Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Rebellion Whose Time Has Come

Occupy Maine protesters have left Portland’s Lincoln Park, after losing a court battle to maintain their presence in the area. The Cumberland County Superior Court judge invoked the “time, place, manner” restriction, claiming city officials do have the right to place a reasonable limit on certain forms of free speech and assembly. In other words, you have the right to free speech until the Powers That Be revoke that right.

But the aim of this piece is not to dissect or decry the ruling. It was pretty clear the encampment was not meant to last. This post is about looking to the future of Occupy Wall Street, and focusing on the next step.

And there will be a next step. The protesters are all committed to continuing the movement. As one Occupier states in the most recent edition of Portland’s locally-produced “Occupy Maine TV,” contrary to the dismissals of some detractors, the movement was never about “camping.”

“This was never about taking the park for an indefinite period of time,” he says in the clip. “This was about drawing attention to necessary issues. We’ve done that. It’s in the national mind. It’s in the local mind…So we don’t need to squabble about a piece of park.”

The episode (the fourth in what protester-producers hope will become an ongoing form of “citizen media”) also contains some startling statistics. According to co-host Regis Tremblay, the wealthiest one percent of Americans has enjoyed income growth of 360 percent over the past 40 years. Income for the remaining 99 percent, however, has stayed flat. He goes on to note the astronomical drop in corporate tax as a percentage of federal revenue--down from 32.1 percent in 1952 to about eight percent in 2011.

“This is not class warfare,” Tremblay says. “This is common sense.”     

According to French philosopher Albert Camus, rebellion is the “true dimension of man.” He views rebellion as the one single act a person can carry out that affirms the individual’s common humanity. In his book-length essay, The Rebel, Camus envisions a rebel as “a slave who has taken orders all his life [and] suddenly decides he cannot obey some new command.”

As Camus explains, in every act of rebellion the rebel simultaneously says both “No,” and “Yes.” He says “no” to his current treatment—the slave, again, who can finally no longer tolerate his life under the lash. Yet, by affirming that there is something within him worth preserving—worth fighting to free—the rebel also says “yes.” Thus, rebellion is both an act of negation, and the ultimate affirmation of human values.

He writes: “In every act of rebellion, the rebel simultaneously experiences a feeling of revulsion at the infringement of his rights and a complete and spontaneous loyalty to certain aspects of himself. Thus he implicitly brings into play a standard of values so far from being gratuitous that he is prepared to support it no matter what the risks.”

As a progenitor of the existentialist philosophy of “the absurd,” Camus believed life is pointless. There is, according to Camus, no ulterior meaning to existence, and we as individuals are powerless to influence our own fate. The “absurd” views life as just that—a silly, pointless game. Yet we have a choice in how we live. Even when the odd are clearly stacked against us, Camus argues, we have a moral duty to persevere and fight back, regardless of our chances of success or survival. He writes:

The rebel himself wants to be “all”—to identify himself completely with this good of which he has suddenly become aware and by which he wants to be personally recognized and acknowledged—or “nothing”; in other words, to be completely destroyed by the force that dominates him. As a last resort, he is willing to accept the final defeat, which is death, rather than be deprived of the personal sacrament that he would call, for example, freedom. Better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knees.

And that is exactly the attitude necessary if we are, in fact, to sustain this revolution. As one protester’s sign says, “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.” Working-class citizens of the world, unite.

Editor's note: Be sure to join members of Occupy Maine for a rally in Portland's Monument Square, Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 4:00 p.m. And check out Occupy Maine's website for additional upcoming events. 

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