Update: Or people could decide to protest Alfonso Soriano’s contract during Cubs-Sox at Wrigley, which is—uh oh—at the same time.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement, which spread quickly to Chicago, Oakland, and other big cities, emerged out of the 22-year-old anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters. The magazine is the brainchild of Kalle Lasn, a former adman who decided to use his powers of popular persuasion against his old industry and the consumer mentality it feeds on. It’s a bit of a cultish publication, but its culture-jamming activities occasionally find their way into the mainstream, like Buy Nothing Day (now Occupy Xmas) and TV Turnoff Week (now Screen-Free Week), both of which Adbusters played a significant role in bringing to broader currents. If you’ve ever seen the “Joe Chemo” and “Absolut Impotence” anti-ads skewering cigarettes and vodka, you’ve seen their work.
But the Occupy movement is far and away the most prominent that’s come out of the Adbusters arena. Insofar as it came out of anywhere, it was from a blog post from the Canadian magazine on July 13, 2011:
This could be the beginning of a whole new social dynamic in America, a step beyond the Tea Party movement, where, instead of being caught helpless by the current power structure, we the people start getting what we want whether it be the dismantling of half the 1,000 military bases America has around the world to the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act or a three strikes and you’re out law for corporate criminals. Beginning from one simple demand – a presidential commission to separate money from politics – we start setting the agenda for a new America.
Adbusters refuses any direct control over Occupy, and has been circumspect about discussing it for that reason. But yesterday they put out a call for occupying Chicago during the G8 and NATO summits (“In the Tradition of the Chicago 7… May 1—Bring Tent"):
And when the G8 and NATO meet behind closed doors on May 19, we’ll be ready with our demands: a Robin Hood Tax … a ban on high frequency ‘flash’ trading … a binding climate change accord … a three strikes and you’re out law for corporate criminals … an all out initiative for a nuclear-free Middle East … whatever we decide in our general assemblies and in our global internet brainstorm – we the people will set the agenda for the next few years and demand our leaders carry it out.
They expect 50,000 to come occupy. I’m genuinely curious to see how this plays out. On one hand, they have the momentum of the Occupy movement behind them. On the other, and this hasn’t come up that much in discussions over the potential protests, is whether people will come out to protest the G8 and NATO. Here’s an article that ran in the Los Angeles Times prior to the 2008 G8 summit, for example:
“This is going to be one of those events that shift people’s thinking about the world,” said Tim Condon, chief Asia economist for ING Financial Markets in Singapore.
For the G-8 and other groups led by traditional Western powers, he said, “their relative position is shrinking to the rest of the world. . . . The relevance of this meeting is questionable. It’s not clear what they can do.”
The event has not produced any tangible successes in recent memory; every summer, leaders make the same empty promises. They pledge billions of dollars in aid that never materialize and make commitments to reduce carbon emissions that are not met.
Many see the G-8 meetings as fruitless because they do not produce policy or because their commitments are never fulfilled. But it is also wholly unreasonable to expect those kinds of achievements from a loose union of this nature.
I mean, I guess lots of people could get behind a protest against pointless meetings.
Wall Street, and before it the WTO, made for big fat targets because of their association with economic policies that the average person could see in their own lives: the former with deregulation and bailouts, the latter with globalization and off-shoring. The G8’s more like a meet-and-greet for industrialized Western nations.
Meanwhile, here’s legendary UN security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski celebrating NATO’s birthday in 2009:
NATO’s 60th anniversary, celebrated in April with pomp and circumstance by the leaders of nearly 30 allied states, generated little public interest. NATO’s historical role was treated as a bore. In the opinion-shaping media, there were frequent derisive dismissals and even calls for the termination of the alliance as a dysfunctional geostrategic irrelevance.
And Stephen M. Walt, international relations prof at Harvard, looking at the military alliance in 2011:
NATO has been on borrowed time ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, because military alliances form primarily to deal with external threats and they are hard to hold together once the threat is gone. In a sense it is remarkable that NATO has persisted as long as it has, but that was mostly because the United States could afford to subsidize European security and because Washington saw NATO as a useful tool for maximizing U.S. influence in Europe.
The central problem here is structural: there’s just not much of a case for a tightly integrated military alliance anymore, and not much reason for Europe to be armed to the teeth. Although both European and American defense intellectuals have worked tirelessly to invent new rationales for the alliance, none of them have been especially convincing.
Broadly speaking, lots of people have reason to protest international organizations in 2012, and the Occupy movement has built a substantial, if loose, confederation of activists. But specifically, the G8 and NATO are not the most obvious targets. The G8 isn’t so much opaque as it is vague. NATO is more controversial (and recently picked a fight with Anonymous), but in complicated ways—criticized for civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Libya, but also praised for its role in its intervention in the latter.
The twin summits might just be viewed as an excuse for protesters to get their demands in front of the eyes of the world; maybe that’s enough to draw a crowd. But both organizations are somewhat tangential to the missions and concerns of Occupy, and neither is a particularly menacing force—both have been weakened by geopolitical changes, and both are casting about for a role in a post-superpower world in a time when the Western powers are not just diminished, but weakened by the Great Recession and economies of austerity. A loose gathering of the 99 Percent protesting loose gatherings of bureaucrats might not make for anything world-historical.
Photograph: Chicago Tribune