As a sometime reader of the Canadian cultural jamming magazine, Adbusters, I was first made aware of the #occupywallstreet initiative in back in September of 2011. It was on the Skytrain during my morning commute that I saw that iconic poster for the very first time. Half asleep, not yet fully of this world, I was trawling through the Post Anarchism edition (issue 97)  when the (now) iconic montage – the one of a ballerina, standing in a graceful, fluid pose, atop Arturo di Modica’s bronze Charging Bull sculpture – sneaked into the palimpsest of my mind. Evanescing into the background of the black and white image, a phalanx of black bloc protesters wearing gas masks are being pursued by riot police: an indistinct vignette, a palisade of antagonistic tension forming an effective, rumbling counterpoint to the calm and graceful fluidity of the feminine form in the foreground.
Above the woman’s bob hairstyle, are the words:
What is our one demand?
As with any successful piece of graphic design, an image should segue into a synergistic relationship with the copy. In this instance, the deliberate ambiguity of the message came as the real kicker – something that was to, pointedly, beleaguer the movement for months (but that is outside the scope of this piece.)
At the bottom of the poster, in the same bold sans serif typeface is the brief tantalizing message:
#OccupywallStreet. September 17th. Bring tent.
I remember chuckling to myself. I interpreted this call-to-arms as naught but situationist-style grandstanding. Nothing more than the editor, Kalle Lasn, routinely shit disturbing – engaging in his perennial meme war. For a second, however, for a miniscule moment, I pondered on what a hypothetical slumber party in the New York financial district would achieve, what it would look like. I mentally summoned a rag-tag of anti-capitalists and anarchists; I could almost hear their drumming and cavorting – sounds that were drowned out all too soon by the chiming of the doors opening and closing at Brentwood Town Centre.
No one was more surprised than I when the call-to-arms actually grew legs (and teeth) and took off in earnest. Who’d have thunk it: people actually showed up. Moreover, within a few days, a settlement of 21st century enragés – the self proclaimed 99% – were organizing within the small confines of Zuccotti Park. Almost by magic, a ‘people’s library’ – full of dog-eared paperbacks – grew like a fungus from between the cracks in the flagstones. I watched in incredulity as recalcitrant gen-Y-er’s in windjammers set up a food station and began apportioning ‘Occu-pie’ pizza to the homeless and the needy. More trenchantly, in the land of if you are sick Buddy and you have no money, you’re shit outta luck health care, first aid volunteers began assuaging a myriad scrapes and bruises, dispensing analgesics and tampons with an equal measure of compassion and camaraderie.
From my workstation, through the Livestream feed, I marveled at the inventiveness of the ‘human microphone.’ An invention originally borrowed from anti-nuclear protesters, its redeployment came as a necessity, due to the NYPD (and Michael Bloomberg’s) stricture that the use of voice amplification devices was to be forbidden in the park. So in an act of cocky defiance, folks began to shout, repeating the words of any individual who sought to address the makeshift assemblies (an intent that was signaled by the use of the now hackneyed phrase, ‘mic check.’)
At the time it felt as though history was in the making; under the red and black flag of anarchism, this was the real deal, surely: it had all the hallmarks of a rubber-meets-the-road activism, one that may have a rare chance of actually making a noise, of kicking up a stink. Following on from the success of the Arab Spring and the prefigurative political rhetoric of Spanish indignados, anything seemed possible. The anarchist within me began to vibrate like a tuning fork. I felt a strange energy begin to descend. I felt a compulsion, an ill defined need, to do something. To throw myself on those gears in whatever way I was able. However, being several thousands of miles away was somewhat of an impediment to my overall usefulness. So I did what many in this day and age do as a last resort. I got out my credit card and picked up the phone. I dialed the OWS designated pizzeria and ordered an extra large occu-pie; a token gesture of solidarity for all the good folks sleeping under the tarps in Lower Manhattan.
Less than a month later, the mountain, as it were, came to me. The larger Occupy Together initiative proposed a general day of action on October 15th 2011, in order to spread the message of wealth disparity across the North American continent. The nascent Vancouver general assembly was slated to convene on the art gallery steps, at 10 o’clock, sharp, for a brief procedural initiation. Individuals, pre-chosen as facilitators (or stack-keepers) from a previous meeting, would henceforth attempt to explain the use of the hand signals that had been adopted to convey consensus. The ‘stacking procedure’ would also be touched upon: the process that determined who got to speak and, more pertinently, when they got to do so.
The progressive stack technique is a something that compels the rotationally appointed stack-keeper to move people forward (or backward) on the speaker list depending on several criteria – chiefly, whether or not you were deemed to belong to a minority group or, conversely, whether you were apprehended as being part of the dominating class. It was there and then that I was duly informed that, as a white heterosexual male, I was a member of this dominating privileged echelon and that if I wanted to address the assembly, I may have to forgo my place in the line a myriad of times, in order to let others, who have been ‘traditionally denied a voice,’ to scoot in ahead of me. Women (surprise, surprise!) were always escorted to the front of the queue because, although they were not a minority per se, they were ausländers – outliers in that political hinterland beyond the perimeter fence of the big, bad encampment of domination.
This was not the first time I had ever had my ostensible privilege stare me in the face – but this time it felt a little different: it was suddenly right the fuck up in my face. Being a one-time Marxist feminist, this perennial charge of patriarchal privilege was bitter medicine, yet one that I felt compelled to imbibe. I had been holding my nose and swallowing this tincture, ever since the mid 1980’s. It seemed a small price to pay for trying to make the world a fairer place for all. And like most medicine, you tend to ignore the rancid taste because you are led to believe it is good for you, that it is curative.
For all of my erstwhile enthusiasm for the tenets of Occupy (and the social redress contained within the 99% meme) I now felt terribly let down, affronted and wholly betrayed. I resented being cast in a mold as some manner of existential ‘other.’ A burgeoning sense of anger and betrayal, due to my gender being discriminated against and speciously marginalized, swept over me in a wave. I found myself angry at being cast through a dark meniscus, just for the happenstance of being born male. Right there and then I wanted to murmur something about this being (surely) sexist, but the larger super-ego structure within my psyche told me to shut the fuck up; to just chill out and focus on something else; to forgetaboutit already and enjoy the free vegetarian chili over at the Food Not Bombs marquee. At the very least, this dynamic within the internal structuring of the Occupy Vancouver movement was, in the words of the (not so) immortal CC Music Factory – ‘one of those things that ma[d]e [me] go hmmm.’
Hmm – and then some.
I got another enlightening glove-slap soon thereafter. It came in the form of a video / ‘Tumblr experiment’ entitled ‘The hot chicks of Occupy Wall Street.’ [2.] As such it was a relatively benign (in my mind) showcase: a visual paean to the assorted female ‘talent’ of Zuccotti Park. Set to a gentle yet stirring string movement by composer Caleb Sampson, one is regaled with a bevy of beauties: tattoed ‘suicide girls;’ fresh-faced undergrads; pierced, spikey haired riot grrls; a funky, a multi-colored be-dreadlocked black woman; a radiant, face painting Egyptienne; a thirty-something red head in a sequined hat – to mention but a few. In essence, on recent review, all I see with my besmirched male gaze, is a succession of politically driven and passionate women; lovingly framed, they are given a voice and allowed to express core ideologies – their hopes and dreams for themselves, their world and for their children. Despite the director’s extant masochism in using the hot chick moniker, I perceived little therein that may be considered offensive. But then again, that is me – and I do admit, I have been woefully bad at taking my feminist prescribed ‘medicine’ recently.
The gender ideologue and self-declared man-hater, Jill Filipovic, immediately launched into invective mode upon seeing the film. Writing for the website Feministe, [3.] she branded the film’s director, Steven Greenstreet, as (wait for it, folks) ‘a creepy voyeur.’ She then charges him for creating ‘masturbatory fodder’ and concludes with the following admonishment:
‘The one upside is that the Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street tumblr is like Steven Greenstreet’s very own I’m A Creep bat-signal (he may also be a 911 Truther? Lots of warning signs here). May he never get laid again.”
As a result of this muck slinging, the director’s personal e-mail address was disseminated among the online feminist nexus. The end result of his rather innocuous little project was egregious and all too predictable: he started to receive a multitude of hate mail, including those that included threats of mutilation and death.
I witnessed the ire of the local feminist brigades firsthand when a close friend of mine decided to post Greenstreet’s movie onto the Occupy Vancouver Facebook page. Now, I have to say that although I love this individual dearly, he can, on the odd occasion, place himself behind the eight ball – especially in regard to gender politics. As a pro-democracy activist from Belgrade, Serbia, he did not have to become inured to the incessant feminist rhetoric of the ‘male gaze’ (or that of the objectification of the female form) in any way. Despite growing up in a socialist federation, under the ‘benevolent’ dictatorship of Josip Tito, the omni-present boogeywoman of reactionary feminist ideology was not a prevalent motif within the body politic or the culture at large. “I knew what feminism was because I used to read Erica Jong and stuff like that,” he concedes, “but that was just me. Back in the nineties, if you went 30 miles outside of any major Serbian city, no one would even know what feminism was. Most people there could not even read.”
However, he maintains that it was his personal naivety – not his upbringing – that made it permissible for him to share the video without fear of censure. As soon as he posted the item in question, the reverberating, hate filled commentary began to rev up like a well tuned engine – no fiddling with spark plugs, no choke required. As a consequence of my writing this piece, I have been back trawling through the timelines of the two main Occupy Vancouver Facebook pages (in order to capture some sound bites of the tsunami of indignation that was leveled at my friend) but I have, thus far, come up empty handed. What I do remember, however, was the constant stream of invective and overt shaming tactics. Most of all, I recall the shocked, slightly saddened and incomprehensible look on the face of my best mate. He literally had no idea that this innocent action was going to cause so much rancor.
It was at this precise juncture, that feminism and cultural Marxism lost its literal persona. It had become, well and truly, unmasked. With the metaphorical cataracts removed from my eyes, its spell over me was broken. Its countenance reverted, like the portrait of Dorian Grey, into a phantasmagoria of indescribable decrepitude. You see, when this ideological disapprobation was directed at someone other than myself – when it was leveled at someone I cared deeply about – I finally had cause to stand up and take notice. As to why I did not have a road-to-Damascus experience when the feminist broadsword was aimed at my own juggler is a moot point. However, the issue is that, inadvertently, thanks to Occupy, an ideological chain – one stretching way back into the antediluvian mists of my past – was finally broken. And while I continued to support the encampment with my labor and via the donation of certain infrastructural materials, I found that my enthusiasm for the whole caboodle was waning by the day. I was in a truly liminal state but did not know it.
More and more, it felt as though a thick and opaque mantle had wrapped itself around my spirit. I felt duped and foolish for even deigning to care about the state of the world in the first place. Despite my objections to the plutocracy, to globalism, to the decimation of the planetary biosphere (and the human race’s seeming Icarus-like plunge into oblivion,) I could no longer place these convergent, potential catastrophes ahead of the welfare of my own gender. I had done precisely this for decades and it had benefitted me not one iota. More and more, it seemed that by denigrating men, in continuing to put them, politically, on the backburner – behind women, baby seals and rainforests as a secondary or even tertiary concern – I was abetting of the same old, same old: that habitual sacrifice of maleness. I could do this no longer. I was done.
Inertia was setting in. The Occupy meme began to develop a lack-lustrous patina. In Vancouver, the tent city was becoming more and more insalubrious by the day. Drugs were rife. Op-ed pieces in the local media were growing increasingly strident in their condemnation of the protesters. Taking a beat from the original poster, they demanded to know just what their [Occupy Vancouver’s] demands were. Similarly, in my mind, the whole thing began to smack of a fruitless game of musical chairs. I found myself wondering: just what would Occupy’s nebulous new-new order – the one devoid of cigar smoking fat cats – actually look like? What of its socio-political topography? How would that translate into the running of a society? More pressingly, I found myself wondering whether or not we (a pronoun that was fast becoming ‘they’) were merely seeking to wrest the power away from those crusty and malign old C.E.O.’s only to hand it over, willy-nilly, to equally malign young women. Would it be a case of bye bye, El Presidente, hello Elle Presidente? Increasingly, I became angry with myself; I was angry for imbibing, yet again, that same old left wing soma. I had made the intellectual diaspora from Marxism to anarco-syndicalism – all the way to the borders of anarcho-primitivism – and I had fuck all to show for it. Nothing save for a nebulous kernel of shame. Every step of the way I sought to find excuses for my very being; at every crossroad I felt compelled to downplay my innate flaw, the ostensible privilege of being born with a piece tumescent tissue between my thighs. In the final analysis, I felt just as disempowered now as I did on my first anti-apartheid march, way back in ’83.
I had had it up to here. In a fit of aimless desperation, a-googling I went; I figured that there must be an antidote to the spiritual malaise I felt, somewhere out there. I searched for several days, typing in all manner of keywords. Finally I found what I was looking for. Quite by chance, I came across a curious caplet – a hard red pill….
* * *
Last weekend, I was hanging out with the members of the Vancouver MRA, putting up posters in the Commercial Drive of Vancouver. All of a sudden, the pre-gay pride Dyke march surrounded us in a cacophonous tumult of chanting and celebratory power fisting. In the middle of the throng, a young woman held up a banner. The words thereupon, scrawled in blue felt-tip marker cross a green construction paper field, exclaimed: ‘SMASH THE PATRIARCHY.’ JohntheOther saw this and smiled; simultaneously, he pointed to the four policemen on motorcycles manning the barricades. No words were necessary: here was the selfsame ‘patriarchy’ keeping the roads closed and safe for the sisterhood to march down. As a consequence, I have begun to apprehend the police in an entirely different light. They are no longer cast in my mental landscape solely as an antithetical miasma: as the UC Davis campus-police, pepper-sraying students, as the faceless foot-soldiers of the New World Order. While I cannot claim to be their most ardent supporter (there has been too much water under the bridge for that,) being a MRA has, nonetheless, given me a fresh perspective. These guys are men – as am I. Once they were boys. They probably poked dead animals and played with the same kind of toys I did. They were no longer uncritically cast as the other. Suddenly I found that I had more in common with these officers than I did with my erstwhile allies – to wit, the womyn with the venus-symbol earrings, walking in the middle of the road.
When I got home I went straight into my study and pulled out the back #97issue of Adbusters magazine. I made a beeline for the Occupy poster of the ballerina standing on the bull. Only six months had elapsed, but for some reason, the image now seemed wholly different in its tone, in its import. The bull had transmogrified into a pedestal; the central focus, the ballerina, was now a stamen of privilege – auto erotic, self absorbed and uniquely divorced from the kerfuffle in the background. The combatants – presumably male – are marginal and deliberately unimportant. Their only task seems to be keeping some unseen force at bay, away from the protagoniste – an almost singular entity threatening to prick the fragile gossamer film of tranquility surrounding the female consciousness.
Thanks to the MRM, I now know what that force is.
1. Adbusters: #97 – September / October; “Post Anarchism”