“The Beginning of the American Fall: A Comics Journalist Inside the Occupy Wall Street Movement” does a remarkable job of giving you a sense of the Occupy movement by placing it into proper context. Yes, there is a healthy and vigorous unrest across the globe but what to do about it? At some point, the spirit of protest from the 1960s began to seem like a relic. There was the yuppie backlash of the 1980s. And there was a strident cynicism from Generation X that found Baby Boomers, on the whole, to be self-indulgent navel gazers of the highest order, especially when it came to their politics and activism. They are a tough crowd, those Gen Xers but that harsh critical outlook led to a whole new Do-It-Yourself movement. And from that, arose another generation with strong opinions, Generation Y, or the the Millennials. With social media and gadgetry at their command, this new generation finds itself all the more connected while also all the more self-absorbed.
This bring us back to the recent past and the present. Are people most likely to steer their own lives within relative safety and comfort or do they take notice of the social unrest they see on the news from time to time? That is the question that the author of this book had to pose to herself while still in high school in the early 1980s. Stephanie McMillan picked up a book that would change her life. It was “Fate of the Earth,” by Jonathan Schell which lays out the prospect of nuclear war and how nations are willing to put the planet at risk for the sake of warmongering. This galvanized McMillan into a life of activism. Shortly after that book, she read the newspaper, the Revolutionary Worker. This planted the seed in her mind that the solution to social ills would ultimately come through revolution. Thirty years later, and with plenty of experience in what is possible through protest, McMillan was to finally see in her lifetime a people’s movement on a grand scale.
McMillan sets the stage for us by highlighting some of the key characteristics of 2011, the year that the Occupy movement took hold:
2011 is so recent that it may as well be today and at least the next few years ahead. It’s not a pretty picture, is it? Corporate greed goes unchecked, will continue to go unchecked, and people and the planet suffer for it. When McMillan goes into details about the rise of the Occupy movement, there is a palpable sense of urgency. We are drawn into her concern that the movement she had favored, “Stop the Machine,” was soon to be overshadowed by the rowdy new kid on the block, Occupy. It’s clear these are two very different approaches. Stop is highly organized and has a leadership structure. Occupy is founded on anarchism and relies upon collective decision-making. Will they be able to work together? Or will they work against each other? In a wonderful series of exchanges, McMillan draws for us how a people’s movement finds its way. Her illustrations are funny, irreverent, and quite honest. While she’s a participant in this story, she doesn’t shy away from depicting the inconsistencies, bickering, and mistakes that occur along the way.
McMillan’s main concern is on the eventual work ahead. Throughout this book, we are treated to a treasure trove of insights, facts, and ideas on some of the best options when attempting to do the most good with the energy of mounting social unrest. McMillan boils it down to an unquestionable need to rid ourselves of global capitalism. It is capitalism that is the problem. But just how do you rid yourself of capitalism? Aren’t we all, at heart, hapless consumers? As Pogo, the celebrated comic strip character once said, “We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us.”
It is as if a goal is being proposed that is unattainable. Are we seeking to change the world or just a part of it? The answers are not all there but at least we’re asking questions. The very act of questioning is part of the answer! We are not mindless drones. It’s a fundamental impulse to resist oppression. This book proves to be an essential guide in this great new age of change.
“The Beginning of the American Fall” is published by Seven Stories Press. It is a 141-page trade, priced at $12.71 US. Visit our friends at Seven Stories Press here.