides to our future.”
There are many of us who are now waking up to the certain knowledge that the leaders we thought were our trusty guides have been taking us on a joy ride to nowhere, ending up barreling towards a cliff.
There have been those all along who have refused to go along for the ride, who have maintained their independent imaginations and worldviews despite intense efforts by the corporate capitalist world to beat them down.
Those are the people we need to heed now–if, as Roy says, we want to learn “the secrets of sustainable living” and survive.  And if, of course, they’ll have us.

SlutWalk, Occupy Wall Street and other sparks of resistance: let’s fan the flames!

Finally this morning The NYTimes.com is paying some attention to the Occupy Wall Street protests.  But the tone is still highbrow and dismissive–Charles Blow, who really should know better, labels the protesters “hippies and hipsters” and the movement overall as “a spark set down on wet grass,” with “no where to go.”

He also finds space to inform us that “a New York Times/CBS News poll released two weeks ago found that a third of those who make $30,000 a year or less don’t believe that the government should raise taxes on the wealthy to lower the budget deficit.”

Could that be because those who are living on the edge are so beaten down by a variety of forces, including lousy education and the constant scorn this country shows the poor, that they could care less about “lowering the budget deficit”?

I bet that the pollsters would get quite a different response if the question were worded more directly, as in: Should the government raise taxes on the wealthy to help the poor get a better education, promote job growth and tighten the social safety net?  Hell yes! they’d say.

Meanwhile, up in Union Square, another protest is brewing today: SlutWalk, a new, international protest movement against “rape culture.”  In a rape culture like ours, the SlutWalkNYC site informs us, “sexual violence is made to be both invisible and inevitable; and these two practices are what normalizes rape, harassment and assault….The forces that normalize rape culture are not examined; rape is not seen as a culture or “practice” and if it is ever discussed, sexual violence is seen as an isolated act that occurs between individuals.”

SlutWalk began in Toronto last year, in response to an incident where a police officer told a rape victim that she had been “asking for it” because of the way she was dressed.  That the movement has caught on so quickly, especially among young women, is testament to the validity of its argument that no woman, no matter how she is dressed, is ever “asking” to be raped.

Both Occupy Wall Street and SlutWalk are driven by young people who are frustrated with the status quo and know that a better world is possible.  Their elders should know better than to dismiss these young folks as idealistic dreamers.  Hasn’t all change in human society, both positive and negative, been driven by those who dare to dream differently?

Lately I’ve been reading Derrick Jensen‘s latest book, a huge tome called simply, Dreams.  In it he argues that one of Western civilization’s crucial fallacies is our collective tendency to ignore and dismiss our dreams, as well as the possibility that through our dreams we may connect with “supernatural” forces that we don’t understand and cannot control.

Derrick sides with indigenous cultures who believe that the natural world is alive (“animism”) and can communicate with us.  His big question in Dreams is a weighty one: why hasn’t the natural world fought back harder in the face of the sustained murderous onslaught of humanity?

I would not presume to speak for the natural world.  But this question can be applied to a lot of other contexts today.

Why has it taken so long for Americans to get out and protest the takeover of our country by the corporate elite?  Why has it taken two weeks for the New York Times to deign to notice this gadfly protest on the flanks of the giant Wall Street bull?  The New York unions are finally stirring and considering joining the protesters–why has it taken so long for the American working class to awaken?

I think it might have something to do with the way we in the U.S. are caught up in a media-induced waking dream/nightmare, with a storyline that repeats over and over the following all-pervasive mantra: c’est la vie, there’s nothing to be done about it.  No fundamental change is possible.  The contamination of our environment is inevitable, and necessary if we want to maintain our comfortable fossil-fuel-driven lifestyle. The ever-growing gap between rich and poor is inevitable, as natural and normal as rape culture–boys will be boys, and you can’t expect rich boys to care about the poor.

Etc.

Someday analysts may look back on this period as one of remarkably successful mass indoctrination.  That is, if there are any shreds and shards left of our culture to examine after climate change is done with us.

To answer Derrick’s question, climate change is Nature fighting back.  Has anyone noticed that it’s been raining practically non-stop in New England for weeks now?  Here we are almost in leaf season, and our once-glorious maple trees are barely able to muster some mustardy brown color.  If this rain were snow, we’d be buried.  It may be an interesting winter season, to say the least.

However, resistance movements, both human and natural, are stirring all over the planet.  Like Occupy Wall Street, they may seem small, fragmented and disorganized to people who are accustomed to watching the huge, well-funded, tightly organized spectacles of mainstream political parties, or even mainstream-funded resistance movements like the Tea Party.

But it’s possible that dispersed, small-scale resistance may just what is called for under the present circumstances, when anything more obvious would simply be crushed by the iron fist of the corporate capitalist ruling class.

Resistance is happening when people take the time to relearn ancient human practices like small-scale biodynamic agriculture, bee-keeping, and storing food for the winter.  Resistance is happening when people refuse to let the dominant narratives ride rough-shod over their dreams of positive change.

Resistance is happening!  Let’s prove Charles Blow and the other naysayers wrong. It may be a rainy season, but let’s be the dry tinder for the spark of protest to fall on. It just takes one spark to start a wildfire, after all.

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