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By Chris Garces I am not afraid to confess feeling swept, against my will, into the whirlpool of news coverage from Zuccotti Park. While New York Times protest reporters N. Everyone had some kind of diagnostic. I continued to watch the scene in Zuccotti swirling about from the relative distance of Ithaca, NY, where I teach.
The corporate news media kept spinning wave after wave of politically tendentious or disingenuous anti-OWS reports. As a cultural anthropologist, I also consider myself a Latin Americanist.
What I understand to be singularly important about OWS, derives from a perspective both inside yet inherently alienated from U. Here are three examples: This strange, effervescent and recently discovered mode of address is actually part-in-parcel with a much longer-standing American tradition of hallowed political speech—actively cultivating a sense of deep horizontal community and democratic process not felt Epigenetics effects essay the Left in this country for what seems like generations.
There is clearly an air Epigenetics effects essay mass defiance in the park, fully present in body and spirit, regardless of the political ecumenicalism or the ideological polycentrism of OWS itself.
The impression you get watching this assembly unfold, from where I sat filming the video, is the exuberance of democratic self-fashioning: My best guess is that few of us in Washington Square previously had any personal experience of direct, mass democratic assembly.
It was Hannah Arendt who wrote most cogently on this deeper and typically unmentionable issue of the American political experiment: Might we not argue instead that the political retrenchment of 18th century constitutional ideals, which serves to reinforce 18th century political and moral value systems, actually cheats the American public of its greatest earned-freedoms?
But this argument also had a certain empirical, however tendentious, foundation in U. Yet here and now was a revitalized political Left, remaking itself in Zuccotti Park by staking a parcel of land upon which to build political community, a broad public gathering of the dispossessed and barely enfranchised in the heartland of world financial government.
The OWS proceedings that I experienced were at once a highly cosmopolitan environment and, through its use of the General Assembly, a highly affective town hall meeting, one that Arendt properly understood as the generative engine of the American revolutionary spirit.
Yet what could possibly tie the coming community together, in an age when every classroom or gathering is so easily interpolated with cell phone or e-mail interruptions, not to mention the omnipresence of our over-determined and over-extended professional lives?
The generative model of the town hall meeting often works against our contrapuntal, vocational and avocational, daily rhythms—saturating our mundane daily events with ceaseless movement between individual tasks and private entertainment.
A speaker says a few words, then pauses; the audience repeats them, loudly and in unison; the speaker says a few more; the chorus repeats; and so on.
If the group is unusually large, the repetition radiates out, like a mountain echo. The listeners register their reactions silently, with their hands.
Four fingers up, palm outward: Four fingers down, palms inward: Clenched fists crossed at the wrists: According to most protesters, this felicitous mode of public speaking is said to have originated spontaneously on the first day of the Occupation.
The protesters tell stories, which may or may not be apocryphal, about the battery-powered megaphone brought to Zuccotti not being cooperative when speakers wanted to use it. What I want to argue here, at least, is this: The tactic was frequently used last decade among protest groups who found themselves hounded by police or kettled into separate areas—allowing groups who are violently segregated to speak to one another in spite of their distance or separation.
A modified version of this tactic, more akin to the game of telegraph, was also used when marchers needed their voices projected up or down their ranks.
But any preliminary sketch of its influence begins with an account of the phenomenological experience of being part of this body of public speakers. But your own dissent is perfectly embodied in this technology, too. In this sense, the holy spirit is here now.
And down there on Wall Street, there are pagans who are worshiping blasphemous idols. That congregationalism forms a moral as well as a political community may serve, unfortunately, as justification enough for completely banishing non-coreligionists: The act of public speaking in the General Assembly— currently a town hall frontier assembly, as it was during the 18th century—is to stand up and speak precisely when, and perhaps only when, the holy spirit a gift of speech, of and for the patchwork of the demos speaks through you.
His ethnographic interests range from the study of politics and religion—or contemporary political theologies—, to the unchecked global development of penal state politics, and the history of Catholic humanitarian interventions in Latin America.MARK PAGEL Evolutionary Biologist, Reading University, England.
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