by: Amanda Stefanski
I have a lot of problems with romanticizing the 60s. However, I become fiercely defensive when a white man in a suit tries to degrade some earnest people by calling them hippies. There isn’t anything wrong with peace and love, especially when the alternative is putting a suit on every day.
I’ve been doing some thinking about how the mainstream media and more than a few Republicans have been calling the Occupy Wall Street protesters “hippies.” There has been a seemingly endless amount of time and energy devoted to panning the crowds to find the folks who challenge our notions of respectability and authority the most, in an attempt to discredit the movement. This trope is old hat but still continues to be eternally irritating. Some have responded to these charges by attempting to argue that the people who are attending Occupy Wall Street aren’t “hippies,” but are in fact, just like you and me (whoever you and I are presumed to be).
I disagree. We should never attempt to make ourselves palatable and non-threatening to the powers that be. This should never be our strategy for change, although it often has been in the past. Marginalized groups have always thrown their most obviously deviant folks under the proverbial bus. We’ve seen this within our own community when we’ve witnessed organizations and activists who will support the G and the L while tossing out the B, the T and the Q along with the rest of the alphabet soup.
There are some radical, weird people involved with Occupy Wall Street and who also aren’t interested in any sort of capitalistic norms of respectability, assimilation and control. We should celebrate these people instead of attempting to distance ourselves from them. It is in the interest of the folks with all of the cash for us to reject them. However, I am interested in continuing to explore what the GOP and Fox News are trying to convey by calling the protestors “hippies”. Essentially, it boils down to this notion: these people are not like you. Therefore, you, as the average, home-grown, red-blooded American have several choices.
One: You should fear them. Therefore, you should dismiss them.
Two: You should feel superior to them. Therefore, you should dismiss them.
Three: You should feel that they represent a threat to who you are. Therefore, you should dismiss them.
The purpose of this rhetoric is to inhibit the viewer from seeing themselves as a part of this movement. If these protesters are bunch of burnt-out hippies, what does that say about us? What does that say about the fact that we’re struggling too? By calling the protestors “hippies,” they are claiming that the people at Occupy Wall Street represent something non-normative, something that is a threat to the status quo.
As of now, the Occupy Wall Street both is and isn’t a threat to the status quo. This is disappointing for an anti-capitalist queer such as myself, but I’m not worried. This movement is young. It is full of a lot of folks who have been socialized their entire lives to be terrified or dismissive of imagining this sort of transformative change. I have faith that these ideologies are being discussed or will be discussed. I believe that these transformative ideologies will be intuitively understood by those who have the lived experience, by those who need to understand it most.
Still, this hippie rhetoric is designed to stop people from showing up to even have these conversations. It preys on folks’ deep seated fears of existing outside of the norms that tell us that we will be protected and loved. The implication of occupying this marginalized place is that you will be ostracized and considered unworthy of the dignity that so many protesters are asking for.
In some ways, this is a real fear. We live in a culture that fiercely and continually reinforces its boundaries of normativity in the most violent of ways, including the violence of poverty. It is in the interest of those who are in power to keep us afraid because it keeps us from imagining. It prevents us from truly challenging the way wealth and power is distributed in this country and around the world because we have been so thoroughly policed into changing ourselves to fit the system instead of changing the system to fit who we are. If we’re questioning the system, that means we’ve really failed, right? The dream hasn’t only been deferred, it’s already exploded.
What we’re talking about is power. Who has it, who doesn’t, or who feels like they have it, but really doesn’t. We’re also talking about who has the power to define who we are and to influence what other people think of us. Historically, those with the power have tried to define the folks that resist against them and their institutions. I don’t want this to sound like I’m boiling this down to a us vs. them dichotomy. I know damn well as much as anyone that I might be a “them” to someone else’s us and that’s just not productive for anyone. I have to warn you that this is more complicated than that.
However, I’m talking about the institutions that have the power to define what is normative, what is the other, and how these distinctions manifest themselves into real consequences of violence and fear. What I’m talking about is the language of fear and a culture of demonizing difference and dissent, the culture that keeps us all too terrified to dream of a different world.
Amanda Stefanski is a third year student at DePaul University, studying Women’s and Gender Studies. She is a proud member of the Wolfram Manor Collective, a collective of eight who do their best to provide a safe space for education, activism, artistic expression and socializing for feminists, radicals and queers. She is also a member of DePaul’s Feminist Front. In her spare time, she likes to listen to records, play drums, paint, read, and answer questions about how she keeps her hair such a vibrant shade of pink. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.