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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The 1960s radicalism of Occupy Wall Street will help elect a Republican in 2012


The Occupy Wall Street movement is an exercise in nostalgia. It’s an attempt to recreate the excitement of 1968, when the world’s youth took to the barricades. That cosmic revelation hit me while sitting crossed-legged on a bean bag reading about the earnest search for "the Bob Dylan of our age". Among the people being touted for that position is Kanye West (worth $70 million). On Monday, he toured the cardboard boxes and rainbow flags of Zuccotti Park, New York. Out of solidarity for the bling-ridden poor, Mr West wore a gold chain. He was accompanied by record producer Russell Simmons (worth $340 million). When I first read that piece of news through the blurred light of a burning joss stick, I thought it said Richard Simmons. The two men are very different people. Russell Simmons ran a pioneering hip hop record label and transformed the US music scene. Richard Simmons is a camp white guy who makes fitness videos. I wish I was right and it was Richard Simmons who had accompanied Kanye to Zuccotti Park. He could have elevated the whole thing with an impromptu rendition of The Age of Aquarius on roller skates. 

Of course, wherever there’s dirty people and hemp, you’ll find a hippy environmentalist. Channelling Rachel Carson, activist Bill McKibben told a crowd, “The reason that it’s so great that we’re occupying Wall Street is because Wall Street has been occupying the atmosphere.” He said that the fossil fuel industry “cannot keep using [the sky] as a sewer into which to dump their carbon!” It’s OK to use the streets of New York, though. The Daily Mail reports: “Protesters said the site smells like a sewer and the free condoms have given visions of what the Woodstock festival was like. In one shocking picture, a man can be seen defecating on a police car.”

Photos confirm what I suspected: that most of the protesters are kids looking for their Sixties rush. Naked girls are painted in psychedelic colours. Handsome boys lounge around in cable-knit sweaters. Angry, doomed youth wave signs in the faces of frustrated policemen. Numbers are exchanged; kisses are snatched behind the barricades; disease is spread. This is what every generation of liberal has tried to recreate since 1968, be it the Watergate protests, the Battle of Seattle or the Stop the War Movement. I know this because I, too, once grasped for my 1968 moment. In 2003, I joined the sweaty ranks of the antiwar campaign. I was honestly motivated and intellectually sound, but I can’t deny the heady anticipation that a life of protest would lead inexorably to drugs and girls. I got the drugs but not the girls, and woke up several months later in a squat surrounded by Trotskyite bores who seemed far more intelligent when I was stoned. Zabriskie Point it was not. 

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