Messages Needing To Break Through: Private Companies Keeping Public’s Solutions Off the Table
Right near the end of this week’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, at about the 45 minute mark, Rachel Maddow was talking about how there was no mystery to the fact that “so many common sense solutions, not very partisan solutions” to America’s problems were “off the table” because one or another “big business wants them off the table” “precluding these serious issues from getting traction.” (“Crony capitalism” ?)
Thomas Friedman, who in the discussion had just identified a set of issues such as a possible carbon tax (i.e. fossil fuels tax) that are vexingly “off the table” thereupon asked how “we the people” can, “leverage our energy to take these people on,” saying with exasperation that this was what he was “hungry for” right now.
That’s when Maher ventured his insight that the right wing wants Occupy Wall Street to resort to more routine and conventional forms of opposition because, if they do, those with the money will have them outgunned so that the Occupy Wall Street crowd will lose. Maher’s words:
When I see these Occupy Wall Street folks and I hear the right wing say `Humph, these people down there with their dirty, filthy. . pissing in the street’ and, you know all this stuff. It’s like, you know what?: They want them, to do it THEIR WAY. They don’t want them in the streets. They’re saying `come inside, put on a suit and get a lobbyist instead, because that way, `we know you’ll lose.’ . . .Maddow, commenting on what makes street demonstrations effective, said that demonstrations were designed to be “inconvenient” and “in the way” so they won’t be ignored.
. . . This is the only other way to get power when the other side has all the lobbyists and all the suits.
Touré (the MSNBC correspondent and one-name author of “Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?”) commented that inconvenience to the protesters themselves was also key because by expressing the “depth of their commitment” it gave their actions power.
Apparently concurring, Maher said about the value of the particularity of this Freedom of Assembly tactic that:
The only thing that impresses the other side is willingness to stay in the street.With Privatization Public Expression Becomes an Option “Off the Table”
These observations accord with the key points of a Noticing New York article I posted this week about Occupy Wall Street’s free speech and how it had been effective in breaking through with its message by physically occupying the Zucotti Park space. I quoted Michael Kimmelman, the new architecture critic of The New York Times, that, “we tend to underestimate the political power of physical places” and that the power of various media aside, “nothing replaces people taking to the streets.”
I further noted that as Occupy Wall Street has been achieving surprising success in transmitting its message to a receptive public Mayor Bloomberg has reacted by redefining what he originally described as free speech as something that he no longer wants qualified as such, or to accept. It seems that pro-Wall Street Bloomberg, much as Bill Maher aptly described, would like Occupy Wall Street compelled to communicate more conventionally, on more Bloombergian terms, in which case it is doubtful its message would be getting through as effectively.
Bloomberg already has formidable potential tools at his command to bring about what he wants in terms of breaking up a ‘real estate’ insurrection: His live-in girlfriend is on the board of the private company that owns the `public’ space of Zucotti Park, and Bloomberg is very entwined with the developers of the Real Estate Board of New York who are now seeking to change the law retroactively to evict the OWS protesters.
All of this is especially important, because meaningful free speech, the ability to actually break through with a message is being increasingly threatened with new, historically unfamiliar constraints. Free speech is threatened by an escalating privatization of that which used always to be public. As I wrote, privatization of the streets and parks (real estate) is coming up as an issue right now with Occupy Wall Street but there is also the broader background issue of privatization of the basic elements and channels of speech, via unprecedented restrictions imposed by copyright and through ownership of monopoly media and airwaves. We are even having to fend off pending schemes to privatize ownership of the Internet. And the implications of such privatization for political expression are all the more bleak considering the way in which the nation’s wealth and resources are being ever increasingly skewed to the wealthy.
People publicly “taking to the streets,” is a great leveler to get popularly supported messages through. But when you take on the plutocrats, as Bill Maher suggests, those plutocrats are going to try to convince you to do so on their home playing field, an unlevel one, where you will lose because they have “all the lobbyists and all the suits.” In a world where everything is rapidly being privatized you need “lobbyists” and “suits” to express yourself, unless you resort to “taking the streets.” But, in New York City, that option too is fast being precluded to by the privatizing of previously public space: streets, sidewalks and parks. If Bloomberg and the New York City real estate oligarchs have it their way it may soon be that to demonstrate in what used to be public space you will need your own private army of lobbyists and suits.
I said a lot more about this in my Noticing New York article on the subject: Saturday, October 22, 2011, Occupy Wall Street and the Banks- Messages From Bonnie & Clyde, “They’ve Got Too Much Money”: Ownership of the Public Forum by the Wealthy?
If you read it you will also gain an appreciation (also explained here) for why the picture below depicts Mayor Bloomberg’s dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, joining the Occupy Wall Street protesters.