“Sitting It Out—In Which the Students Lead the Way and the Police Use the Spray”
November 7, 2011 2 Comments
Today’s blog is an excerpt from The Battle in Seattle by Janet Thomas. Thomas has written plays about abortion, sexual abuse, nuclear war, the Vietnam War, and the war against the environment, books about hostel travel in the West, and she’s been editor of a magazine about spas around the world. She lives and teaches on San Juan Island in Washington State.
There is a great irony behind the North American and European protest movement against the World Trade Organization: the students are protesting both the physically impoverished lives of those who are exploited in the name of profit, as well as the way in which corporate culture spiritually impoverishes their own lives.
Critics are quick to point the finger at students who are so privileged that they have nothing better to do but bite the hand of the system that feeds them. What the critics don’t understand is that’s precisely what the students are trying to do, because the system feeds them nothing but crass commercialism. And they are fed up with it.
In her book No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, Naomi Klein chronicles this rising tide of frustration and rebellion among younger people. And she includes herself: “What haunts me is not exactly the absence of literal space so much as a deep craving for metaphorical space: release, escape, some kind of open-ended freedom.” This gilded age of high-tech wealth has produced a wave of youthful revolutionaries who want to get back to meaning, to mystery, to metaphor. To them, freedom means more—and less—than money. It means individual and personal experience, free of corporate definition.
To those of us who are more than a few years out of high school and college, this is not an easy reach. We already got defined—by the freedom of individuality in the ’60s, by the tragedies of the Vietnam War, by the threat of nuclear war in the ’70s and early ’80s, and by the giddy explosion into capitalistic consumerism in the mid-80’s. We have no way of knowing the depth to which this legacy of consumerism has hollowed out experience for our young people. They were born on the cusp of consumerism, and they are finding out what’s on the other side. Just as we looked over the dark edge of war, nuclear arms, and communism, they are looking over the dark edge of the advertising age into consumer-driven capitalism, and they don’t like what they see or what they feel. They are following the money to find out why. And money talks.
[…] What’s not getting lost on this rising generation is that much of the profits go not only into the pockets of a few, but into the actual creation of a corporate-induced value system, a lifestyle of consumption that is dependent upon the deprivation of others. “I think more and more Americans are realizing that our privilege, and our lifestyle, means that someone else is suffering,” says Seattle activist Vanessa Lee.
[…] Nike, Disney, Wal-Mart, Adidas, Liz Claiborne, and other companies with visible identities are relatively easy to identify. It’s the corporate ethic in its less easily identifiable form that breeds the more systemic threat: the politician who rides into office on a wave of corporate experience, promotes and supports free-trade laws, and then returns to the corporate marketplace to reap the benefits when the stint of “public service” is over; the military arms sales to foreign countries that don’t identify the corporations that benefit so grandly from the sales; the flowers in the marketplace that are grown abroad on corporate-owned farms that still use deadly pesticides that impact the health of poorly paid workers. Neither the guns nor the flowers have labels. Tracking down the origins of the things we buy has become a complex and confounding challenge. Even when we do know where things were made, we don’t know how or at what price to the laborers. And we are addicted to our ignorance.
Excerpt © Janet Thomas. All rights reserved.
To read more of what Janet Thomas has to say, check back around this neck of the woods this Thursday for another excerpt from her book The Battle in Seattle. And don’t forget that you can receive a 50% discount on this title at http://www.fulcrumbooks.com by using the discount code OCCUPY at checkout!
- WTO Meets Occupy Wall Street (fulcrumbookblog.com)
- Place Your Bets for the SC11 Student Cluster Battle in Seattle (insidehpc.com)
- For the 99%: Fight rampant consumerism with a Cambodian cow (heidi-miller.com)
- 5 Reasons Why Interning Is Better than Working at a Restaurant (fulcrumbookblog.com)
- . An investigation of disaster capitalism, based on Naomi Klein’s proposition that neo-liberal capitalism feeds on natural disasters, war and terror to establish its dominance. (theboldcorsicanflame.wordpress.com)