On the March

20 Nov

I’ve got another case to add to those in my earlier post on intuition and the sense of reality. This case arose in a long, and often interesting, discussion of the recent evictions of Occupy Wall Street encampments. The discussion has been taking place at Crooked Timber and has involved, among other things, a fairly extensive conversation between one Adrian Kelleher, about whom I know nothing, and Rich Puchalsky, whom I know from The Valve and CT.

Kelleher has been making long, detailed comments saying, more or less, “you’re doing it wrong, you can’t possibly succeed.” Puchalsky, who’s been working with the Occupy group in his neighborhood somewhere in in not-Boston Massachusetts, has been saying, “you don’t at all understand the Occupy movement.” In particular, Kelleher made two long comments, 333 and, particularly 334, which is about how OWS is swimming against “the tide of history.” Puchalsky responds in 341.

Here’s my reply to Puchalsky:

Puchalsky: It’s possible for someone to have quite conventional political views and yet act quite differently within a social situation that is different.

BB: Bingo!

Puchalsky: When that failure happens, people in OWS will have friends that they can trust, people who they’ve worked with at a very elemental level.

BB: Bingo! Bingo!

BB: Let me invoke Marley’s Theorem, named after my old buddy Jason Marley: “If you want to know what it’s like to drive a car, you’ve got to sit in the driver’s set and drive the car.” Sitting in the passenger’s seat watching the driver won’t do it, nor will sitting in the back seat, and certainly not sitting at home in your den imagining what driving a car is like. You’ve got to be IN the car, making decisions about traffic, the road, and pedestrians. It’s that elemental.

That last paragraph is where we get the intersection with my earlier remarks about intuition. Puchalsky is IN the OWS movement and so understands it from the inside; he’s in the driver’s seat. Kelleher, apparently, is not.

As for me, well, perhaps. I visited the OWS camp at Zuccotti Park before the police trashed it, with the sanitation department cleaning up after them. I was surprised at how small and cramped it was, but also at the diversity of people, young, old, male, female, various races and ethnicities.

But that visit counts mostly as that of a sympathetic tourist. I’m not IN the Occupy movement the way Puchalsky is. I am, however, a marcher, and that’s how I’m judging things these days.

I was in marching band in the 1960s. That was an instructive and ambivalent experience. The band was a good one. We worked hard, that is to say, we were worked hard. It was a strictly hierarchical system, of course, with the band director the undisputed commander-in-chief. He was, after all, a teacher and we were only students. Within the band itself, well, there were elected officers, but each rank had a right guide and a left guide. They were appointed by the director and they were responsible for keeping the rank in shape in practice and on the march.

The hierarchy didn’t appeal to me, and the music was, well, it was marching music. Much of it very good marching music, but marching music is rather limited in scope.

But when the band was ON, which it was often enough, it felt good. There is such a thing as spirit, and it can be very powerful when a band plays together and marches together. There’s a reason why William McNeil wrote a book, Keeping Together in Time, in which he argued that dance and military drill, though not music itself (I wrote that book, Beethoven’s Anvil, and he blurbed), are a substantial social and historical force.

So that’s one marching experience. I also marched in the civil rights and the anti-war movements of the 60s and 70s. Those were not military marches, obviously. There were leaders who organized those protests, of course, but the marches were just people marching, carrying signs and yelling out chants. There was no marching in step, and no music.

That’s changed in this, the new millennium. There was music in the large anti-war march held in New York City on 22 March 2003. There were no marching bands, not that I could see, and no rigid marching in step. But there was music. People brought instruments, percussion and horns, and somehow musicians found one another, formed into groups, and played together. Spontaneously. Bottom-up. And the crowds were electrified. The spirit moved, and moved us.

I know, because I was there, playing trumpet. And on many subsequent protest marches in NYC, trumpet and bells, all the time, it works. And it worked on 5 October of this year, when the unions and students marched in solidarity with OWS. I was in the middle of that, playing bells, trumpet, chanting, and avoiding photographers, who were everywhere.

That’s different, it’s new, this spontaneous bottom-up music on the march. I don’t know where it came from, what happened in the culture that made this possible, but whatever it is, it’s good. I’m betting that the Occupy movement comes from the same well.


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