Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hedges, Hope, and Spectacle

Chris Hedges has often stated that hope, real hope and not the packaged hope of political sloganeering, can only come now in individual and collective acts of direct resistance. In his article No Other Way Out from, he indicated that the March 19, 2011 protest at the White House would be just such an act.

Partially on his passionate and reasoned words, and partially out of a sense of personal shame for having done essentially nothing to voice my opposition to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan since taking part in the huge protests that lead up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, I went to the action at the White House. I carried a homemade sign that read "Another Citizen Against the Wars." And I met Chris Hedges there.
Chris Hedges, 3/19/11

But hope? I can't say that I came away with any or generated any. Maybe I did. It didn't feel hopeful. It was definitely moving, exhilarating, passionate.  But as I observed the scene even as I participated in it, I saw, outside the perimeter of "the event," people going about their business - tourists, clerks, service workers, teenagers, bureaucrats - and I could see that, in our circus-like costumes, our provocative banners and our shouting, we were hermetically sealed off from the world around us. We were a Spectacle.

It occurred to me then that spectacles don't communicate, they distract. Such a spectacle as ours delivered up stereotypes. We were predictable so no one had to pay us any serious attention. In that moment it seemed obvious that we (the opposition) need to rethink the use of this type of spectacle for resistance because it is clearly no longer effective (Ralph Nader said as much but more on that in a later post).

Yet I agree with Hedges when he writes:

"We will not stop the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, we will not end this slaughter of innocents, unless we are willing to rise up as have state workers in Wisconsin and citizens on the streets of Arab capitals. Repeated and sustained acts of civil disobedience are the only weapons that remain to us. Our political system is as broken and dysfunctional as that once presided over in Egypt by Hosni Mubarak. We must be willing to accept personal discomfort, to put our bodies in the way of the machine, if we hope to expose the lies of war and blunt the abuse by corporate profiteers. To do nothing, to refuse to act, to be passive, is to be an agent of injustice and to be complicit in murder."

These are hard words and difficult assertions. I wanted to get arrested with the 113 other people who did but it was too inconvenient, I wasn't prepared despite imagining that I was. But it's alright. I was there, I did something. There will be many more opportunities for "personal discomfort" in the months and years ahead.

Lescaret in Bowler Hat, March 19, 2011, D.C.

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