Occupy sprang up while I was still in high school, by this time I learned in history classes, English classes, and in my own research, of America’s many historical blunders. Many times online and from the news I happened to breeze by Occupy coverage and I always heard it depicted as some socialist-communist bull-crap from lazy people (from anywhere not progressive). As I started looking into it and saw the main point being in response to the bank bailouts and what many called “unchecked capitalism” that allowed these banks and corporation great disparity between the working class and the capitalists in charge of said businesses. I did not see laziness, just people tired of being screwed over. If the working class is the reason why this country stays afloat and as they say make up the “99 percent”, how is it all these businesses get bailed out while families lose houses, small businesses, and jobs. As much as it was a progressive socialist movement, it wasn’t lazy nor an attempt at some communist revolution.
However being so young I was able to give minimal help to the cause other than posting constant memes and videos of the events, and one event that horrified me. UC Davis pepper spray incident, for those not familiar, here is a link. This will be more relevant later.
Coming into college as a psychology major I always had a long fascination with people, this is what drove myself to sign up as an anthropology minor after taking many courses in that field. I quick fell in love with Karl Marx, a political/economic philosopher whose ideas leaked into anthropology. Now he was a communist, not (all*) Occupy protesters. But as his theories suggest culture creates a way to ‘legitimize’ oppression from the powerful. American capitalism has the idea that we fail because we are not good enough, it is a personal problem, not a system problem. Those who work hard are rich, those who are poor are lazy. This is exactly what Marx was explaining, we have the ‘working poor’ class and that can’t be because they are lazy with 3 jobs. American culture has an adoration of our public service workers, especially our cops. They’re all the good guys, here to protect you. Yet with the UC Davis incident, that cop clearly used excessive force, doesn’t matter if they were told not to camp out. They were students and using their own campus, students peacefully sitting. The cop that just began to casually pepper spray them in the face was defended by the station to the point they lied about being ‘closed in’ by protesters and worried about their security (as stated in the link about the incident above). They look out for themselves, not the people.
Occupy went viral fast, but the UC Davis incident exploded! I saw the videos on Facebook the day it happened, probably hours afterward. This movement sent ideas and videos around the world within minutes. With new technologies, they mastered new weird ways of having discourse. Memes were big but this meme was like one I have not seen before in the movement. It took everything we knew about beloved American pictures and/or items and defiled them.
Before I talk about the bigger picture I need to explain some history and how it all ties together. You’re probably wondering why this post is titled with the word communism yet all I talked about is a bit of Marx, well this is where it comes in.
Occupy was not the first major progressive-socialist movement, in fact, it’s almost the baby of other movements, this was not a one-time idea out of nowhere. America has a long-term history of attacking progressive ideas, even though America was a nation founded on revolutionary ideas. Literally (Necessary Trouble p.198). There have been other recent attempts throughout American history towards more socialistic ideas and unionization. Worker’s movements became associated with immigrants and foreigners and therefore targeted as attacks on America. This grew to detrimental proportions during Vladamir Lenin’s Russian Revolution of 1917 happened, when a leftist workers’ revolution took place. The fears of this communist uprising made the USA create the Sedition Act of 1918 which prohibited any anti-war effort (p.198). This fear grew greater during the second Red Scare, which happened after World War 2. The Red Scare of this time was little about punishing crime as it seemed to attack those with more progressive ideas. It put people against each other and was made to divide. It successfully allowed for a narrowing of what was deemed proper discourse in America, “class struggle” was not accepted (p.199-201) and people lost jobs, rights, and became pawns in a game of fearmongering. Those in power pointed fingers and without a real crime could say “you’re unAmerican!” and sabotage your whole life. The Red Scare benefited those in power and stopped any further movements of worker’s having an equal share to their bosses. It was in one easy sentence a war on workers (p.199). As Marx stated, “the history of all hitherto existing society, is the history of class struggle” (The Communist Manifesto p.62).
Back to the Casual Pepper spray Cop meme of UC Davis, within hours hundreds of memes circulated about him (John Pike). As states in the last paragraph, it was the powerful/oppressors who pointed the finger and called one’s ‘unAmerican”. This time in the revitalized worker’s movement, THEY pointed the finger and called out “unAmerican”. The memes they sent around depicted the pepper spray cop defiling well-known pictures with meanings attacking the integrity of those who were against Occupy. I use defile as the term because I feel as if this word and our feelings to how it’s also used creates the perfect feelings of what the tactic is.
The constitution being vandalized, the Iwo Jima soldiers being assaulted, the Founding Fathers’ constitution being destroyed, even the famous picture of the Tibetan monk’s martyr suicide against China, a chilling image of someone going to the extreme to demonstrate against a corruptive force to the demonstrator. The doctored picture of pepper spray cop defiled the original meanings of these pictures and tainted their meaning and directed a new meaning. The villain is the cop attacking those who fought against something tyrannical or a threat. The threat is very visible, the authority figures.
The socialist movements of my parents or grandparent’s time failed because of the fear mongering of communism or socialism. The fear of Russia was real back then, fear of nuclear fallout. Something that scares me to this day but the fear is not that of what older generations faced. A professor of mine from another class told the story about him growing up and praying every Christmas Eve that the nuclear fallout wouldn’t happen because he wanted his presents. The new generation growing older and becoming the next ones in line to take the country do not have this fear, in fact, we have seen a huge movement towards a more socialistic government and economy this past election.
We have the same general ideas of the movements from before but we do not falter to fear mongering of ‘Anti-American’ views since a lot of us are way over the accepted level of ‘American values’ and ‘views’ today. Occupy did not spring up from laziness or random boredom, but is connected to ideas shot down before. These memes, although funny even in terrible ways sometimes, have strong meanings connecting to other struggles we adore today. Occupy is showing that if you go against the people in this struggle, what difference is it to the other ones?