Thursday, 6 October 2011

The 99%: Not just the tip of the iceberg this time.

@JeffreyJCohen from over at In The Middle (among other places) asked yesterday how medievalists and early modernists could "show their support" for the #occupy movement taking place now in many cities around the US. We decided on a hashtag or two (#occupythemiddleages and #occupyhistory) and decided to post on them.

His post @KarlSteel's #occupythemiddleages post is up here and actually has something to do with the middle ages. Mine really won't.*

Mine's trying to answer the question: "Why a hashtag?" Or, if you like "Why not change your facebook picture, for all the good it'll do?"


First, I think a hashtag is about communication of more than just a single monolithic idea. Certainly it moves the way a solidarity meme does on facebook profile pictures -- everyone turn your picture green to support... a free.. Palestine? -- but it carries with it more meaning.

Take the symbol of the cross in Anglo-Saxon England (yeah, I went there): the cross itself is a symbol, like a hashtag. You can carry a cross, put up a cross, bury a cross, paint a picture of a cross -- and the weight of the monolithic idea behind it will make it symbolic. A really great cross, of course, will be something like the Ruthwell or Bewcastle crosses, that is to say, covered in "texts". (I have to use the Derridan Scare Quotes (DSQ) because I firmly believe that everything is a text, including the images on the R'well & B'castle Crosses.) Take them as a crude metaphor for the difference between a fb picture meme and a hashtag: the fb picture meme can only carry the monolithic idea, it acts as publicity without nuance. The hashtag can carry links to in-depth analysis, that is to say, to the other 99% of the story.

What I'm getting at is that we're not just interested in the headline, because that's what part of the problem has been all along.

This is the first time I've seen a protest movement like this one. It's got nuance, subtlety, and no central focus. The general idea, the headline, is that the American population who are in the lowest earning 99% (that is to say, not the mega-rich) are a little sick of all the rules, all the laws, and all the interest, being geared toward the top earning 1% of the population. But if you want more, you're going to have to talk to just about everyone concerned. That's why I'm not going to try to explain to you what Occupy Wall Street is about. Because I can't. But here's something I can do: I can set up a hashtag, and we can all use it to link to things that help us understand, help us make meaning out of the growing discontent.

Here are just a few:

The movement's (semi?)-official tumblr feed, "We Are the 99 Percent"

Occupy Wall Street
Occupy San Francisco
Occupy Houston
Occupy Boston
Occupy Seattle
Occupy Los Angeles

Religion In American History's post on the phrase "Church of Dissent"
Mother Jones' Occupy Wall Street Protests Map's Occupy Everywhere post
A Clever Guy's Response to Fixed News' Attempts to Entrap Him
A News Story On Los Angeles Giving OccupyLA It's Official Support

And, as always, the ever-updating Wikipedia Entry for Occupy Wall Street

Educate yourselves. The symbol is only the garden gate.


UPDATE: it also occurs to me that an unfocused hashtag is the perfect reflection of a movement with no center. Life's like that sometimes. :)

UPDATE 2: originally this post claimed the link was to a post by J J Cohen, when in truth it was one by Karl Steel. Mea culpa.

UPDATE 3: added two more links: one to the movement's semi-official tumblr feed, "We Are the 99 Percent", and one to Religion In American History's post on the phrase "Church of Dissent"


Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Great post -- and I must point out that the ITM piece is by Karl Steel, who beat me to the punch on posting under #occupythemiddleages !

Vellum said...

Fixed! Oh and a couple more links need adding...