A friend dropped a brilliant idea on me the other day,
the kind of idea that, once it wiggles into your brain, has the ability to
sprout and bloom like a Chia
Pet: Occupy the Super Bowl.
Occupy the Super Bowl
Has a ring to it, does it not?
As I write this column, the media is abuzz with
speculation about the rise and fall of the Occupy Wall Street
Wall Streetmovement. Police raids on Occupy encampments, from Manhattan's Zucotti Park, to the University of California campus in
Berkeley, have prompted mainstream speculation that now, finally, the crowds of
disaffected Americans will begin to disperse and we can begin to discuss the
movement's meaning in the past tense.
"Occupy shifted the debate," proclaimed a
headline in last week's Indianapolis Star.
The Associated Press story that followed observed that the Occupy protesters
"have yet to turn the conversation into major action," and that
"few politicians or policymakers have publicly taken up the protesters'
cause." Where, wondered reporters Meghan Barr and David Caruso, does the
movement go from here?
It would be nice to be able to consign the Occupy
movement to the recycling bin of history. This would enable scholars and
pundits to give it a poke and put it on the shelf alongside other harmless
artifacts, like hula hoops and granny glasses.
The Occupy movement has caught our reputedly
"liberal" media betwixt and between. On the one hand, right-wingers
complain that by even covering the Occupiers, the media tips its hand, giving a
disproportionate amount of coverage to a motley crew of folks who haven't so
much as bothered to elect a fearless leader.
But even more revealing has been the media's
difficulty, amounting to a kind of learning disability, in coming to grips with
the movement's larger meaning, that is, a fundamental rejection of the what's
become of American capitalism.
As Jeffrey D. Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at
Columbia University, recently observed in an op-ed piece in the Sunday New York Times, America has been so
obsessed with anti-communism, and for such a long time, we all but forgot about
how to critique capitalism. After World War II, there was the Iron Curtain. Then the Red Scare. The world settled into a protracted Cold
War, drawing up sides that defined communism as a totalitarian menace, while
capitalism stood for all that was free. Capitalism, in other words, equaled
democracy, and communism tyranny.
Lost in this bipolar shuffle was not only the ability
to distinguish the many shadings living between these two extremes, but an
effective working vocabulary for discussing the inevitable relationship between
economics and social justice.
Well, the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. A generation has
come of age since the end of the Cold War. While there is multi-generational
diversity among the Occupiers, the vanguard of the group seems comprised of
younger adults who are ready to find new ways to think about money and power in
America. If, at times, they seem less than glib, perhaps it's because they,
like so many of the rest of us, are still looking for the right words to
describe what's wrong.
At least they can see what's happening. Maybe they've
smiled and showed up for those unpaid internships, only to wind up waiting
tables. Maybe they're carrying student loans they don't know how to pay. Maybe
they have no health insurance. Maybe they feel lucky to have a job, but can't
make enough to rent an apartment, or get married, or have kids.
And maybe they see no end to any of this because, in
Washington and the Indiana Statehouse
Statehouse, they hear politicians saying that the problem is that workers
make too much money; that workers' rights keep us from competing with India and
China; that Social Security and Medicare need cutting.
To their credit, the Occupiers have stopped smiling.
They've dumped the Successories and those back issues
of Fast Company magazine that told
them how cool it would be to be their own brands. They see that when most of us
swim with sharks, we're lunch.
Which brings me back to that Occupy the Super Bowl
idea. A lot of people in the media have suggested that, once the weather turned
cold, the Occupy movement would go away. It would certainly be stressed.
But a change in the weather might also prompt a change
in tactics. Perhaps now it's time to pick targets, to show up at those events
where the 1 percent likes to party.
No single corporate event fills this bill like the
Super Bowl. It's a corporate orgy, where the elite meet to indulge themselves
in a self-congratulatory, gladiatorial spree. The city will be in hyperdrive, obsessed with keeping reality at bay, and doing
its best to make the NFL's corporate wingmen happy.
Being in the slush and bitter wind of an Indianapolis
winter won't be easy. But it could also make this year's game the Valley Forge
of the Occupy movement. Where does that movement go from here?
To the Super Bowl!