Five years ago today, I sent the first Occupy Wall Street tweet.
I wrote: “Dear Americans, this July 4th dream of insurrection against corporate rule #occupywallstreet” The tweet didn't get liked or retweeted. It didn't trend. No one replied. I must have sounded naive, outlandish and slightly absurd.
Back then Occupy was just a seed in the minds of Kalle Lasn and I. Nine days later we released our tactical briefing and the Occupy meme bloomed into a worldwide, leaderless spiritual insurrection.
Now it is 2016, the fifth anniversary of Occupy is approaching and activism is in a paradigmatic crisis. Here's why:
Contemporary forms of protest are no longer effective. Sincere activists ought to know this now because the great social movements of the past two decades—from anti-globalization to anti-Iraq war to the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, climate change protest, Nuit Debout and many more—have failed to achieve their desired social change objectives. Whatever the people publicly opposed happened anyway. The monied elites are still in power. The economic inequalities have increased. Disruptive protests have failed to halt the rise of Donald Trump. Democracy continues to decline. The months have never been hotter. And, most disturbing of all, frontgroups are proliferating that use the rhetoric of revolution to destroy the possibility of revolution by turning protest into a pre-scripted, performative, springtime farce.
The protest rituals we keep repeating may have worked for a previous generation but the repressive regime has evolved and these nostalgic tactics no longer work today. We are in, what I call, the end of protest.
What I have just written is taboo within the activist scene. It is practically forbidden to discuss whether the movement’s triumphalist rhetoric might be leading us astray. Many passionate activists are ostracized by their protester friends, and deemed persona non grata by their movement buddies, for expressing these sentiments. And that is one of the most disturbing symptoms of the crisis within activism: anyone who points out that the standard repertoire of protest tactics is not working, and suggests innovations that might break the script, is accused of being anti-protest.
But it is the ones who shun unconventional activists for speaking up against the groupthink of activism that are truly anti-protest.
It is no coincidence that at the same time as a growing consensus of experienced, veteran activists are becoming disillusioned with protest theater, the chorus of giddy pro-protest rhetoric grows louder and louder on social media. With dazzling photographs of thousands in the streets, behind exciting declarations that this is an era of uprisings, riots and general strikes, the protest industry—the well-funded NGOs, marketers, clicktivist frontgroups, corporatized progressives and police masquerading as polyamorous militants—attempt to drown out productive revolutionary criticism with retweets, likes and shares. They exclude dissenting voices from their conferences, use their slush funds to reward conformists with fellowships and deny access to their progressive media channels for any discussion of the ongoing crisis within activism. Why? Because the end of protest is an integral part of the political pageant. The illusion of democracy would be ruptured without the spectacle of dissent and so their purpose is to encourage the simulacrum of protest.
The prohibition on speaking honestly about the dismal state of activism is beyond dangerous: it is suicidal. The stakes are too high for protest to remain ineffective.
When a paradigm is in crisis adherents to the old way of thinking tend to react in one of two ways. Some will deny that the crisis within activism exists. These people usually occupy the positions of power within the hierarchy of the protest industry. They make a lot of lofty noise, get a lot of attention and take up most of the discourse space. But their unwillingness to see the change that is underway ultimately makes them irrelevant. It is safe to ignore the ones who insist that disruptive protest is working: they will be forgotten tomorrow. The second reaction is to become an innovator. These are the activists who acknowledge the crisis and embark on a period of wild experimentation. Their attempts to define a new paradigm are often marked by successive failures until one day, unexpectedly, they achieve a massive breakthrough—a revolutionary moment—that rewrites the destiny of activism.
Only a sustained period of soul-searching and innovation can save activism now.
July 4, 2016
Segment 2: The author’s reprieve from moral decay is short-lived…
Part V: From Finger Lake Lodge to Rainy Lake Lodge, located on the Puntilla Lake (Mile 165) and beyond...
Immediately upon leaving the checkpoint, one has to push his or her bike up a long hill and then descend a long way down, down, down to another lake or river. The descent was steep enough that even Lindsay, who is simply amazing at riding steep, scary descents, elected to walk the bike down to the lake. I suppose we were riding on a solid track for forty or so minutes when Lindsay realized that he had left his damned camelbak back at the lodge.
I think I have already established that Mr. Lindsay Gauld is a gentleman of the highest order, while my irrational actions at the Fingerlake Lodge speak to the level at which my moral or ethical code was operating. Lindsay handled the oversight with grace and candor, exclaiming with honorable resignation, “Itz my fault, but I must go back and get it as I will surely need it when we cross Rainy Pass.” My initial response to this predicament was to curse his camelbak and to begin in earnest to try and convince him to leave the damned thing. “I told you at Irene’s that camelbaks are tools of the devil! I absolutely loath camelbaks, I hate camelbaks, camelbaks are unreliable, camelbaks leak, camelbaks make a guy sweat and chap. Leave the dam camelbak! You can have a couple of my waterbottles! Forsake the camlebak! I know for certain that you have had major problems with camelbaks in the past because I have witnessed them with my own eyes!! Admit it…Admit that the camelbak has betrayed you in the past!!! Renounce your camelback!!!!”
The stoic and peace-loving former Canadian Olympian and all-around good guy calmly listened to my little tirade and then in a tranquil voice instructed me to continue onward whilst he would return for the camelbak. I followed my instructions, but sheepishly, perhaps because I was feeling a hint of guilt—before we parted, I promised to walk a lot and ride slow, so as to allow him to catch back up in good time. It must be pointed out that while I am not above treachery, I had no intentions of trying to ditch Mr. Gauld for he a solid plan and the plan was working. Even by my “fuzzy” math calculations, we were well ahead of schedule. We had even begun to openly speak of finishing the course in less than four and one half dayz. Plus it was a great sense of comfort to travel with a competent guy that had been on the trail just twelve months before…
Actually it was a good section of the trail for a guy like Lindsay to catch back up to me in reasonable time as he was much more able to descend the many steep, even “bobsled” like descents, than I was. When he did catch back up to me, in something like three hours, I marveled at the daring speeds he would gather as he flew down the many very steep narrow ramps. Yet on one such speedy descent, he missed a tight corner and went flying off the trail and into about six feet of fluffy snow. Having witnessed the crash, I was sure that he would be injured. He was full of snow, totally stuck, and would still be there today had I not pulled him out, but thankfully his little body was unharmed.
In my world, the world of a pure Cyclist, the trail segment from the Happy Steps to the Rainy Lake Lodge on Puntilla Lake was the most appealing of the course to McGrath. It was beautifully remote with huge mountains in the distance, tightly lined with gigantic, majestic evergreens, very hilly, the trail was hard and smooth, and thus the riding was a blast. I remember thinking, “Wow this is truly awesome, but how in the hell do the mushers get their dogs to run up and down these tight curvy climbs and drops?” Riding the first 350 miles of the Iditarod forced me to concede beyond a doubt that the guyz and galz that run dogs the full 1000 miles to Nome are truly special people…and the dogs are über-special athletes…I thought of my beloved Hondo (and Loki too) and I smiled…
As stated above we had perfect riding conditions, some of the best snow-biking I have ever experienced, and thus rode into the checkpoint cabin at Rainy Lake Lodge in good physical condition and high spirits. I’d guess that we arrived to the checkpoint around dusk, I remember that it was still light out, but it was fading fast (Christmas lights were festooned across the entrance to the little cabin and it looked wonderfully inviting). So maybe it was perhaps 6:30 p.m. when we made Puntilla Lake and subsequently, we left the following morning at 1:00 a.m. I am pretty sure about the departure time-frame as it has strangely remained stuck in my limited, dysfunctional brain. The idea surrounding the 1:00 a.m. departure timeframe being to get up and over the notoriously cold Rainy Pass during daylight, so as minimize the time spent out in the open as well as decreasing the changes of getting lost.
Lindsay had suffered severe frostbite crossing this high alpine pass last year, so he had some demons to deal with, which worked in my favor as he was highly motivated to get an early start…which meant that he would not oversleep our departure time of 1:00 a.m. (as I surely would). As far as all the checkpoints go, my six+ hours at that little, cozy cabin on the shores of Puntilla Lake were by far the most restful [by comparison Buffington stayed three hours]. The old log cabin was not too hot, nor too cold, but just right. Just as the bed, in which I slept soundly, was equipped with not too clean, but not too dirty sheets and blankets, but instead with just the right amount of dirt on the sheets and blankets. I was in heaven! The little tribes of mice scurrying around my head were not too big nor too…You get my drift…I was about as close to heaven as I guy like me can hope for, once he leaves this world…
At Puntilla, the unsupported “serve yourself” race protocol regarding the food and drink was provided for in the form of an assorted box of Sam’s Club “bargain basement priced” canned soups, chilis, and the like situated under an old table, a tub of semi-used, slightly moistened orange-flavored Tang, next to two big jugs of water. There was a big metal bowl on top of a 50 gallon oil-drum stove with six or seven of the cans bobbing, axillary labels floating alongside willy-nilly, in the tepid water. The stove was warm, but not hot, thanks to Dave Johnston, the only other resident at our arrival. He was sleeping on a near by bunk, so we spoke in whispers. Given the arrangement, momentarily, I was confused until Lindsay grabbed a can, broke it open and downed the contents, chasing it with a gulp of old-school Tang. Never one to worry too much about table etiquette, I enthusiastically followed his actions, grabbing what I surmised to be a can of low-rent chili. My problem was that, as is often the case in my life, I was not content to stop with knocking down just one can of “the affordable” chili. Lindsay ate a can and then went to prepare for a good sleep. But, the way I figured it was that if this was the meal that I was being given in conjunction with my entry fee, I was gonna dam well get my fair share! So I sat there and knocked down three more cans of various pastas, noodles, and beans.
Shortly thereafter, I climbed into a very comfortable bottom bunk and passed out, enjoying the first and really only solidly refreshing sleep of the whole trip from start to finish. When we woke up, Dave was gone…what an amazing person.
When Lindsay roused me up from my sweet slumber around 12:45 a.m., I felt refreshed and motivated to tackle Rainy Pass and head for the beautiful Emerald City of Rohn, Alaska. Lindsay had taken pity on me and thus waited to the last fifteen minutes of departure time to wake me. He was packed and ready to go, so not wanting to let him down, I packed up as fast as I could and was ready to leave right at 1:00 a.m. The problem was that while my heart and soul were both ready and able to tackle Rainy Pass, to do my part to being honor to our noble effort, my intestinal tract was still very much asleep.
At home, I awaken my hard to awaken intestinal tract each and every morning in the same manner, every day it’s the same routine, I am very regular, which the doctors tell me is a good thing. Basically, every morning during the work week, the alarms goes off around 5;20 a.m., I ignore it, and then my wife kicks my sorry butt out of bed. I then obediently stumble to the shower. Once out of the revitalizing shower, my heart and soul are up and ready to go, but my intestinal tract is still fast asleep, but that’s okay. I descend our stairs to the family room and head for my chair, where the dog has taken up residence. As I kick the dog out of my chair, he half-heartedly snarls at me, and I grab him, leash him, and then we head out the door. He does his business in due time and then we head back inside. By that time the coffee is ready, so I grab a big cup of coffee and knock it back in fast order. The coffee immediately wakes up my intestinal tract and so I move back upstairs to do my morning business. Then I head off to work. Been doing it this way for nearly twenty-five years. I got me a routine… Men are instinctual creatures.