As part of our Halloween fundraiser in late October, The Nicola Midnight St.Claire raffled off the rights to rename the publication for one issue. Accordingly, for the next month this site shall be christened: The New, New Masses. Below are some short thoughts from the raffle winners, Philip Glahn and Nell McClister.
o matter the season, giving a gift is always a good thing. But in this season of apocalyptic inequality, ideological intractability, and creeping dread, gifting and sharing can be perceived as the core of oft-cited alternative models like the “commons” or “multitude” that invite a complete transformation of the socio-political structure. Speaking in Philadelphia recently about “the end of capitalism,” David Harvey reminded his audience that capitalism is a relationship between people in which a few profit from their ownership of the many's labor. The profit (and the insatiable need for credit) lives in the gap between today’s supply and tomorrow’s demand. Gifting would thus be the key component of a solution to today’s economic torment: a zero-growth economy, which is not only desirable but possible as long as the giver does not expect a better gift in return; there can be no “profit.”
Art, long been considered a bastion of autonomy, is particularly amenable to the notion of the gift; beyond the objects sold, something about art cannot be reified and measured within the capitalist model. Yet art’s alliance with a political alternative remains so uneasy that even proponents of so-called public art and social practice insist on an aesthetic dimension, however nebulously defined. Often posed as a binary rather than a dialectic, the question "Is it art or is it activism?" echoes the failure of wide-mindedness with regard to the Occupy movement. Although the movement reminded those who cared to listen that personal experiences such as losing one's job, house, or pension are not private but public matters, many suffering citizens had trouble sympathizing, much less identifying with the “99%.” Even the willing were unsure how exactly they belong and, most importantly, how they could take part. As the media pitted parasitic anarchists against law-abiding patriots, it became even harder for those who could or would not physically attend the protests to understand themselves as part of this new collective, the new masses.
As Occupy sites are forcibly disbanded, the days get colder, and the national attention span requires newer stories and spectacles, persistence and visibility become ever-more-vital parts of the ongoing movement. In this case, the gift that keeps on giving is the permeation of the occupation into the everyday, into all spheres of experience and conduct. Not only must the movement transcend the artificial us-and-them ascribed from outside, undermining the necessary awareness of our collective subjection to the power, influence, and policy of a select few people and institutions, but in a sort of perverse egotism every individual has to reflect on how he or she specifically and personally belongs to the new masses. To occupy not only means to show up somewhere; it means to debunk the myth of private and public as mutually exclusive and thus autonomous, to acknowledge the interdependence of work, family, school, social network, and government, and designate each such “public” as a sphere of action, finding ways to occupy—resist, show solidarity, collaborate—as an artist, a worker, a consumer, a friend. Traditionally paralyzed between a future alternate model and an immediate, palpable humanist impact, art today must transcend the old artist-or-activist duality as it responds to Occupy’s clarion call.