Originally published on December 2nd, this piece set forth a set of guidelines for the Occupy movement to gain legitimacy and further their cause. Now, with the Occupiers taking back to the streets in a fruitless attempt at relevancy, it's dire to revisit what they could — and should — do to maintain some semblance of relevancy and political might.
A few weeks ago — before The Inclusive’s three week hiatus had been announced to us scribes – I had begun work on an article about Shakespeare. The impetus for this article was the release of Anonymous, a film that purports to tell the “real story” about Shakespeare’s plays by telling a fake story based on the discredited and (laughable in academic circles) Multiple Authors theory. This theory, also known as the Anti-Stratfordian theory, came into being over 100 years after Shakespeare’s death and contends that William Shakespeare couldn’t be the true author because he was a mere commoner incapable of composing works of such genius that surely must be the work of a nobleman.
The theory is of course rubbish. Despite claims to the contrary, we actually have a fairly large amount of information about Shakespeare’s life, education, and career. The true writer of Shakespeare’s plays is none other than…William Shakespeare. What we sometimes forget is that these plays weren’t the hobby of some brilliant nobleman, they were Shakespeare’s jobs; he survived and supported his family by writing plays that he and his acting troupe could perform at The Globe for audiences that included peasants and gentry alike (in separate sections of course).
In his review for AV Club, Keith Phipps sums everything up nicely:
Everything viewers need to know about Anonymous—and about the whole stupid world of anti-Stratfordians, the conspiracy theorists who believe William Shakespeare was not the author of the plays and poems that bear his name—can be gleaned by the pronunciation of a single word in the film’s first scene. Derek Jacobi frames the film as a narrator speaking before a live audience and questioning whether the son of a glovemaker could truly have written Shakespeare’s work, sneering his way through “glovemaker” as if the word were synonymous with garbage. Anti-Stratfordianism is based on the highly questionable, and prejudiced, notion that a man of Shakespeare’s genius couldn’t possibly have come from common stock.
Who better to direct such hokum than a man that made millions off of exploiting nonsensical fears over 2012, Roland Emmerich? At this point, Anonymous has already faded from many theaters with little more than a whimper, making room for more intellectual fare like The Muppets. To debunk a theory that’s already been debunked in countless other publications in reaction to a movie that has failed so epically seems pointless, so I’ll refrain. However, I’m still very interested in what the Anti-Stratford theory says about Western Culture as a whole and the predominance of class prejudice in our society.
More so than race, gender, or sexual orientation, class divides our society, as it has every civilization (insert that old Marx quote about history being the ever-repeating story of the oppressors and the oppressed). A recent study by Stanford professor Sean Reardon shows that American society has become increasingly stratified in recent decades. Forty years ago, approximately 65 percent of Americans could be considered middle class (defined in the study as having a household income between 80 to 120 percent of one’s metropolitan area’s median income), but now less than half of Americans fit this definition. Some middle class Americans have risen into the upper tier, but far more have fallen as manufacturing and other jobs have been shipped overseas by corporations that remain conspicuously headquartered here at home. The recession alone cannot be blamed for the shrinking middle class; the process has been in work for decades. But the ramifications are clear: we’re slowly headed towards a society of only two classes, have and have not.
Think of it like gaining weight. You don’t get fat from eating one bacon double cheeseburger, but over time if you stop going to the gym and keep taking seconds of dessert, you’re going to wake up one day and look in the mirror and say, “What the fuck?!” (I’m speaking from personal experience). Occupy Wall Street was our “what the fuck” moment. What remains to be seen is whether or not we can convince the “One Percent” to go on a diet.
That is why these next few months will be so critical for the Occupy movement. With the encampment in Zucotti Park cleared and evictions in cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles resulting in hundreds of arrests, it is clear that the first act of this drama is over. But any reader of Shakespeare knows that the first act is merely the beginning. Will Occupy ultimately be a tragedy, comedy, or history? At this point we’ve seen elements of all three: Occupy Denver’s election of a dog as its “leader” provided some comic relief, while the campus police’s use of pepper spray at UC Davis was tragic. But if the Occupiers want to make history, they’ll need to think out these next few months carefully (which is sure to be a challenge in a movement that opposes the notion of traditional leadership).
Pundits have repeatedly made comments regarding the disorganized nature of Occupy and claimed that movement has yet to articulate a specific message or list of demands. This is an oversimplification in a lot of ways. While no Occupy manifesto exits, the ideology of the movement is pretty clear: hold Wall Street and the banking industry responsible for their role in damaging the economy, reverse the Supreme Court decision that made corporations people, tax the wealthiest Americans (who are paying less than they did during the Eisenhower years), and above all, create jobs. The problem is that this message has begun to be lost in the noise. Protest movements risk becoming about the right to protest itself rather than their stated cause if they cannot find or maintain a wide appeal.
A Time magazine poll released late last month showed that close to 70 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of the Occupy movement (and about the same amount had an unfavorable view of the Tea Party). Early on, Occupy had the sympathies of moderates, but as time has gone on and the protests have become increasingly disruptive the patience of many Americans has begun to grow thin. How do I know this? Simple: my mom told me.
See, my mom is an average American in every sense of the word (I mean that as a compliment) and about as politically moderate as you can get. She usually splits her ticket 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans, and the guy she votes for usually ends up President. How she goes, the country goes. While initially sympathetic to their cause, she has grown increasingly frustrated with Occupy Philadelphia.
Occupy Philly has been demonstrating in Dilworth Plaza outside City Hall since late September. They were the first Occupy protest to obtain a permit and operated with the support of the city’s mayor until recently. The plaza where they have been camping, however, is scheduled to undergo renovations starting this week. The protestors were offered by the city a location across the street with the condition that there could be no camp set up and that the demonstrations would face a curfew.
When the protestors refused to accept this offer an eviction was ordered and the camp was cleared. Reports of hypodermic needles found at the site outraged my mom, as did the subsequent action of the protestors who shut down the Market St. Bridge during rush hour by creating a human wall and refusing to move. Some people might see this resolve as courage, but my mom and many others saw the protestors’ unwillingness to compromise as obstinacy.
My feelings on the matter are mixed. I would be down there protesting every day if not for one fact: I was luckily able to find a job despite the economy. At the end of the day, jobs are what the Occupy movement needs to focus on if they want to find a wide appeal. That’s why the refusal to allow the construction workers into Dilworth Plaza to perform their jobs (for what is a public works project, no less) struck many people as silly and selfish. Do the Occupiers stand for jobs or the right to protest? Or do they stand for something else? These are questions the Occupy movement needs to answer soon.
Occupy should learn the lessons from the failures of earlier youth movements. In 1848, a series of youth-led reform movements and revolutions broke out across Europe (they happened in so many nations that it’s actually easier to name the European countries where revolutions didn’t happen: Russia, Netherlands, and the Ottoman Empire). Unfortunately, most of these revolutions, like the Young Ireland uprising, failed miserably and even more successful ones like the one seen in France resulted in little actual reform. The 1848 movements stirred the passions of idealists, but failed to engage that larger populace and for the most part were done within a year. The Anti-War protests of 1960s are remembered fondly by anyone who has ever listened to Buffalo Springfield, but they also inadvertently helped elect Richard Nixon to the Presidency by alienating the “Hard Hats” who were frightened by the protestors’ radicalism.
I’m not saying that Occupy needs to defang. The courage of many of the protestors (in particular, the UC Davis students come to mind) should be commended, but if they want to produce real change, the movement will need to evolve. Broad support is essential to effecting reform. Right now Occupy is like Black Flag or the Dead Kennedys: a wild, loud, revolutionary force. But they need to be a bit more like Green Day: still punk rock, just more accessible and listenable for mainstream audiences.
The movement was able to spread incredibly quickly from one park in Manhattan to every major city and university in the country and several overseas. But the movement, despite its chant of “We are the 99 percent!” still represents a very small group of society. South Park did a great job satirizing this fact with Butters and Jimmy’s two-man Occupy Red Robin protest (and yes, I just managed to reference both South Park and Shakespeare in the same article).
Occupy have made their voices heard, but now it’s time to make their words understood. The only way to do that might be to turn the volume down. These coming months will be a great challenge and the movement will no doubt face more hurdles, but hopefully the Occupiers can overcome. After all, Shakespeare showed us that commoners can do pretty amazing things when they have the chance.