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A Revealing Letdown Paul Mason’s Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions

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A Revealing Letdown: Paul Mason’s Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions
A Revealing Letdown: Paul Mason’s Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions

Paul Mason is a journalist for the BBC who wrote a blog post last February, just before Hosni Mubarak was taken out of power, called “Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere.” It was meant to explain, in broad social and historical and ideological terms, why there were so many protests and uprisings going on at that moment in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa. That post went viral, and now, just over a year later, Verso has published a book by Mason entitled Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions.

The book is a mix of reporting and essays, the former dispatches from Egypt, Greece, the U.K., the United States, and the Philippines, the latter somewhat longer versions of the lightweight theorizing from the blog post. Mason writes, “The book makes no claim to be a ’theory of everything,’ linking LulzSec to global warming and key dates in the Mayan calendar. And don’t file it under ’social science’: it’s journalism.”

It feels as if this book wanted to be a broad, intellectually rich exposition, one that doesn’t hesitate to talk about highfalutin philosophers like Slavoj Žižek or Frederick Jameson; in reality, it’s a series of on-the-ground vignettes from an incomplete set of all the places in which things have been “kicking off.” (Mason doesn’t report, for instance, from Occupy Wall Street, or from Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, or Yemen.)

Winding Down Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America

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Winding Down: Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America
Winding Down: Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America

Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America, the latest book from the editors of the Brooklyn-based literary journal n+1, would seem to have arrived just in time. As I write, much of what Occupy Wall Street meant in 2011 looks as though it will be a memory in 2012. Major occupations throughout the country, including the flagship encampment at Zuccotti Park, have been dismantled. Others that remain, like the one in Washington, D.C., face the growing threat of eviction and the deteriorating weather of a North American winter in full effect. Mainstream media coverage, ambivalent even during the movement’s high watermark, has turned definitively to a more reassuring, if less comprehensible, strain of political theater in the Republican presidential primary. Whether or not this decline in profile and enthusiasm is permanent, the evident phase-change merits a look back at the movement’s first chapter.

The writings assembled in Occupy!—from the journal’s editors, as well as other writers and thinkers sympathetic to OWS—chronicle the movement’s first month and a half, from the settlement by protesters in a small park in New York City’s Financial District, to eventual expansions in Oakland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Boston. The book consists of first-person anecdotes about life and activity within the occupations, as well as essays on various theoretical and practical aspects of the movement as it grew. Many of these pieces originally appeared in the Occupy! Gazette, a special newspaper printed by n+1, and on the journal’s blog where content about OWS is regularly posted. Also reprinted are speeches made at encampments in New York by Judith Butler, Angela Davis, and Slavoj Žižek. The book’s account ends two weeks before the Zuccotti eviction and the subsequent Day of Action on November 17 that found some 30,000 marchers in the streets. The preface acknowledges that these events took place as the book was going to print, and its posture is one of defiance: “You can pull up the flowers but you can’t stop the spring…The movement and this book are not over.” It sets the tone for much of what is to come, namely articulate endorsement of its subject. For all the collection’s problems, mistaking its audience isn’t one of them.