Occupy Chicago? 1968 Again?

With Adbusters inviting 50,000 “culture jammers” to attend the NATO-G8 Chicago summit May 18-20, as part of an “International Spring Offensive” beginning on May 12, the Occupy movement will experience new growth – and new tests – this spring.

The Occupy movement already has influenced the 2012 national elections by “changing the conversation” to a greater focus on economic inequality, Wall Street corruption and the evils of money in politics more than any time in six decades. But there appears to be no chance that Occupy will engage with or campaign for candidates, or even lobby for specific proposals for policy reform. Those efforts will be up to organized labor, environmentalists, peace advocates, online advocates, Progressive Democrats, and a few elected officials and candidates around the country.

The question is what Occupy will do instead. One possibility is employing creative techniques to advance general proposals with wide acceptance in the movement: promoting the “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions, for example, which was the single demand originally proposed by Adbusters for last September 17, 2011. 

The summit of the One Percent (NATO and the G8) does present an opportunity for an alternative platform if any consensus can be reached by Occupy, the throngs of demonstrators coming, or millions watching around the world. At the core, such a platform should include: 

The US and NATO pulling out of Afghanistan as rapidly as possible;

The annual US cost for Aghanistan – $113 billion request this year – should go to education, green jobs and health care;

The proposed financial transaction tax would net $1.2 trillion in annual revenue and dampen incentives for speculation;

A re-launch of the global push for renewable resources, energy conservation and global warming reduction;

Invigorating participatory democracy by banning doctrines that “corporations are people” or “money is speech.”

In the absence of some such messaging, the Chicago spectacle is likely to be one of street battles, tear gas, police brutality, and mass arrests. That seems to be what the FBI, the Chicago police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are prepared for. Where are Chicago’s progressive congressional representatives? Where is the Congressional progressive caucus? Where are the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club? An opportunity to galvanize American and global support for a truly progressive vision could be squandered.

The popular Chicago-based television series, Boss, starring Kelsey Grammer as a cross between King Lear and Mayor Daley, is scheduled to launch its new season just before the NATO-G8 summits begin and continue deep into the election year. The production company has been advised that no permits will be allowed while the One Percent of NATO-G8 descends on the glitzy lakefront hotels. What will turn out to be real and what surreal remains to be revealed.

Adbusters itself seems to picture the tasks at hand as aesthetic. Gone for now is the focus on a “Robin Hood” tax on Wall Street transactions. Adbusters editor-in-chief Kalle Lasn wants to follow in the steps of the French Situationists and create new forms of cognitive dissonance. “We can throw a wrench into the smooth functioning of their symbolic order,” writes the Adbusters analyst Micah White, who thinks it’s perhaps time to end the occupation of physical tents and begin “jamming the cultural imaginary.” White wants to occupy “the most oppressive idea of them all, time,” by writing a new revolutionary calendar as the French insurgents did some two centuries ago.

Meanwhile the clock is ticking towards Chicago, and the Republicans can’t wait.  

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