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Friday, October 31 2014 @ 01:02 AM CDT

To the Precinct Station: How theory met practice …and drove it absolutely crazy

Occupy Wall Street

There is a scene I always recall when I try to remember the exhilarating effect that Occupy Wall Street had on me when it was first getting going. I was on a subway train in Washington, D.C., reading an article about the protests in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. It was three years after the Wall Street bailouts. It was two years after everyone I knew had given up hope in the creativity of Barack Obama. It was two months after the bankers’ friends in the Republican Party had pushed the country right to the brink of default in order to underscore their hallucinatory economic theories. Like everyone else, I had had enough.

To the Precinct Station: How theory met practice …and drove it absolutely crazy

Thomas Frank
from The Baffler No. 21

There is a scene I always recall when I try to remember the exhilarating effect that Occupy Wall Street had on me when it was first getting going. I was on a subway train in Washington, D.C., reading an article about the protests in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. It was three years after the Wall Street bailouts. It was two years after everyone I knew had given up hope in the creativity of Barack Obama. It was two months after the bankers’ friends in the Republican Party had pushed the country right to the brink of default in order to underscore their hallucinatory economic theories. Like everyone else, I had had enough.

Anyhow, the subway car was boarded by some perfectly dressed, perfectly polished corporate executive, clearly on the way back from some trade show, carrying a tote bag that bore some jaunty slogan about maximizing shareholder value or what a fine thing luxury is or how glorious it is to be a winner—the kind of sentiment that had been commonplace a short while before but that the American public had now turned bitterly against. The man was clearly uncomfortable with it on his person. And I considered the situation: Once upon a time I would have been embarrassed to hold a copy of this magazine on a crowded subway, but now it was people like him who would have to conceal what they did. Your service to the 1 percent would no longer be something you could boast about without feeling the contempt of your fellow Metro passengers.

A while later I happened to watch an online video of an Occupy panel discussion held at a bookstore in New York; at some point in the recording, a panelist objected to the way protesters had of saying they were “speaking for themselves” rather than acknowledging that they were part of a group. Another one of the panelists was moved to utter this riposte:

What I would note, is that people can only speak for themselves, that the self would be under erasure there, in that the self is then held into question, as any poststructuralist thought leading through anarchism would push you towards. . . . I would agree, an individualism that our society has definitely had inscribed upon it and continues to inscribe upon itself, “I can only speak for myself,” the “only” is operative there, and of course these spaces are being opened up . . .

My heart dropped like a broken elevator. As soon as I heard this long, desperate stream of pseudointellectual gibberish, I knew instantly that this thing was doomed.

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