Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom is dealing with the topic of Occupy Wall Street, and while I loved the Occupy Movement, I’m forced to admit that Sorkin makes some pretty good points.
The character Shelly Wexley is a college professor and spokesperson for the Occupy movement. She clearly knows at least some about all the issues, yet she can’t get the conversations away from being about how the leaderless group works to the issues. Sorkin’s protagonist Will McAvoy is incredibly blunt with her. He challenges what OWS hopes will happen. If they want laws to change, do they have people available to meet with the lawmakers? No. What does she hope is the best case scenario for how it ends? Her answer “that it doesn’t end” gets mocked, because while she probably meant “it” to mean a social uprising against the status quo, McAvoy takes it as the particular camp-out in the park. Surely if their demands were met they would stop camping there, right?
Later he is even blunter.
“Your movement sucks Shelly.” “I’m sure it looks that way from the outside.” “And right there, there’s your problem because who the f*ck cares what it looks like from the inside.”
I think like hippies there was a hope that OWS and the other Occupy sites would lead individuals to transform who they are and how they interact with others. Doing things differently was supposed to change power relations and create an educated active population. Maybe from the inside it looked like that was happening at places though not without difficulties. But then you still need a way for people to take that inside transformation and move it outwards, engaging others and working with or against the political system. And I wonder what portion of the participants felt it transforming, and what portion were left frustrated by the inability to put the ideals into practice.
I’ve written before about some of these issues. I wrote about my frustration with Occupy Sudbury labeling people as “sheeple” rather than engaging them. I’ve written about the frustration that the group didn’t reach out and attempt to work towards solutions. I’ve written before that camping isn’t magical. There have to be practical steps to somehow make change. Occupy was a good thing in bringing people out into the streets but just being there wasn’t enough.
Shelley argues: “We’re trying to point so that people will look. And you’re looking at us and not what we’re pointing at. I was terrible on the show and I was embarrassed in front of my friends and my students and the people in my area at Zuccotti park. If you have to slap me around can’t we at least talk about corruption, financial crimes, predatory lending, unlimited campaign donations.”
McAvoy replies:”You’re not qualified to talk about those things on my show. But yes, I could talk about those things more on my show.”
There’s the hard part. The character is meant to look more qualified than the average protestor, and yet she’s not qualified to talk about the topics being protested on a prime time television show. How do we make change, how do we bring about change if we aren’t qualified to talk about the subjects? We can’t just leave things to the experts. Can we help get the right experts talking? Can we take what knowledge we do have and somehow use it? What knowledge do most of us have?
Part of why I enjoy my work with the local anti-poverty group is that our focus is quite narrow and we can get the information we need to speak publically about what is happening with the way the municipality is handling the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) that is meant to replace the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB). Yet the vary specificness of some of the issues we put the most time to becomes frustrating, like trying to build a road with a pick axe, avoiding looking at the mountains looming ahead. The big issues that we don’t necessarily know enough about have to be spoken about too.