What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


So it is about that time again; where the academic calender is calling my name.  This year of course its especially loud as the job market proves to have no love for me.  Thus it brings me back to my eternal quest to get into and funded at a PhD program.  I thought for sure last year would have bore fruit.  But it didn't.  I cut my academic nose off to spite my occupation.  It seemed like a great idea at the time, stay in the New York area to be closer to Occupy.  But I overestimated my capacity within the power and strength of the advice I was getting from others in the know about my PhD applications.  I was surrounded by people that knew and fabulously supported me.  I felt like I'd get in everywhere!  But admissions department's don't know you like your friends and colleagues do.  I got overconfident I suppose, and applied most;y to the most sought after programs in the country.  It didn't work out as I got in to one place with too little funding and wait-listed at my top choice.  A couple hundred plus applicants for two spots.  I was in the top ten it seems, but I didn't get in.  Most of the advice I got from friends and family at the time was to give up, walk away, and find a new career option.  How many years to you keep trying before you realize they may just not be interested in my application?

So I put my efforts into Occupy and finding work in the non-profit and/or international development sectors.  It hasn't worked thus far.  My resume seems to not get me far in these communities and today's economic climate.  Not to mention that, as always, I find myself yearning for intellectual discourse, to be able to focus, to just sit and learn and analyze and try to come to new alternative ways of doing and contemplating things.  I always come back to it.  My passion will always lie in this type of work. I just need to find the best outlet for it.

So I've been looking into how to go about this in academia again.  What lessons have I learned from the last several application processes?  What can be changed?  What in fact should I be studying?  I've started formulating some prospective concepts in my mind over the last few months, and reached out to some people that I trust and have helped me throughout.  I feel like this past year and the people that I've found myself involved with has really honed some of my thoughts/perspectives, especially in formulating this concept.  A year on the ground as a part of a social movement brings a lot of concrete insights that are tough for those outside of it to replicate.  Combining this ground level Occupy stuff with my previous work has really broadened my context and critique of society.

In my head this summer I have been musing about writing a book about some things that make a lot of sense in terms of a PhD project as well.  I keep thinking about the meaning of the systemic, institutional, and successful suppression of the Occupy movement.  The main question that came into my head when thinking about American democracy and society as a whole was the question: "when do you give up on America?"  If Occupy can so easily be suppressed and marginalized, what hope do we have?  As I've been conceptualizing this thought, it centers around the systemic suppression of this open and democratic movement using the private media, the use of "legitimate" power in the form of the police, FBI, homeland security, etc, and a myriad of other tools to sway public opinion in unfavorable directions regarding the movement and the use of free democratic speech as well.

The point of it to me though is not to make another report on the suppression of another movement, but to focus on what this means for our society as a whole and our interest/ability to bring about change.  The main premise is that while "America" believes itself to be so many great things, it is in fact statistically falling far behind much of the industrialized world, and that the suppression of this movement (one envisioned to exactly address these issues and to do it with basis of free speech, economic and social justice, and a more inclusive society) tells me that the country could be on the brink of being lost to real change.  Is our society so systematically controlled as to stifle the exact cure of our ills?  Have the individual people (I know loaded and generalized statement) have become so entrenched in the system that they can no longer assess and critique the system?  It seems that we as a society are forced into a steadfast maintenance of daily life and survival, and that we perhaps blindly trust media and the state to the point of ignorance.  Hence what seems like an easy and slow transition from empathy towards the Occupy movement, to an eventual siding by many people with the "law and order" and the state/corporate message, as opposed to freedom of speech, expression, and the fight for economic and social justice/true democracy that we are taught America is about.  Basically, what does it mean for American society to have had a movement aiming to care for and give voice to all people be so resoundingly squelched by the establishment, and for this to seemingly be accepted by the general public as ok. 

I think these are very important issues to be addressed, and which stretch well beyond NYC and the US.  Even to the global issues and Africa work that matter so much to me easily play into it.  When contextualized through a global light, there is a systematic repression of justice movements throughout the world using the same tactics and weapons used here in the US and that all fall within the framework of neoliberal systems.  The police, media, state resources, the corporate control and influence over global political and economic systems.  The pictures and tactics from around the world are all the same.  Police forces and intelligence services being used as tools of capitalist and authoritarian regimes, all in the name of local or international order.  Public money being spent for police to guard private property.  These images even bridge the international political science discourse on liberal/democratic peace theory that I've done work on in the past with domestic issues of democratic voice and internal conflict/force. 

Obviously this global framework would be an important part of understanding the broader issues affecting things here on the ground in the US regarding democratic voice and the Occupy movement in an interconnected world.  But for me in these purposes, Occupy and the US would be a specific research focus to investigate the systemic issues inherent within the neo-liberal system, what the past year means about the strength of this system, and what "its" hold on power and social control is.  I wrote something touching a bit on some of these issues in a really short piece for the MetrOccupied newspaper.

That article brought me to some very poignant research questions that I feel should be asked regarding the media. While there was a wealth of coverage in the beginning by countless media outlets, what happened after the park was lost and the media coverage slowly dwindled away?  Was the media coverage suppressed?  Was it just the news cycle and fickle nature of private media?  Why did the mainstream coverage eventually seem to solely show negative clashes with the police rather than the movement's outputs?  And what of the alternative media that still covers the movement to this day?  What differentiates these media outlets?  I made some decent friends in the media over this past year and my conversations with them only raised more concerns and questions I'd love to ask.

There are also an equal number of questions to be raised in terms of the physical suppression of the movement by law enforcement.  This has drawn a great deal of attention in alternative and liberal circles and there are a number of projects on going that point out the inequities and illegalities throughout both this movement and others.  These studies would provide a solid foundation for a more expansive inquiry/analysis into the nature and legality of physical suppression by "legal" actors. 

That line of thought brings me to the crux of my interest:  the contradiction and conflict within America's national identity - based so profoundly on different types of freedoms - that I feel that the Occupy movement has shown.  From political voice, to assembly and free speech, to economic and social freedoms, civil liberties, property rights, and everything else in between, there is a devout contradiction here as despite this American self-image of being exceptionally free, the violent suppression of the Occupy movement (and others before it) shows that the country is in fact as repressive as many other countries from whom we like to differentiate ourselves.  The question then becomes where do these contradictions and conflicts come from.  What can the Occupy movement show us regarding this contradiction?  What is the "individual American's" role in this?  Do people uncritically accept their circumstances?  How does the concept of law and order and the "legitimate" use of force factor in?  To what extent does the media's telling of this tale factor into people's opinions, their social critique, and an American concept of "freedom"?  What does it mean to believe the media's representations?  And what would a critique of this "America" look like if it should exist?

The contradictions of course go well beyond just the media, police, and public perception.  They are shaped by state actions and their interactions with corporate interests and messages.  Do the police merely protect the interests of the corporate state and state-like corporations?  What is the outcome of this physical repression on the general public's sense of freedom and democracy?  And what of the possible "repression" of information by both state and private institutions?  Does it actually exist and if so under what context?

This inquiry also requires much more than just an interrogation of whether "America" has allowed the Occupy movement to by pushed a side, but what role did the Occupy movement itself play in its suppression?  How does Occupy's general choice not to engage with electoral politics play in?  How does the strong influence of anarchist ideology/principles factor in to the movement's appearance from the outside give current and historical constructs/prejudices?  Realistically, the media came out in droves early, and in many ways provided the support and interest in Occupy (and its related issues/messages) that allowed the movement to explode into a global movement.  So how and why did that change and what was Occupies role in that?  There is a lot of work to be done analyzing media content and frequency, and Occupy's role in framing this coverage, just as there is to discussing Occupy's reactions to the policing and suppression of the movement throughout the multiple levels of the US's social and political fabric.

Ultimately, this project takes me personally so far in the right directions.  It is a long way from Sierra Leone yes, but it tugs at the heart of my larger interests and interdisciplinary soul that will resonate further than "capitalist expropriation in Africa" - which is not a new topic to academia.  This project with Occupy, which has grown within me while having been on the ground with OWS for the whole year, puts me in a very advantageous position.  I mean how many applicants could say that they were living in the park, organizing daily, getting pushed by the police, being both propped up and stifled by the media, facilitating large discussion group every day and turning that into research outputs?  Nevermind maintaining an involvement?  How many applicants would have the background I do and would be applying for PhD's in the same places?  I the parlance of my neighborhood, I've got knowledge and street cred here.  And I've earned it.  I want to use that knowledge and leverage to get to the next level and to provide a proper break down and analysis of both what's happening here and its meaning.

Wooo.....  right, but where do I do this study?  I had been applying mostly in Anthropology over the ast couple years; a discipline that is great at accessing individual agency, power, national cultural images, and critiques of the media, but I've done a lot of work in Sociology as well, a discipline that is really strong on Social Movements.  I also already have a masters degree in history and could piggy back off that; assess the movement through the historical suppression of social movements and of social change in general and in American ideals.  There is also the legal aspect to it all.  There are law schools out there tied to interdisciplinary initiatives that could be very interested in this work.  I personally usually think in interdisciplinary terms as it usually bridges my interests well - giving the the best of many worlds.  But it also has its limits in the depth of analysis.  Those programs are also hard to locate.

I think the key for me is going to be to find progressive/critical mentors, academics and programs that are going to work with me, understanding that I am not just an academic, but an activist, a protester, a dyslexic football player... an all-together different sort of fellow.  So how widely do I apply?  And how do I afford the application fees?  If I am going to do it, I need to get it done this year and i need to get the applications done early.  I need all my ducks in a row, to do lots of research, and make some really astute choices to get in to the right schools.  We'll see.  Time to get reading so I can frame the study in the right way, reach out to the right people, and try to make things happen... Oh yeah, and try to figure out where to sleep next week, whether I'll have enough food, and what to do for the next year until a program would start - if I was to get in!  lol.  What I wouldn't give for a job!!  ;)