For the first time in several decades, our national discourse has been split open to ideas long repressed and ignored by the mainstream media. For the longest time American politics has revolved around the center-right. In the industrialized world, the United States has proportionately the smallest welfare state. Labor laws are relatively deregulated, for a long time there was no mandated health care, and income taxes are more regressive than in many other parts of the world.
Our political culture is so rightist that the Economist mapped Barack Obama on a political compass right next to David Cameron. We have no viable left in America, and when Ann Coulter spouted her fire at the YPU about how this country is being destroyed by my political perspective, many others and I retorted that there is little to no left in this country. But for many a progressive, liberal, or leftist like myself, it looks as though we may have found some tangible hope. I’m not talking about Obama’s propaganda fueled by the artistic genius of Shepard Fairey, but real, tangible hope in the form of a popular movement.
Harry Graver’s column on Friday (“The duties of intellectual cogency,” Sept. 7), gave some well-deserved stinging criticism for the Occupy Wall Street protesters. They do not have intellectual coherence — but then again, neither does the Tea Party, nor did the Civil Rights movement, nor did the Populists of the late 1800s. However, the Occupation is, like those others, a coalition of sentiments and perspectives pointing in a general direction. I’m sure that there are a few revolutionary anarchists and progressives from the Democratic Party, a smattering of communists and social democrats, but mainly just folks with an idea or two and a passion — no more “rational” than the conservative perspective Graver posited. One can only wave away the Occupation’s legitimacy for a so long. But it doesn’t seem like they’re going away anytime soon, and they’re only getting louder.
As a coalition, they understand that “Justice” and “Equality” are much more than words. They understand that these are perspectives that have real implications on how people are treated and cared for in this country. These protesters who have been at it for about four weeks understand that we need to treat people equally, that we probably need to bring about greater equality of economic and social resources, and that there is something profoundly wrong in the fact that the richest country in the world faces such a high level of inequality. This very vocabulary gives hope that for once, many ideas and individuals might be heard. Just for once, saying you that everyone has an equal right to fundamental resources like education might not get you called an “evil communist” or a “dirty hippie.” For once, in the American public arena, leftism has a voice.
For a leftist who thought that his perspective would be permanently barred from national American politics, the Occupation is bringing back certain words and ideas that have been more or less taboo for the past three decades into discourse. Whether you’re on the left or the right, I would hope that you think that a healthy democracy needs actual intellectual diversity. Our discourse is defunct, propagated by a first-past-the-post party, single member district system. Influenced by corporations, it revolves around the center-right, giving us the choice between crazy and crazier for its citizens.
After having dinner with some of the organizers of the Occupy New Haven, I can say their goals are analogous. They mean to redistribute resources that are scarce for much of the New Haven community. They intend to create a central meeting place with resources, social, educational, and financial, freely given by those who wish to give and take part. It’s to be a meeting place where learning can be dispersed and discourse can be engaged in. It is precisely this willingness to engage in politics openly, especially for the more disproportionately unrepresented members of our society. The majority of the country merits nothing less than a political culture that makes their voices heard within their community.
It’s nice to know that the Left and real democracy are not dead yet. See you on the Green at the Occupation.