This is where you can begin to speak your mind. Say it aloud in a hundred different ways. Say it in your own voice, in your own way, “We are the 99%. And we will take control of our own destiny.”
Join your voices to those who Occupy and overcome.
Q (Lynn Beighley: ): Hi James. Was there a specific event that prompted you to form the Occupy Earth group?
Two things, first, I’d seen the video of Sergeant Shamar Thomas shouting at the police harassing Occupy protesters in New York. I was moved by his passion. If you haven’t seen it, you can find it here
Second, the picture that I posted on Fictionaut (shown on this page). I’d seen it on an Occupy blog, the photo of a young woman being handcuffed by police in NYC. The photo is iconic representative of both the movement’s relative innocence and the brutality of the forces in opposition. It struck a chord in me, two chords really, one of anger and the other of remembrance.
This is not to mention the wounding of the Iraq veteran in Oakland by the police there, but that’s also heavy on my mind.
You say, “As writers, we have power. We need to use it.” Have you used your writing in the past to support similar movements?
I say that every responsible human being has an obligation to use whatever means they have at their disposal to stand up for those ideals they hold sacred. Writers have a significant and powerful tool in their art and if they are ever moved to stand for a cause, their writing is a fine method to use in that struggle.
I have used my writing in the past, many times, specifically in cause of peace, in the labor movement, in letters to the editor, in speech-writing and composition of brochures for various candidates and causes, or simply in response to political propaganda, wherever and whenever I find a forum to do so. It’s been a while, however, since I was so moved to act as I am by OWS. One of the two novels I’m writing today is relevant to the message of individual social responsibility in the face of oppression.
Do you think artists have a responsibility to comment on politics and social injustice? What do you see the role or responsibility of the creative artist in promoting change?
See above. Artists are citizens as surely as they are human beings. We have responsibilities to society… and in a democracy such as ours, if we choose not to get involved, then we may wake up to find ourselves in a world where there is no freedom with which to pursue our art.
Role of the artist as an instrument of change? Consider how works of art, films, drama, books, and paintings have stirred people to action over the years. I’ll give you just one powerful example. Consider Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” a play that stands today as relevant as it did when it was created as a powerful condemnation of McCarthyism. The play was produced in 1953 in the wake of hearings by the House Committees on un-American Activities, an inquisition, really, a modern day witch hunt that produced massive blacklists of leftists in theater, film, and the arts. It premiered at a time when Senator Joseph McCarthy was at the height of his power and its meaning was quickly and universally discerned. That play still stands today as an indictment against all tyranny and specifically against the abuse of power in government through the hypocrisy of ideological oppression. There are thousands of such examples. I could spend a week discussing them.
What good can our writing in support of OWS accomplish? Do you hope to get enough interest in this group to form an anthology and exposure?
OWS is a fluid movement, currently leaderless and inspecific. It exists as a reminder of what all of us understand in harsh economic times, at least those of us who are affected most by it, the unstated truth of economic inequality underscored in this time when greed and warfare has bankrupted America. We as writers can frame those issues, give them voice and form as the movement begins to take shape… and when it is ready to speak, to act? To give voice to its demand… ultimately for justice.
I have no plans for the future. Just as the OWS movement is fluid, so is my commitment. I’ll follow the momentum where it leads. There are writers already aligned with OWS, so if our group goes nowhere, those of us who care can always join with them. What I want is for our writers to know that something powerful is happening, to hopefully inspire them to get involved, to begin to give this phenomenon some serious thought and to begin to express those thoughts through their writing.
OWS wants change, that’s abundantly clear, but the specifics of that change seem a bit blurry. Do you have a sense of what could or should happen as a result of the movement?
In the early part of the twentieth century, the US often stood at the brink of social upheaval. What saved America from the kind of bloodshed and political turmoil that plagued Europe was the advent and the rapid growth of the labor movement, the collective bargaining power of labor unions, the force responsible for the growth of the middle class in the US. Over the years, that power has eroded and we find ourselves in the same economic imbalance that existed before the unions stood up for good wages and safe work environments. The prosperity that was enjoyed by working men and women in my father’s time is not only rare today, but is universally and drastically endangered. The OWS is a fledgling movement that grew out of the understanding that this economic imbalance is not only unjust, but fundamentally un-American.
Where the movement goes from here and what it will accomplish remains to be seen, but the prospect is exciting and hopeful.
You mention that, understandably, you don’t want works that ridicule OWS. Have you noticed many of these? Has the opposition to OWS grown in proportion to the growth of OWS?
The opposition is loud, well funded, and obnoxious. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and others like them will be happy to publish anything you want to write in opposition to the Occupy Wall Street movement. If you want to ridicule OWS, you should go over and stand with those guys.
Lynn Beighley is a fiction writer stuck in a technical book writer’s body. Her stories often involve deeply flawed characters and the unsatisfying meshing of the virtual and actual world. You can find more of her work at Fictionaut and on Twitter as @lynnbeighley.