Sorry for the lack of posts! It’s a crazy semester, with all the job applications and grading and writing. This will be a quick attempt at blogging about the Occupy Cal protests–but please don’t look for a comprehensive overview here. These are just bits and pieces I’ve picked up as I’ve tried to make sense of things.
First, the picture. “Sea-Kings” means Vikings who lead troops or armies abroad and purport to be kings or chieftains, although we don’t know of them owning land. So, the 1% aristocracy of the Viking hordes. “Mýsingr, where is our Grotti?” refers to the Old Norse legend of a magical mill named Grotti which could churn out whatever you want–so a source of eternal plenty (for the one who owns it an any rate). This mill is supposedly owned by King Fróði, famous in Norse tradition as a king of peace and plenty, but is stolen by the Viking Mýsingr. Switching the names on the sign could be interesting–naming Mýsingr in the place of Wall Street or the UC Regents would certainly reinforce the idea that members of the 1% are functioning as self-serving pirates, rather than benevolent servants of the public, but putting Fróði’s name there would emphasize the failure of said benevolent dictator to take the source of his power and make it serve the people.
The mill is turned by the giantesses Fenja and Menja, who get their revenge in one story by churning out an army, in another by churning out so much salt that the ship they are on sinks (hence the salty sea–yes, all the answers to “Why the world is the way it is” may be found in Norse mythology). Forcing giantesses to do your work sounds a lot like the Negative Reciprocity of the relationship between the gods and the giants–but I will have to cover that another time (though it is probably relevant for a Norse mythologist’s blog on Occupy X). Fenja and Menja would perhaps function better as protestors–those who turn the gears which produce the wealth, but do not reap the full rewards of their labors. Our upper-middle-class Viking protestor doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to them–this invisible work-force seems to be an implicit part of the deal, “give us Grotti (as well as the means to run it)”. But hey, our protestor here is a Viking. He doesn’t know any better. If he gets control of Grotti himself then we can see whether he ends up noticing them or not.
As for the actual Occupy Cal–I have to confess, I was not present for any of the major demonstrations. My work tends to get backed up, so I never felt like I had the time to go in person. Well, and I hate crowds. They make me feel claustrophobic and anxious. So yeah, not really eager to go to any of the Occupy demonstrations. That said, some friends whom I trust were there. These are kindhearted people and not assholes. My word of honor. Also, they are pretty damn smart and get paid to search for the truth of things, and only that (rather than, for example, to defend the interests of a corporation). Doesn’t mean they can’t be wrong, but just sayin’…
My friend Irene, a graduate student in the English department, wrote a very articulate description of and response to the baton-beatings of students, faculty, and even a former poet-laureate (Robert Haas) on November 9th. Most of her letter is given halfway through this blog by Jesse Kornbluth. The videos are there as well. Here you can readCeleste Langan’s account of being pulled to the ground by the police after she had already offered her hands to be handcuffed. As Irene says in her letter, we should all be horrified by this brutality, regardless whether we agree with the specific aims of the (peaceful) protestors.
I imagine everyone has heard by now of the Chancellor’s awkward assertion that linking arms is “not non-violent civil disobedience”, and his later retraction after he had an opportunity to view the videos. Sure, one could argue that the protestors were not supposed to be pitching tents, and so they opened themselves up to arrest–but they were aware of that. That is the point of civil disobedience–not to go around shooting folks who don’t agree with you, but to peacefully put one’s self in a position to be arrested so as to demonstrate your belief in the seriousness of the situation and to draw attention to your cause. This doesn’t justify violent reprisal. Yes, it must be difficult for the police to decide how to deal with a situation like this–but in the absence of any actual threat of violence on the part of the protestors, I really can’t see any good reason for hitting the protestors and dragging a woman to the ground by her hair after she has volunteered to be taken away to be arrested. I’ve no doubt that if I call the UCPD to report someone chasing me through Dwinelle Hall, they will come to help me–but how could I not be bothered by the fact that these are the same people who chose to hit students and faculty who took a stand for the disintegration of public education at Cal?
There are no easy answers or simple solutions to the problems which the “Occupy” movement seeks to highlight, of course, and most of the protestors (especially at Cal, where the protestors are certainly not lacking in education) are aware of that. I can’t say whether I agree with all the points of the Occupy Cal/Oakland/Wall Street protestors, since the movement has intentionally brought together people of a wide variety of perspectives, and I don’t feel comfortable with every thing that has gone on (I wouldn’t have pitched a tent, though I understand why people would–and I do think the “occupy” camps are a little too vulnerable to violence perpetrated by a criminal few, and look, some of the protests have been hindering and alienating the rest of the 99%, rather than gaining their sympathy or targeting the 1% they are supposedly trying to shut down), but by and large I think the general point of the movement is valid. I’m no anti-capitalist–but we need to realize that capitalism is just one way of doing things. Or not even that, as there are different ways of “doing capitalism”–it’s more of one aspect of how we do things, economic and otherwise. Elevating capitalism to “The Way of the World” perpetuates an uncritical, and so harmful, ideology. It is no more “natural” than any other cultural practice, and it is certainly not inherently fair and just. Education is a lot more than just a “product”–a college degree, especially from Cal, carries enormous social capital which is pretty directly translatable into a large salary at a respectable job. People will disagree on where exactly the money should come from to pay for Cal, but constantly raising tuition for students (while raising the salaries of those in charge) defeats the purpose of public education. The upward mobility which America prides itself in isn’t possible without a culture which actively strives to make that mobility possible–without cheap or free higher education, the high-paying jobs keep going to members of families which can afford it. Well, I’m sure things are more complicated than that–but it seems commonsensical enough that even a fiscal conservative would at least sympathize with the protestors and agree that a baton beating is not particularly appropriate.
Why do we see the defenders of the public behaving this way? Just before I learned about the baton beating, I read this article on the military-mindset of the police since 9/11. I find the argument pretty compelling. The military is particularly suited to serving an institution, even if that institution is ostensibly the United States of America–the Police, on the other hand, should be protecting and serving the people–flesh and blood people. Yes, sometimes that means protecting institutions which serve the people, but the police action this November 9th suggests more concern for the institution under criticism than for the people doing the criticizing.
And that’s all I have time for. I hope I’ve articulating things alright–I have friends and family I respect and value on both the liberal and conservative sides of things, and I find it difficult at times to “speak the language” of both parties at once, and I realize I probably haven’t done justice in this post to the POV of my more conservative friends. Like I said, there are no cut-and-dried solutions to these things, but I am grateful to work at an institution where faculty and students care enough to put their bodies on the line to speak out against what they perceive as injustice.