David Hoppe

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:: Occupy the Super Bowl

The movement's future could be here

By David Hoppe


A friend dropped a brilliant idea on me the other day, the kind of idea that, once it wiggles into your brain, has the ability to sprout and bloom like a Chia pet: Occupy the Super Bowl.

Occupy the Super Bowl.

Has a ring to it, does it not?

As I write this column, the media is abuzz with speculation about the rise and fall of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Police raids on Occupy encampments, from Manhattan's Zucotti Park, to the University of California campus in Berkeley, have prompted mainstream speculation that now, finally, the crowds of disaffected Americans will begin to disperse and we can begin to discuss the movement's meaning in the past tense.

"'Occupy' shifted the debate," proclaimed a headline in last week's Star . The Associated Press story that followed observed that the Occupy protesters "have yet to turn the conversation into major action," and that "few politicians or policymakers have publicly taken up the protesters' cause." Where, wondered reporters Meghan Barr and David Caruso, does the movement go from here?

It would be nice to be able to consign the Occupy movement to the recycling bin of history. This would enable scholars and pundits to give it a poke and put it on the shelf alongside other harmless artifacts, like hula hoops and granny glasses.

The Occupy movement has caught our reputedly "liberal" media betwixt and between. On the one hand, right-wingers complain that by even covering the Occupiers, the media tips its hand, giving a disproportionate amount of coverage to a motley crew of folks who haven't so much as bothered to elect a fearless leader.

But even more revealing has been the media's difficulty, amounting to a kind of learning disability, in coming to grips with the movement's larger meaning, that is, a fundamental rejection of the what's become of American capitalism.

As Jeffrey D. Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, recently observed in an op-ed piece in the Sunday New York Times , America has been so obsessed with anti-communism, and for such a long time, we all but forgot about how to critique capitalism. After World War II, there was the Iron Curtain. Then the Red Scare. The world settled into a protracted Cold War, drawing up sides that defined communism as a totalitarian menace, while capitalism stood for all that was free. Capitalism, in other words, equaled democracy, and communism tyranny.

Lost in this bipolar shuffle was not only the ability to distinguish the many shadings living between these two extremes, but an effective working vocabulary for discussing the inevitable relationship between economics and social justice.

Well, the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. A generation has come of age since the end of the Cold War. While there is multi-generational diversity among the Occupiers, the vanguard of the group seems comprised of younger adults who are ready to find new ways to think about money and power in America. If, at times, they seem less than glib, perhaps it's because they, like so many of the rest of us, are still looking for the right words to describe what's wrong.

At least they can see what's happening. Maybe they've smiled and showed up for those unpaid internships, only to wind up waiting tables. Maybe they're carrying student loans they don't know how to pay. Maybe they have no health insurance. Maybe they feel lucky to have a job, but can't make enough to rent an apartment, or get married, or have kids.

And maybe they see no end to any if this because, in Washington, D.C. and the Indianapolis Statehouse, they hear politicians saying that the problem is that workers make too much money; that workers' rights keep us from competing with India and China; that Social Security and Medicare need cutting.

To their credit, the Occupiers have stopped smiling. They've dumped the Successories and those back issues of Fast Company magazine that told them how cool it would be to be their own brands. They see that when most of us swim with sharks, we're lunch.

Which brings me back to that Occupy the Super Bowl idea. A lot of people in the media have suggested that, once the weather turned cold, the Occupy movement would go away. It would certainly be stressed.

But a change in the weather might also prompt a change in tactics. Perhaps now it's time to pick targets, to show up at those events where the 1 percent likes to party.

No single corporate event fills this bill like the Super Bowl. It's a corporate orgy, where the elite meet to indulge themselves in a self-congratulatory, gladiatorial spree. The city will be in hyperdrive, obsessed with keeping reality at bay, and doing its best to make the NFL's corporate wingmen happy.

Being in the slush and bitter wind of an Indianapolis winter won't be easy. But it could also make this year's game the Valley Forge of the Occupy movement. Where does that movement go from here?

To the Super Bowl!