Naomi Klein, Michael Moore and Others Opine on Occupy Wall Street

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Heavy Hitters weigh in on Occupy Wall Street.
There were moments of last night's "Occupy Everywhere" symposium that felt like a debutante ball introducing Occupy Wall Street to polite liberal society.

To be sure, several dozen occupiers with their sleeping bags on their backs traipsed up from Zuccotti Park to attend the event. But the panelists (Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, William Greider and Rinku Sen, as well as Occupy Wall Street spokesman Patrick Bruner) were mostly addressing an audience of exactly the sort of institutional, establishment liberals you'd expect at an event put on by the Nation Institute and the New School.

But if the evening had its share of cloying, self-congratulatory applause breaks, it also featured enough disagreement and debate to be interesting.

Perhaps the biggest disagreement on the panel was one of tone rather than substance. Michael Moore was so giddy with triumphalism over the burgeoning movement that half his remarks were delivered through high, breathy giggles.

"I just think this is all going to happen," he said. "You can play this tape back in about two years, because this is all going to move very fast."

In contrast to Moore's jubilant victory lap, Naomi Klein's sober assessment of the challenges ahead seemed almost bleak:

"If the task is to figure out how to rein in ephemeral virtual global capitalism, let alone transform it, let alone doing what we need to do to actually deal not just with the economic crisis but the ecological crisis which means to challenge the entire ideology of endless growth and asking if we can grow forever on a finite planet -- I mean, nobody has ever figured out how to do this. So we have to start from the premise that we are in uncharted territory."

Greider also tempered his enthusiasm with caution, drawing parallels between Occupy Wall Street and the populist movement of the 19th century, which built a lot of home-grown alternative institutions before being ground out by financial elites.

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Patrick Bruner talked with supporters after the event.
Bruner has at times seemed unsure of himself in his frequent role as a spokesman for Occupy Wall Street (not least of all when apologizing profusely for the great Radiohead show that wasn't). But last night, sitting between some high-wattage lefty luminaries, he represented the movement with intelligence, diplomacy, and even a certain amount of swagger -- even as he dutifully reminded everyone that he speaks only for himself, not the movement as a whole.

"We have youth who are aware that their future has been stolen," he said. "We have kids who have massive amounts of student debt, and they're going to carry that around for the rest of their lives, possibly.... Not if we have anything to do with it."

Most of the panelists agreed that the movement would eventually need to engage with electoral politics. But Bruner pushed back on that assumption.

"I think personally that it's very important that we don't become involved with parliamentary procedure and parliamentarianism. I can understand the impetus to work from the government but I think that the government, in its current form at least, is itself a very corrupt institution."

Take for example, the case of Obama:

"A lot of people in this room helped elect Obama -- and he had more donations from Wall Street than any other candidate ever. We elected a person who ran on change and hope. And I don't see too much change and I don't have too much hope. So I think what we're seeing is a rejection of this political binary, but also just the entire way of doing things, this representation by other individuals. As long as they're more influenced by the money that comes into the system than the voices that come into the system or the votes that come into the system, which is the way things are right now, we can't use the government."

Knocking Obama clearly sat uneasily with the audience, which greeted Bruner's swipe with scattered applause but more muttered dissent.

Rinku Sen, of the Applied Research Center and Colorlines disagreed: "The government we have now is not the government we need to have and it's not the one that we must have want to have, I think changing it is entirely possible," she said. "We have to have a discussion about the government that doesn't just reinforce its crappiness. Because that reinforcement just makes wider openings for libertarians."

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Michael Moore after the Occupy Everywhere talk.
Sen also urged Occupy Wall Street to recognize race as a central issue of the movement. "It's not enough for Occupy Wall Street to be diverse, which it is," she said. "The real question is: Are those people who are there able to influence the agendas of local occupations? ....If Occupy Wall Street is going to cause this public shift, a really significant part of that shift has to be the ability to recognize the role that racial discrimination, racial exploitation, racial hierarchy played in getting us to this very depression."

To close out the conversation, panelists were asked what they thought the biggest challenge facing the movement was.

Bruner answered with a distinction that has been growing in recent weeks: "The biggest problem is Liberty Square," he said. "People think that's where the Occupation of Wall Street happens. That's not where it happens. It happens wherever you choose that it happens."

Klein repeated her fear that, faced with the staggering task of transforming a global culture of perpetual capitalist growth, the movement will devolve into sectarian battles. "It's never been done, and that's terrifying," she said. "When you pick a fight with the most powerful force in the world... there's always a tendency to pick a fight with somebody where you have a better chance of winning, like the person sitting next to you."

You can watch an archived live-stream of the event here:

Watch live streaming video from fstv1 at livestream.com

[npinto@villagevoice.com] [@macfathom]

Go to Runnin' Scared for all our latest news coverage.

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7 comments
Yvonne
Yvonne

First of all, I don't like the tone of this article. Bruner is a troll, and I would be glad to tell him that to his face. Obviously, he does not watch the proceedings in Congress and how the republicans and tea-partiers have blocked every move by Obama and the Democrats to help this country. If Obama is not re-elected, we, this entire country, are in trouble. I don't want to hear anyone justify the need for a third party. That will do nothing but create problems exactly like the tea party has. I would like to know where Bruner got the idea that Obama received more money from Wall Street than any other candidate. Please give us your sources. I fully intend to write Obama or the Chairman of the Democratic Party to find out if this is true. Did you just hear about the stalemate again from the Super Committee. The republicans have no plans to tax the rich, and instead, want to take away MediCare, Social Security,MedicAid, programs this nation's poorest depend on. We owe it to these poor and elderly and children, as they have fought our wars to keep us safe and have paid into it all their lives. Too much money is going to wars and the Military, and not enough is coming in from the rich and corporations.

Jndadyj1
Jndadyj1

  Qiute yacking an learn from them WALSTREET FOLK>  Get out a peace of paper and change the law in writing then use the proteters to get it signed by the voters and make a REAL CHANGE ! ! QUIT TALKING AND GET TOO IT> Need help writing a law let me know I'll be glad to help you write it and put them protesters to work at something that will make a diff. 

1%
1%

It must be difficult for a guy with a net worth of $50 million dollars (Michael Moore) to be championing robbery by the federal govt of individual wealth.

Chris London
Chris London

"addressing an audience of exactly the sort of institutional, establishment liberals you'd expect at an event put on by the Nation Institute and the New School"You really should try to avoid coming across as  a smug, self-satisfied ass otherwise your credibility as a reporter is out the window.  Had you been in Tischman earlier in the day you would have seen New School and other people on panels discussing 'Human Rights and the Global Economy' that echoed much of what the OWS panelists had to say.  Sure, some of it might have sounded a bit academic, but just because there is abstraction doesn't make it any less an attempt to do something about the mess we're in.  Maybe you think taking swipes at others on the left gives you radical cred.  But really, it's just an infantile disorder.  Grow up.  

NB
NB

Pretty sure Ms Klein would have described the task to rein in rather than "reign in"

serena1313
serena1313

I believe there is a balance that can be found between Michael Moore's overly optimistic expectations and Naomi Klein's somber, bleak warnings of defeat for OWS. It is called reality.

When the media finally began reporting (after weeks of ignoring) the OWS story, it changed the nation's focus from the trivial straw-man type arguments to the more significant, substantive & pressing problem of the ever-increasing income inequality and disparity, a feat in and of itself notwithstanding. Yet that still didn't stop the media personalities, pundits, talking heads, commentators, politicians, etc. from trying to hi-jack the movement's message by spinning it to preserve the status quo anyhow.

Although the movement is still in its infancy, OWS is taking on a shape of its own that is unique and undefined. The movement is as diverse as it is united, however, the one over-arching theme that brought OWS together is (the fight for) economic justice. There isn't one issue that does not stem from the banking institutions & corporations expanding powers & influence over our lives and government such as income disparity, racial inequality, poverty, home foreclosures, unemployment, student loans, human rights, so on and so on.

Ultimately the movement will be defined by the protesters, themselves, not the media, not outside forces. Once they settle on a specific mission they'll know exactly what needs to be done and how to go about accomplishing it predicated on their tenacity, commitment and staying power against the forces not of nature but of men who are determined to keep things as they are. But OWS cannot take on the status quo alone.

The fight for economic justice can be won which is not to suggest we ignore Klein's dire warnings of defeat or entertain an overly enthusiastic optimism. It is not that simple. Yes, there are challenges ahead to overcome and long hard-fought battles (metaphorically speaking) to be won. But the reality is that in order to restore balance, we have to stand together as one and fight to reclaim what rightfully belongs to all of us, the 99% + 1.

Rbitt13
Rbitt13

The transformation required starts with the understanding that the dempubicans have us devided. The wings of the eagle must unite to gain the strength to confront the rockefeller internationalists. Lets have an armed "million man march" ON THE BOHEMIAN GROVE. Occupy the grove- remember FIGHTCLUB. Greater than any imaginable terrorist OUR ENEMY IS WITHIN. Where are the American bravehearts?. UNITE. Action not words!

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