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Posts Tagged ‘James Davis’

By James Davis

It’s hard not to feel moved by the sheer enormity of the encampment at Occupy Wall Street.  I went with my family on “Columbus day” and was inspired by it despite (and maybe because of) its messiness, its unruliness, and the irreducibility of its many messages to a unified political position, much less a policy proposal.  But even though I find the criticism of the occupiers misplaced (“What do they even want?” “Why don’t they offer solutions?”), I’m no anarchist and my enthusiasm was tempered by the sobering realization that what the occupiers actually spend a lot of time doing is defining their own internal procedures.  Admittedly I’m saying this based on limited exposure to one General Meeting.  But even as the occupation has taken on broader symbolic significance over the past two weeks, prompting unions, community groups, and even the Democratic party to gamble on affiliation or endorsement of various kinds, its participants have been compelled to turn their attention inward toward Zucotti Park as much as outward toward Wall Street, the media, and their fellow travelers on the Left.  In this respect I left feeling like Occupy Wall Street has a lot to tell us about radical teaching and radical learning but maybe not in the obvious ways.

Never mind (for the moment) the substantive claims the occupiers make about the depredations of the financial system, I’m talking about how a community that’s as closely scrutinized and as committed to egalitarian principles as this one even functions and sustains itself.  The group was caught up with issues that, on one hand, seem exceedingly mundane given the vast political energy they’ve tapped into: proper vs. improper ways to get “on stack” to publicly address the group, what kinds of body language constitute “violent” behavior toward others, etc.  On the other hand, it was also caught up with some fairly urgent internal procedural matters: what to do about the fact that some people are doing drugs in the park at night, the fact that some occupiers aren’t even necessarily aware of the political dimension of the demo, or the fact that the commitment to non-violence has not been practiced consistently among the demonstrators.  These are difficult issues to resolve for a fluid group keen on inclusivity and the decentralization of authority.  They were trying hard, however, and it struck me (and I guess this is an implicit question to readers) that in addition to teaching about radical ideas themselves, perhaps a bigger challenge to radical educators is to create spaces and institutions in which people can practice alternative procedures to those that prevail in most of the contexts in which we operate: that is, extremely hierarchical ones with clearly centralized authority.  Whatever happens to Occupy Wall Street, its fate seems tied to the occupants’ ability to manage the tension between its ethic of decentralization and its burden (if it can be put that way) to channel the discontent and the imagination of the political Left.  What are the radical spaces and institutions that prepare people to perform a task this challenging and complicated?  A person doesn’t just step into that park knowing how to navigate it and articulate that knowledge to others.  How might radical educators teach the procedural skills of radical movements in the process of teaching what we might call content?

Finally, in terms of teaching ABOUT Occupy Wall Street, I wonder whether people are using amateur video footage in (or out of) their classrooms?  Here is a clip that I found very interesting, amateur in one sense, though the videographer is actually a professional filmmaker (“The Battle for Brooklyn,” on abuse of eminent domain to create The Atlantic Yards, is his latest).

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By James Davis

At the Jersey shore over Labor Day Weekend, two newspaper items sparked my interest and raised questions. One was an announcement in the local free weekly of an event Remembering 9/11 at a branch of the public library.  No surprise there; what institution is missing the occasion to memorialize the events of that day?  But the description caught my eye: The program is designed for children. If they’re children, they don’t remember 9/11 anyway.  No one under age 10 was born yet.  The audacity of the project to provide children with pseudo-memories of an event they did not experience was striking.

As the date draws near of the tenth anniversary the attacks, I wonder how teachers are handling the inevitable uptick in nationalist propaganda.  Specifically, another newspaper article–this one in the NY Times–made me wonder whether anyone will have the occasion (or the stomach) to bring to the discussion the near-coincidence of the anniversary with the impending U.N. vote regarding the status of Palestinian statehood, scheduled for September 20.  The article indicates that the U.S. is seeking to delay the vote in order to forestall the political fallout of either of its options: voting to approve (unlikely) or casting a veto vote (very likely).  As our ritual of national memory compels a corresponding amnesia about the role of U.S. foreign policy in galvanizing anti-Western sentiment among Arabs and Muslims, the prospect of an American veto and the subsequent backlash against the U.S. among Arabs and Muslims would be an inconvenient reminder.  It would also represent an undesirable counter-narrative to the one emerging last week from Libya, which is being trumpeted as a triumph of U.S. diplomacy and intervention.  In other words, I wonder whether radical teachers are finding ways to teach the acts of national memory being performed throughout the coming weeks in critical relation to the existing conditions of the present?

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