Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Brazen Capitulation of Contemporary African American Artists To The Artistic and Cultural Fraudulence of 'Porgy And Bess'

http://theater.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/theater/reviews/audra-mcdonald-in-the-gershwins-porgy-and-bess-review.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha28&pagewanted=2

"['Porgy and Bess'] must be criticized ...as the most perfect symbol of the Negro creative artist's cultural denial, degradation, exclusion, and acceptance of white paternalism..."
--Harold Cruse, "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual", 1967

"The times are here to debunk Gershwin's lampblack Negroisms."
--Duke Ellington, 1935

All,

It is a measure of the sheer absence of original vision, pervasive artistic corruption, and rank opportunism (all driven of course by the relentless greed for money and fame of far too many African American artists of this generation --i.e. those born since 1960-- that allows so much actual contemporary black talent (Suzan-Lori Parks, Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis etc.) to cravenly sell its soul in order to aggressively promote and pay servile homage to such openly racist drivel as 'Porgy and Bess' (while brazenly pretending to be motivated by a desire for "creative reinvention"). It's absolutely sickening and all too predictable (for a contemporary parallel look at what happened to the pervasive corporate takeover and exploitation of Hip Hop especially after 1994--and the pathetic complicity with this commercial takeover of too many artists of the genre--in a form which started out and could have evolved into a truly great and even (dare we say it?) truly advanced and transformational art). But a dumb (post)modern "updating" of 'Porgy and Bess' in the 21st century? YUCK! The lowest of the low...

Kofi

THEATER REVIEW | 'THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS'

A New Storm’s Brewing Down on Catfish Row
By BEN BRANTLEY
January 12, 2012
New York Times


The hurricane that’s said to be headed for Catfish Row has yet to arrive early in the second act of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” which opened on Thursday night in a new, slimmed-down reincarnation at the Richard Rodgers Theater. The climate so far might be described as mostly cloudy and mild, as might this version of the show. But suddenly an elemental force takes possession of the stage, and its tremors course through the audience.

Suzan-Lori Parks on 'Porgy and Bess':

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2012/01/12/theater/100000001281743/suzan-lori-parks-on-porgy-and-bess.html


That’s the storm raging within a woman who’s tearing herself to pieces before our eyes, fighting with her infernal attraction to a man she knows she should be fleeing. For devastating theatrical impact, it’s hard to imagine any hurricane matching the tempest that is the extraordinary Audra McDonald’s Bess at the moment she is reunited with her former lover, Crown, played by Phillip Boykin. And no matter what they’re calling it these days — a musical, I believe — “Porgy and Bess” has suddenly risen to its natural heights as towering, emotion-saturated opera.

Let me linger on this scene for a moment, if I may, because it’s the only one that seems to realize fully the intentions of the creators and reinventors of this landmark opera from 1935. The director Diane Paulus, working with the playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and the composer Diedre L. Murray, has spoken of trying to make a more accessible “Porgy and Bess” — the George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gerswhin portrait of fraught love and hard lives in an African-American enclave of Charleston, S.C.

For this production, which originated at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., Ms. Paulus has said that she and her colleagues were “excavating and shaping and modernizing the story.” Mostly, as far as I can see, this has meant scrapping much of the score, using dialogue instead of recitative and reducing sets and cast to an affordable minimum. (Not incidentally, the Gershwin estate has authorized this production, hoping that it can be licensed as an eminently mountable Broadway-style musical.)

The resulting two-and-a-half-hour “Porgy and Bess” — originally a fat, four-hour opera teeming with layers of life and music — sometimes feels skeletal. But in that seduction scene I mentioned above I began to see how a stripped-bare “Porgy and Bess” might really work.

What happens in it is simple to the point of primal. A woman is surprised by a man in a deserted place (Kittiwah Island, it’s called), and that man embodies everything she has been trying to put behind her. Crown was Bess’s lover, in the days when she was known as a “liquor-guzzling slut,” but he’s been in hiding from the police. Now living with the honorable Porgy (Norm Lewis), she’s closed that chapter in her life. Or so she thinks.

But as soon as Mr. Boykin’s Crown calls out to Ms. McDonald’s Bess, you know she’s a goner. Mr. Boykin is a big man with a big rumbling baritone, and Bess (and the audience) hasn’t heard a male voice of that power — that is, one that matches her lusty soprano — since he disappeared in the first act. And though part of their angry, erotically charged encounter is spoken, the boundaries between speech and song blur here.

The starkness of the setting, and even the reduced underscoring of the orchestra, suit the moment. As this man and this woman move toward the violent and inevitable outcome of their meeting, their passion needs no embellishment. And Bess — who has already been drawn by Ms. McDonald as a compellingly conflicted soul — acquires the full dimensions of a tragic heroine.

Ms. McDonald, for the record, never recedes from those heights. Her Bess, which I first saw in this production’s original staging in Cambridge in August, remains a major work of musical portraiture, one that realizes the ambition of Ms. Paulus and company to bring fresh psychological complexity and visceral immediacy to a classic.

But there’s a catch

. Ms. McDonald’s Bess is — in a word — great; the show in which she appears is, at best, just pretty good. She and (the robust and intimidating) Mr. Boykin inhabit a world of exalted, dangerous passions that is separate from the rest of the denizens of Catfish Row.

As it is the show is much improved, clearer and more fluid, than it was in Cambridge. (And by the way, for all the predictions of major plot changes, it hews closely to the original; even the new dialogue is inconspicuous.) Though Riccardo Hernandez’s abstract, weathered wooden set still fails to evoke a specific sense of place, it at least now has a few new details that help you figure you out what scene you’re in. (Christopher Akerlind’s lighting is more precisely defined as well.)

The ensemble members, roughly half as many as past Broadway productions, have a relatively persuasive ease with their multipart choral numbers. And wearing sociologically exact costumes by ESosa, they execute Ronald K. Brown’s choreography (which weds 1930’s swing steps with African ritualism) with pleasing confidence, particularly when the sexes face off in “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing” (led by the likable Joshua Henry, late of “The Scottsboro Boys”).

Mr. Lewis, a Broadway veteran (“Sondheim by Sondheim,” “The Little Mermaid”), combines modesty and dignity as the crippled Porgy. His singing voice is supple and smooth, and his “I Got Plenty of Nothing” is rendered with a charming nonchalance.

But as reconceived for this version, he lacks the haunted gravity and touch of mysticism that Porgy needs. (It doesn’t help that in this production he’s lost the ominous solo “Buzzard Song.”) And when Porgy and Bess sing together, Ms. McDonald so overpowers Mr. Lewis vocally, their duets seem to confirm the townsfolk’s speculation that Bess isn’t Porgy’s kind of woman .

David Alan Grier, in the stand-out role of the rakish, drug-dealing Sporting Life, has grown into his performance, and he now provides a sustained and engaging take on this Mephistophelean character. He consistently evokes (without copying) the jaunty seductiveness of Cab Calloway (who played Sporting Life in the 1950’s). And NaTasha Yvette Williams gives a warmly detailed interpretation of the maternal, imperious Mariah that helps ground us in the values of Catfish Row. Perhaps more than anyone else onstage, she seems organically to belong there.

The enduring and magnetic appeal of Gershwin’s score is undeniable. It is pleasantly sung and played here. (William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke did the new orchestrations; Constantine Kitsopolous is the music director and conductor.) Yet even theatergoers unfamiliar with “Porgy and Bess” may sense a thinness in the music. The big spiritual choral numbers should storm the gates of heaven; here they sound pretty but defeated and earthbound, like angels shorn of their wings.

It seems safe to predict that Ms. McDonald, a four-time Tony winner, will be in contention for all the prizes on offer this season. She should be. You don’t need the scar that brands her cheek to tell this Bess is damaged goods (and all too aware of that status) and a woman who has always lived in defiance of the pain she is in. That’s evident in her very posture, a mix of coiled defensiveness and thrusting exhibitionism, from the moment she sets foot onstage.

And when she sings — ah, it’s a God-touched voice that turns suffering and ugliness into beauty. No wonder the people of Catfish Row don’t think she belongs among them. This Bess has the breath of divinity in a world that feels entirely too mundane to keep her.

THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS

By George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin, adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre L. Murray; directed by Diane Paulus; choreography by Ronald K. Brown; orchestrations by William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke; sets by Riccardo Hernandez; costumes by ESosa; lighting by Christopher Akerlind; sound by Acme Sound Partners; wig, hair and makeup design by J. Jared Janas and Rob Greene; music supervisor, David Loud; music director and conductor, Constantine Kitsopoulos; music coordinator, John Miller; associate director/production stage manager, Nancy Harrington; technical supervisor, Hudson Theatrical Associates; company manager, Bruce Klinger; general manager, Richards/Climan; associate producers, Ronald Frankel, James Fuld Jr., Allan S. Gordon, Infinity Stages, Shorenstein Hayes-Nederlander Theaters, David and Barbara Stoller, Michael and Jean Strunsky and Theresa Wozunk. Presented by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Rebecca Gold, Howard Kagen, Cheryl Wiesenfelt/Brunish Trinchero/Lucio Simons TBC, Joseph and Matthew Deitch, Mark S. Golub and David S. Golub, Terry Schnuck, Freitag Productions/Koenigsberg Filerman, the Leonore S. Gershwin 1987 Trust, Universal Pictures Stage Productions, Ken Mahoney, Judith Resnick, Tulchin/Bartner/ATG, Paper Boy Productions, Christopher Hart, Alden Badway, Broadway Across America, Irene Gandy and Will Trice. At the Richard Rodgers Theater, 226 West 46th Street, Manhattan; (877) 250-2929; ticketmaster.com. Through June 24. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

WITH: Audra McDonald (Bess), Norm Lewis (Porgy), David Alan Grier (Sporting Life), Phillip Boykin (Crown), Nikki Renée Daniels (Clara), Joshua Henry (Jake), Christopher Innvar (Detective), Bryonha Marie Parham (Serena) and NaTasha Yvette Williams (Mariah).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Triumphant Return of Van Jones

When he resigned in 2009, few doubted Jones was finished in Washington. | AP Photo

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1111/69083.html

“I thought progressives were too quick to go from hopey to mopey” during the past two years, Jones told POLITICO in a recent interview. “They skipped the fight in the middle...“I’m not mad at the tea party for being so loud,” he said. “I’m mad at the progressives for being so quiet the past couple of years and not having that fire and that intensity at the grass-roots level to give both parties something to respond to that’s not just cut, cut, cut.“You hear people talking about a disappointment [in Obama] and this kind of thing. I’m still of the view it was never, ‘Yes, he can.’ It’s supposed to be, ‘Yes, we can.’ And the ‘we’ was not evident in a couple of those years...“there are going to be disagreements...There are going to be points of tension and conflict. But over the long term, having a revitalized movement that can speak more for progressives and moderates helps the whole country, No. 1, and it also helps the president.”Most progressives, he said, are “not in love with [Obama] anymore, but they still like him. They want him to be reelected. But their passion is now more about issues. It’s more about workers’ rights being attacked in Ohio or Wisconsin. Or it’s more about Wall Street hurting homeowners and small businesses and students with big loans. That’s where the passion is.”Real, systemic change requires “both a willing leader at the White House level” but strong grass-roots organizations supporting him, Jones said. “If we had been [organizing and protesting] in 2009 and been disappointed with the White House, that’s one thing. But when we aren’t even doing those things — and the only people who are marching and rallying are the tea party — I don’t think you have a fair experiment” to determine which ideology should prevail. And though he’s the face of the movement, “the one thing we learned is people say they don’t believe in a charismatic superhero,” Jones said. “I don’t either. I believe in a super movement. The TP wasn’t based on a single individual. It was based on a set of principles.” “People will always let you down. Principles don’t let you down,” he said. “We’re trying to build something that’s based on principle, not personalities.”
--Van Jones
All,

I remain a very big fan and an ardent supporter of Van Jones and everything he's doing and trying to do. And he's 100% right about what we of the so-called 'American Left' and progressives generally have spectacularly FAILED to do since Obama became President and the loathsome Tea Party/Republican Party went into maniacal overdrive seriously mauling and bullying the entire country as we far too often allowed these maniacs to get away with their toxic agendas and we sat back paralyzed by fear, cynicism, inertia, fatalism, laziness, hubris, and SELF PITY. Thus we desperately need real proven fighters and esperienced grassroots organizers of Jones's quality, integrity, and vision. However with the crucial and inspiring emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the dedicated ongoing efforts of serious activists like Jones and the numerous mass based organizations that they lead we all now have a real opportunity to wake up from our self-induced coma and fundamentally shift the direction of not merely the general ideological discourse but the overall political and cultural reality in a genuinely progressive and dynamic direction. As Jones emphatically points out it's still up to us where the country goes but only IF we're willing to make the effort necessary and IF we take seriously the idea of a disciplined and sustained committment to social change...

Kofi


The Return of Van Jones
By Joseph Williams

November 26, 2011

POLITICO


As an unabashed and high-profile liberal on President Barack Obama’s White House staff, former “green energy” czar Van Jones was to Republicans what a red cape is to a snorting bull: an irresistible target.

So when he resigned in 2009 under withering fire from the right — triggered by a video of him disparaging the GOP, followed by revelations of a tenuous connection to Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists — few doubted Jones was finished in Washington. He acknowledged as much a year later, writing in The New York Times that politics has become “a combination of speed chess and Mortal Kombat: one wrong move can mean political death.”

What a difference two years can make.

While still a high-value target for conservatives, the charismatic Jones has rebounded from his messy departure to become a superstar of the resurgent left, founding — with MoveOn.org — the American Dream Movement, a grass-roots political force modeled after the tea party. His issue is no longer just green jobs, but to push back against the right’s domination of economic policy and social issues that he dates to the 2010 election.

“I thought progressives were too quick to go from hopey to mopey” during the past two years, Jones told POLITICO in a recent interview. “They skipped the fight in the middle.”

The tea party, he said, impressed him by “the way they were able to gather so many organizations and individuals under an open-source brand. There just wasn’t a voice on the economy for progressives and moderates that was coherent and passionate like them. I thought that was really fascinating, so I studied them.”

Jones helped organize a September summit, “Take Back the American Dream,” drawing more than 200 progressive organizations, and worked with groups in Ohio to defeat a bill which would have tightly restricted unions’ collective-bargaining power. And the themes of jobs and economic equality pushed by “Rebuild the Dream” — as the umbrella organization is known — dovetail with the economic message of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

To his supporters, Jones’s combative stance personifies the uncompromising liberal they wish Obama would be. But Jones credits the vocal right and the relative inaction of liberals more than he blames Obama for the predicament in which the left finds itself.

“I’m not mad at the tea party for being so loud,” he said. “I’m mad at the progressives for being so quiet the past couple of years and not having that fire and that intensity at the grass-roots level to give both parties something to respond to that’s not just cut, cut, cut.

“You hear people talking about a disappointment [in Obama] and this kind of thing. I’m still of the view it was never, ‘Yes, he can.’ It’s supposed to be, ‘Yes, we can.’ And the ‘we’ was not evident in a couple of those years.”

But with issues ranging from Code Pink’s end-the-war stance to Planned Parenthood’s fight to protect Roe v. Wade and labor’s battles for preservation of its rights, unifying the left is a tall order. And until recently, “Rebuild the Dream” seemed to be gaining little traction. Jones’ summit drew a few thousand participants and scant media attention, and only a few hundred of them attended a “Jobs, Not Cuts” rally on Capitol Hill.

Allies, however, insist Jones’s message is resonating with frustrated liberals and that the Occupy Wall Street movement presents him with an opportunity to elevate his message.

“We’re tired of people rigging the game. That’s the message of this movement,” Jones said in an interview on MSNBC, commenting on OWS’s “day of action” that it now “it’s time to turn the anger into answers.”



The progressive movement “needs a focal point the way the tea party has provided a focal point for the movement,” said Gloria Totten, president of Progressive Majority, an advocacy organization for the left. “That’s happening. Things have moved in that direction, and Van deserves a lot of credit for that.”

In an interview with POLITICO, Jones rattled off statistics he says shows “Rebuild” has passed its right-wing model in measurable categories of organizing: nearly twice the number of organizing house parties that the tea party had; almost triple the number of participants in drafting its online manifesto, “even without the Koch brothers, even without Fox News blowing it all up.”

Central to that fight, however, is Jones, a gifted orator whose White House departure under pressure from the right has given him unimpeachable street cred on the left.

“He’s a good face for this effort,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “He was in [the White House] until the scandalous attacks of the right. … He was politically pushed out. Because of that experience, he brings medals that others don’t” to the movement.

To conservatives, however, Jones is still an irrestible target.

He first drew right-wing ire as a White House aide principally because he was in charge of Obama’s high-profile renewable-energy portfolio, which excited liberals but was anathema to pro-business, “drill-baby-drill” conservatives. It didn’t help that Jones’ high-profile advocacy for wind turbines and solar panels at times preached from the global-warming, “Inconvenient Truth” gospel of former Vice President Al Gore, a favorite whipping boy of Republicans.

Critics opened fire on Jones, however, after a video surfaced of him criticizing the GOP as “assholes.” Jones apologized for the remark, saying it was in poor taste and did not reflect the views of the administration. But two years later, there’s no sign that conservatives have forgiven him for it — or anything else.

His Rebuild the Dream idea “is so far left, it’s out of the mainstream,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a FreedomWorks spokesman.

Steinhauser pointed to Jones’s brief affiliation in the 1990s group called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, which opened him to accusations that he associated with Communists; and a 2004 letter featuring Jones’s name, urging an investigation into whether the Bush administration allowed Sept. 11 to happen as a “pretext to war.”

In the Times essay, Jones wrote that he was falsely accused of signing the petition “being passed around by 9/11 conspiracy theorists,” which caused a “[rush] to judgment” that overwhelmed the fact that the group used his name without permission. “The group finally admitted that it never had my signature, but by then, it was too late,” he said.

Jones “is way out on the fringe. His ideas are crazy,” Steinhauser said. “They’re the same Marxist foolishness that he’s been preaching — that’s his vision for the future. He’s on the wrong side of history here.”

It’s also noteworthy that the White House “seems to want some of these allies and keep them at arms length. I think he’s still pretty toxic,” Steinhauser added. “I don’t think they want to necessarily be seen working closely with him.”

A White House spokesman declined to discuss Jones.

But Jones said he has no issues with the White House. “I have nothing but positive things to say about the administration,” he said.

“Working there was a privilege, not a right,” Jones said. But he refused to discuss his departure — “that’s for people who are in that D.C. bubble, who’s up and who’s down, that’s their big thing” — but said he offered his resignation, the White House did not ask for it.

And far from undercutting the White House, Jones said his efforts could actually complement the president’s reelection campaign.

“I think that people are quick to want to push [this] into a pro-Obama or anti-Obama label,” Jones said. “But it’s really people saying, ‘We’re trying to save the American middle-class and working-class families.’ If that helps to save the president, great.”

Nevertheless, he said, “there are going to be disagreements. There are going to be points of tension and conflict. But over the long term, having a revitalized movement that can speak more for progressives and moderates helps the whole country, No. 1, and it also helps the president.”

Most progressives, he said, are “not in love with [Obama] anymore, but they still like him. They want him to be reelected. But their passion is now more about issues. It’s more about workers’ rights being attacked in Ohio or Wisconsin. Or it’s more about Wall Street hurting homeowners and small businesses and students with big loans. That’s where the passion is.”

Real, systemic change requires “both a willing leader at the White House level” but strong grass-roots organizations supporting him, Jones said. “If we had been [organizing and protesting] in 2009 and been disappointed with the White House, that’s one thing. But when we aren’t even doing those things — and the only people who are marching and rallying are the tea party — I don’t think you have a fair experiment” to determine which ideology should prevail.

And though he’s the face of the movement, “the one thing we learned is people say they don’t believe in a charismatic superhero,” Jones said. “I don’t either. I believe in a super movement. The TP wasn’t based on a single individual. It was based on a set of principles.”

“People will always let you down. Principles don’t let you down,” he said. “We’re trying to build something that’s based on principle, not personalities.”




© 2012 POLITICO LLC

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Meet Pat Buchanan, American Fascist

Pat Buchanan

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/pat-buchanan-out-indefinitely-at-msnbc-over-controversial-book-comments/

All,

The primary structural model--indeed the fundamental social template--for Nazi Germany's murderous Third Reich in terms of political propaganda as well as racial, class, and cultural ideology was the United Hates (especially as it pertained to national minorities like African Americans and Jews). If you don't believe me, read the major historians of 20th century fascism (e.g. John Toland, William Shirer, etc.) on the actual politics of this demonic fascist power for the chilling and overwhelming evidence. Pat Buchanan is merely one of MILLIONS of straightup white supremacists in this country who continue to fervently support, advocate, and champion this deadly legacy--and many of them are in the media...

Kofi

"The book, Suicide of a Superpower, brought to MSNBC calls from several civil rights groups and the Anti-Defamation League to drop Buchanan for its incendiary racial and anti-Semitic remarks, among which are, according to the Times, claims that America is being damaged “ethnically, culturally, morally, politically” by the rise in minority populations and the lament that the “European and Christian core of our country is shrinking.” Griffin described the ideas in the book as not being “really appropriate for national dialogue, much less the dialogue on MSNBC.”
Pat Buchanan Out Indefinitely At MSNBC
by Frances Martel | January 7th, 2012
Mediaite

The future of Pat Buchanan at MSNBC is hanging in the balance, after a controversial book in which the conservative commentator made statements that were considered discriminatory by several groups. Over the weekend, MSNBC President Phil Griffin said that Buchanan was not allowed on the air indefinitely after the release of his latest book, and has not decided whether to allow the commentator to return.

Deadline‘s Ray Richmond first reported that Griffin was unhappy with Buchanan’s book, and had not made a final decision on whether he would be back on MSNBC:

Griffin told me after the panel, “I don’t think the ideas that [Buchanan] put forth [in the book] are appropriate for national dialogue on MSNBC. He won’t be coming back during the book tour.” Will Buchanan be back at all? “I have not made my decision,” replied Griffin, who did say he will be tinkering with the network’s format as the year goes on. Pat’s a good guy. He didn’t like [being removed from the air], but he understood.”

The New York Times reported similar comments from Griffin, who added there that “Pat and I are going to meet soon and discuss it” and that “Pat is a good guy. Some of his ideas are alarming.”

The book, Suicide of a Superpower, brought to MSNBC calls from several civil rights groups and the Anti-Defamation League to drop Buchanan for its incendiary racial and anti-Semitic remarks, among which are, according to the Times, claims that America is being damaged “ethnically, culturally, morally, politically” by the rise in minority populations and the lament that the “European and Christian core of our country is shrinking.” Griffin described the ideas in the book as not being “really appropriate for national dialogue, much less the dialogue on MSNBC.”

So the official position is that Buchanan’s future is unclear. But its hard to imagine a scenario whereby Griffin, who runs the leading progressive news channel, would covertly take someone like Buchanan off the air, then question him publicly and then welcome him back. But who knows.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Naomi Klein and Occupy Wall Street Organizer Yotam Marom Discuss the Future Direction of the Occupy Movement

http://www.thenation.com/article/165530/why-now-whats-next-naomi-klein-and-yotam-marom-conversation-about-occupy-wall-street?page=full

All,

This is a very important ongoing discussion about where any genuine mass movement in this country today worth its name should be going and what is necessary for its survival, growth, and expansion. Klein and Marom incisively engage the real issues and fundamental concerns facing us all in the following conversation on the crucial future direction of the Occupy Wall Street movement...

Kofi


Why Now? What's Next?
Naomi Klein and Yotam Marom in Conversation About Occupy Wall Street

by Naomi Klein and Yotam Marom | January 9, 2012
The Nation

Naomi Klein is a journalist, activist and author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and No Logo. She writes a syndicated column for The Nation and The Guardian. Yotam Marom is a political organizer, educator, and writer based in New York. He has been active in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and is a member of the Organization for a Free Society [1]. This conversation was recorded in New York City.

Naomi Klein: One of the things that’s most mysterious about this moment is “Why now?” People have been fighting austerity measures and calling out abuses by the banks for a couple of years, with basically the same analysis: “We won’t pay for your crisis.” But it just didn’t seem to take off, at least in the US. There were marches and there were political projects and there were protests like Bloombergville, but they were largely ignored. There really was not anything on a mass scale, nothing that really struck a nerve. And now suddenly, this group of people in a park set off something extraordinary. So how do you account for that, having been involved in Occupy Wall Street since the beginning, but also in earlier anti-austerity actions?

Yotam Marom: Okay, so the first answer is, I have no idea, no one does. But I can offer some guesses. I think there are a few things you have to pay attention to when you see moments like these. One is conditions—unemployment, debt, foreclosure, the many other issues people are facing. Conditions are real, they’re bad, and you can’t fake them. Another sort of base for this kind of thing is the organizing people do to prepare for moments like these. We like to fantasize about these uprisings and big political moments—and we like to imagine that they erupt out of nowhere and that that’s all it takes—but those things come on the back of an enormous amount of organizing that happens every day, all over the world, in communities that are really marginalized and facing the worst attacks.

So those are the two kind of prerequisites for a moment like this to take place. And then you have to ask, What’s the third element that makes it all come together, what’s the trigger, the magic dust? Well, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I know what it feels like. It feels like something has been opened up, a kind of space nobody knew existed, and so all sorts of things that were impossible before are possible now. Something just got kind of unclogged. All sorts of people just started to see their struggles in this, started being able to identify with it, started feeling like winning is possible, there is an alternative, it doesn’t have to be this way. I think that’s the special thing here.

NK: Do you feel that there is an organic discussion happening about fundamentally changing the economic system? I mean we know that there is a strong, radical, angry critique of corruption, and of the corporate takeover of the political process. There’s a really powerful calling out happening. What’s less clear is the extent to which people are getting ready to actually build something else.

YM: Yeah, I definitely think we’re in a unique moment in the development of a movement that’s not only a protest movement against something but also an attempt to build something in its place. It is potentially a very early version of what I would call a dual-power movement, which is a movement that’s—on the one hand—trying to form the values and institutions that we want to see in a free society, while at the same time creating the space for that world by resisting and dismantling the institutions that keep us from having it. Occupation in general, as a tactic, is a really brilliant form of a dual-power struggle because the occupation is both a home where we get to practice the alternative—by practicing a participatory democracy, by having our radical libraries, by having a medical tent where anybody can get treatment, that kind of thing on a small level—and it’s also a staging ground for struggle outwards. It’s where we generate our fight against the institutions that keep us from the things that we need, against the banks as a representative of finance capitalism, against the state that protects and propels those interests.

It’s surprising and it’s really encouraging because that’s something that has been missing in a lot of struggles in the past. You usually have one or the other. You have alternative institutions, like eco-villages and food coops and so on—and then you have protest movements and other counter-institutions, like anti-war groups or labor unions. But they very rarely merge or see their struggle as shared. And we very rarely have movements that want to do both of those things, that see them as inseparable—that understand that the alternatives have to be fighting, and that fighting has to be done in a way that represents the values of the world we want to create. So I do think there’s something really radical and fundamental in that, and an enormous amount of potential.

NK: I absolutely agree that the key is in the combination of resistance and alternatives. A friend, the British eco-and arts activist John Jordan, talks about utopias and resistance being the double helix of activist DNA, and that when people drop out and just try to build their utopia and don’t engage with the systems of power, that’s when they become irrelevant and also when they are extremely vulnerable to state power and will often get smashed. And at the same time if you’re just protesting, just resisting and you don’t have those alternatives, I think that that becomes poisonous for movements.

But I’m still wondering about the question of policy—of making the leap from small-scale alternatives to the big policy changes that allow them to change the culture. A lot of people have come to the realization that the system is so busted that it really isn’t about who you get into office. But one of the ways of responding to that is to say, “Okay, we’re not going to form a political party and try to take power, but we are going to look at this system and try to identify the structural barriers to real change, and advocate for political goals that might begin to mend those structural flaws.” So that means things like the way corporations are able to fund elections and the role of corporate media and the whole issue of corporate personhood in this country. It is possible to find a few key policy fights that could conceivably create a situation where, ten years down the road, people might not feel so completely cynical about the idea of change within the political system. What do you think about that?

YM: Well, I think you’re right that we have to find ways to do that, but ways that don’t compromise what’s been so successful about this movement and this moment so far, which is that it’s so broad that so many different people can find themselves in it.

I think that within the broader movement, we do have different roles, and there is a particular role for Occupy Wall Street. I personally don’t want to have anything to do with people lobbying or running for office right now, nor do I want to focus all of my time winning small policy changes, and I don’t think that’s the role of Occupy Wall Street. But I sure as hell hope the people whose terrain that is do go and do it. I hope that they can recognize that what’s happening now is the creation of a climate where it’s possible for them to push left and win more. I’m not going to be happy with all the compromises those people have to make, and I don’t think we’re going to survive on reforms alone, but we need that too. If we want a real, meaningful social transformation, we need to win things along the way, because that’s how we provides people the foundations on top of which they can continue to struggle for the long haul, and it’s how we grow to become a critical mass that can ultimately make a fundamental break with this system.

And in the meantime, our role as Occupy Wall Street should be to dream bigger than that. I think it’s our job to look far ahead, to assert vision, to create alternatives and to intervene in the political and economic processes that govern people’s lives. We need to recognize that the institutions that govern our lives really do have power, but we don’t necessarily need to participate in them according to their rules. I think Occupy Wall Street’s role is to step in the way of those processes to prevent them from using that power, and to create openings for the alternatives we are trying to build. And then if politicians or others who consider themselves in solidarity with this movement want to go get on that, then they should use this moment to win the things that will help make us stronger in the long run, and they have a chance now to do that.

NK: You know, I’m torn about this. On one hand, OWS is so broad that a huge range of people has found a place in the tent. And there is certainly value in just having a very broad movement that is able to intervene in the political narrative at key junctures. Particularly because, looking at what is happening in Europe at the moment, I think we have to brace for the next economic shock. It’s a very big deal that when the next round of austerity measures comes down in the US, there will be a mass movement ready to say: “No way. We won’t pay—if you need money, tax the 1 percent and cut military spending, don’t cut education and food stamps.”

But we should be clear: that’s not making things better, it’s just trying to keep things from getting a whole lot worse. To make things better, there has to be a positive demand.

Look at the Chilean student protests, for instance. That’s a remarkable movement, and it’s historically hugely significant, because this is really the end of the Chilean dictatorship more than twenty years after it actually ended. Pinochet was in power for so long, and so many of his policies were locked in during the negotiated transition, that the left in Chile really did not recover until this generation of young people took to the streets. And they took to the streets sparked by austerity measures that were hitting education hard. But rather than just say, “Okay, we’re against these latest austerity cuts,” they said, “We are for free public education and we want to reverse the entire privatization agenda.” And that may seem like a narrow demand, but they were able to make it about inequality much more broadly. They did it by showing how the privatization of education in Chile, and the creation of a brutal two-tiered education system, deepened and locked in inequality, giving poor students no way out of poverty. The protests lit the country up, and now it’s not just a student movement. So that’s a completely different circumstance from OWS because it started with a demand. But it shows how, if the demand is radical enough, it can open up a much broader debate about what kind of society we want.

I think it’s more about vision than it is about demands. My worry is that there are so many groups trying to co-opt this movement, and trying to raise money off of its efforts, that the movement risks defining itself by what is not, rather by what it is or, more importantly, might become. If the movement is constantly put in a position of saying, “No, we’re not your pawn. We’re not this. We’re not that,” the danger is getting boxed into a defensive identity that was really imposed from the outside. I think some of that happened to the movement opposing corporate globalization post-Seattle, and I’d hate to see those mistakes repeated.

YM: I think you’re right about that. And you’re right about the question of demands versus vision. We don’t have demands in the way that other people want to hear them. But of course we have demands, of course we want things. When we reclaim a foreclosed home for a foreclosed-on family, or organize students to do flash mobs at the banks keeping them in debt, or environmental activists to do die-ins at banks that invest in coal, these are ways of speaking our demands in a new language of resistance. Occupy Wall Street is a really big tent that doesn’t have one voice, but that doesn’t mean all of our other groupings disappear when we enter it. There are still housing rights groups demanding an end to foreclosure, or labor unions demanding good jobs, and so on. We are trying to build a movement where individuals and groups have the autonomy to do what they need to do and pick the battles they need to pick, while being in solidarity with something much broader and far-reaching, something radical and visionary. And that’s part of the reason vision is so important, since it connects all those struggles.

But I do think we have to win things, you’re absolutely right about that. I guess the way I look at it is that we’re now about to make a transition, hopefully, from the symbolic to the real, both in the realms of creating the alternatives and fighting back. We need to reclaim homes, not just as symbols, but for people to live in them. Open the shut-down hospitals and put doctors in them. And same with the fighting: to actually disrupt business as usual, to move from protest to resistance. We’ll have an actual impact when Congress cannot pass those bills because there’s too much resistance, because there are people in the streets. We’ll have a real impact when it’s not only bank branch lobbies that we’re dancing around in but when we’ve blockaded the doors of the headquarters where they make their policies. We need to force policy-makers to re-evaluate their decisions, and we need to build power to eventually replace them altogether, not only in content but in form. If this is just about changing the narrative and it stops there, then we’re going to end up having missed an incredible opportunity to really affect people’s lives in a meaningful ways. This is not a game. A society where there are empty homes but people who don’t have homes is a fundamentally revolting thing and it’s unacceptable, can’t be allowed. You can say that for all the other things: for war, or for patriarchy, racism. We have an incredible responsibility.

NK: And nobody knows how to do what we’re trying to do. You can point to Iceland or something that happened in Argentina. But these are national struggles, somewhat on the economic periphery. No movement has ever successfully challenged hyper-mobile global capital at its source. So what we’re talking about is so new that it’s terrifying. I think people should admit that they’re terrified and that they don’t know how to do what they dream of doing, because if they don’t, then their fear—or rather our fear—will subconsciously shape our politics and you can end up in a situation where you’re saying, “No, I don’t want any structure,” or, “No, I don’t want to be making any kind of policy demands or have anything to do with politics,” when really it’s that you’re just completely scared shitless of the fact that you have no idea how to do this. So maybe if we all admit we are on unmapped territory, that fear loses some of its power.

YM: Yeah, that’s really important. We’re all just making it up. What you just said kind of reminded me of this moment that we had that was really a turning point for me. About three weeks in, sitting and talking with a bunch of people I had only just met, we were thinking about the movement and where it might be headed, and I remember this crazy moment when it hit me: “Oh, we’re winning.” It was surreal. And then that thought was immediately followed by the question: “So what do we want?” You know, we hadn’t won much, and we still haven’t, and we’re nowhere near the society we want to live in, but it was still that feeling—that the narrative was shifting, that the whole world was watching, that there was a lot of possibility before us. It was the first time that I’ve ever experienced that and I think probably the first time that a lot of people who are alive today have. And that was an incredibly empowering moment, really changed my life, but it was also an unbelievably terrifying moment, because, holy shit, that means it’s real, this is high stakes, this is no joke.

So, then, following that thread of what’s possible: all of this was impossible a few months ago. All of this was inconceivable. And I felt that very personally and I was cynical and I learned a lot from that. Turns out we know very little about what is possible. And that’s really humbling and important and it opens a lot of doors. What do you think is possible?

NK: First of all, it’s a moment of possibility like I’ve never seen because we never had as many people on our side as this moment does. I mean in the Seattle moment, we didn’t. We were marginal. We always were because we were in an economic boom. Now, the system has been breaking its own rules so defiantly that its credibility is shot. And there’s a vacuum. There’s a vacuum for other credible voices to fill that, and it’s very exciting.

Personally, I think the greatest possibility lies in bringing together the ecological crisis and the economic crisis. I see climate change as the ultimate expression of the violence of capitalism: this economic model that fetishizes greed above all else is not just making lives miserable in the short term, it is on the road to making the planet uninhabitable in the medium term. And we know, scientifically, that if we continue with business as usual, that is the future we are heading towards. I think climate change is the strongest argument we’ve ever had against corporate capitalism, as well as the strongest argument we’ve ever had for the need for alternatives to it. And the science puts us on a deadline: we need to have begun to radically reduce our emissions by the end of the decade, and that means starting now. I think that this science-based deadline has to be part of every discussion about what we’re going to do next, because we actually don’t have all the time in the world.

We should also be aware that this kind of existential urgency could be a very regressive force if the wrong people harness it. It’s easy to imagine autocrats using the climate emergency to sa, “We don’t have time for democracy or participation, we need to impose it all from the top.” Right now, the way the urgency is used within the mainstream environmental movement is to say, “This problem is so urgent that we can only ask for these compromised cap-and-trade deals, since that’s all we can hope to achieve politically.” Talking about the links between economic growth and climate change is pretty much off the table because, supposedly, we don’t have time to make those kinds of deep changes.

But that was a pre-OWS political calculation. And as you pointed out, OWS is in the business of changing what is possible. So what I’ve been saying when I speak to environmental groups is: start to imagine what would be possible if the climate movement were not out there on its own but part of a much broader political uprising fighting a greed-based economic model. Because in that context, it is practical to talk about changing this system. It’s much more practical, in fact, than pushing corrupt plans like cap-and-trade, which we know don’t stand a chance of getting us where science tells us we need to go.

I’m also excited about the fact that, over the past ten years since the peak of the so-called anti-globalization movement, a lot of work has been done that proves that economic re-localization and economic democracy are both feasible and desirable. Look at the explosion of the local food movement, of community-supported agriculture and farmers markets. Or the green co-op movement. Or community-based wind and solar energy projects. And then you have cities like Detroit, Portland or Bellingham, which are working on multiple fronts to re-localize their economies. The point is that there are living examples that we can point to now of communities that have weathered the economic crisis better than those places that are still dependent on a few large multinational corporations, and could just be leveled overnight when those corporations shut their doors. Most importantly: many of these models address both the economic and ecological crises simultaneously, creating work, rebuilding community, while lowering emissions and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Coming back to the idea of resistance and alternatives being the twin strands of DNA, I see a possible future where the resistance side of OWS could start to support the policies these economic alternatives need to get to the next level.

So, yeah, that’s where I see a lot of potential—both potential strength and also potential loss, lost opportunities. You?

YM: I think there is more possibility right now than I could have ever imagined. I think in the not-so-distant future, we can win a lot of things that actually improve people’s lives, we can continue to change the political landscape, and we can grow into a mass movement with the strength to propose another kind of world and also fight for it. I think we’re only in the beginning of that, and I think there is a ton of potential. And I also see that kind of possibility in the long term. I think we can win a truly free society. I think it’s totally possible to have a political and economic system that we have a genuine say in, that we democratically control, that we participate in, that is equitable and liberating, where we have autonomy for ourselves and our communities and our families, but are also in solidarity with one another. I think it’s possible, and necessary. That’s kind of the amazing thing about this moment and this movement, I guess. Right now, sitting here, I can’t even imagine the limits of possibility.


[1] http://www.afreesociety.org/

Monday, January 9, 2012

THE PANOPTICON REVIEW PRESENTS TWENTY OUTSTANDING BOOKS OF 2011



Please Note: The following list of books is not organized according to any personal hierarchy of the relative value of each individual book. Rather it is a list that seriously considers ALL of the books listed here to be of equal intellectual and cultural value and interest, albeit for different reasons. The bottomline on this list is that each one of these books is extraordinary and invaluable in their own right and represents some of the very best writing published in the United States in 2011.
--Kofi Natambu, Editor


My Song: A Memoir
by Harry Belafonte (with Michael Shnayerson)
Alfred Knopf, 2011


Nica's Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness
by David Kastin
W.W. Norton, 2011


Woody Guthrie: American Radical
by Will Kaufman
University Of Illinois Press. 2011


Bob Dylan: Like A Complete Unknown
by David Yaffe
Yale University Press. 2011


The World As It Is: Dispatches On the Myth of Human Progress
by Chris Hedges
Nation Books, 2011

Roi Ottley's World War II: The Lost Diary of An African American Journalist
Edited by Mark A. Huddle
University Press of Kansas, 2011




Conversations With Scorsese
by Richard Schickel
Alfred Knopf, 2011

Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations With Radical Thinkers In A Time Of Tumult
Interviews by Sasha Lilley
PM Press, 2011


The Black History of the White House
by Clarence Lusane
City Lights Books, 2011

Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey To the Mecca of Black America
by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
Little Brown and Company, 2011


Pauline Kael: A Life In the Dark
by Brian Kellow
Viking, 2011


Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention
by Manning Marable
Viking, 2011

Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and The Education of A President
by Ron Suskind
HarperCollins, 2011


The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World
by John Carlos (with Dave Zirin)
Haymarket Books, 2011


Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of An American Director
by Patrick McGilligan

It Books, 2011


Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America
by Melissa Harris-Perry
Yale University Press, 2011

Why Marx Was Right
by Terry Eagleton
Yale University Press, 2011



The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency
by Randall Kennedy
Pantheon, 2011


Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century
by Dorothy Roberts
The New Press, 2011


News For All The People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media
by Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres
Verso, 2011


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Age of Greed: The Triumph Of Finance And The Decline Of America, 1970 To The Present
by Jeff Madrick
Alfred Knopf, 2011

EyeMinded: Living And Writing Contemporary Art
by Kellie Jones
Duke University Press, 2011

On History
Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone In Conversation
Haymarket Books, 2011

Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life
by Michael Moore
Grand Central, 2011

33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs From Billie Holiday To Green Day
by Dorian Lynskey
Ecco, 2011

The Speech: A Historic Filibuster On Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class
by Senator Bernie Sanders
Nation Books, 2011