Reclaiming the Commons

A new law, known as H.R. 347, expands the power of the Secret Service and police to arrest protesters near a “protected person” or at special public events like nominating conventions, a further intrusion on the right of Americans to assemble in protest, as Phil Rockstroh explains.

By Phil Rockstroh

With increasing velocity, since the advent of the post-Second World War national security state, then gaining speed with the incessant search and destroy mission waged on the U.S. Constitution known as the War on Drugs, and kicking into a runaway trajectory in the post Sept. 11, 2001, era — the increase in totalitarian impulses, among both the general population and corporate and governmental elite of the nation, has proceeded at an alarming rate.

Yet, baffling as the fact remains to those possessing a modicum of political awareness, large numbers of U.S. citizens persist in believing they dwell in a representative republic, governed by the principles of individual rights and civil liberties.

March in Madison, Wisconsin, commemorating the first anniversary of the public uprising against Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation. (Photo from

While Republicans desire to set clocks back to the Bronze Age — Democrats now run on Republican Standard Time, as collectively, the nation’s citizenry continues to roll over and hit the snooze button.

On an individual basis, if a sizable number of the nation’s citizenry’s concept of freedom of expression translates into little more than the act of casting a vote by iPhone involving a choice between a gaggle of cloying, longing-to-be-commodified crooners on American Idol — it follows that the egregious assault on civil liberties posed by H.R. 347 (the so-call Anti Occupy Wall Street Bill that has now made many acts of free speech and freedom of assembly a federal crime) will mean little within such a dim cosmology of diminished perception and even more dismal musical sensibility.

Reflecting how dire the assault on civil liberties has become: The aforementioned bill passed the House of Representatives by a 388 to 3 margin (and was signed, shortly thereafter, by President Obama, on Friday March 9, 2012).

Just what portion of the following admonitions contained within The Bill of Rights remains ambiguous to these legislators: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Notice: The opening sentence: “Congress shall make no law” Notice as well: The right to “peaceably assemble” is guaranteed as prominently as any other right on the list.

The intent of H.R. 347 and other modern legislation is clear: Keep despots and their operatives secure in their power by rendering opposition to their rule unpleasant for dissenters. Systems of reward and punishment will be maintained, too. A right-wing radio demagogue will reap vast fortunes for his service, while truth-tellers will be marginalized, or if they start to grow effective be crushed by police state tactics and legislative caprice (e.g., the manner that enforcers of the current order have attempted to systemically repress the Occupy Wall Street Movement).

Make no mistake regarding the times we have been given. This struggle will be long and difficult. Despotic personality types, as a rule, are not struck by life-altering epiphanies regarding the emptiness of a life attendant to autocratically imposing repressive measures upon the powerless to ensure the continuance of their privileged status.

Do not expect to hear the lamentation of the greedy as they awaken to how their addiction to wealth has isolated them Midas-style in a mode of mind wherein their souls exist in a state of starvation, because the soul is not nourished by hoarded gold (or funneling formations of electronic pixels representing commodity transactions).

On a personal basis, if you insist on standing opposed to despotism, expect trouble. In that case, one loses all certainties save one: The retention of a viable sense of self.

“So little pains do the shallow take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand.”,Thucydides, from The History of the Peloponnesian War

When one attempts to stand against surging social and political tides, feelings of powerlessness can flood one with anxiety. Accordingly, a single individual can become inundated with feelings of unease and uncertainty. As a result, the social pressure to drown angst-creating individual doubt within the mindless certainties of a mob can become overwhelming.

Often, brick by brick, in an attempt to withstand these powerful inner feelings and outward pressures, we build a structure of false consciousness that we, often, mistake for our convictions, and tragically mistake this dismal dwelling for the whole of existence. How then is it possible to withstand feelings of powerlessness?

Put one foot in front of the other. Write one word after the next on your protest sign. Make your life a flaming arrow aimed at the dry and rotted heart of the system or make your own heart a warm hearth of compassion for its victims, as you negotiate its cold realities.

Thus, hope becomes a process of engagement, not a comforting lie; not the stuff of public relations hustlers and political hacks but a quality of honest conviction and persistent labor; and not a cynical marketing tool.

Relentlessly, from early childhood on, our hopes and longings are subject to commodification by the dream-usurpers of the corporate state. The process of mental colonization by the commercial hologram is as pervasive within us as was the dogmatic influence of The Church within the psyches of Dark Age peasants.

The present order’s litany of economic inequity affords few the option of committing the heresy of questioning (or even apprehending) the exploitative and destructive nature of the system. As an example, citizenship as defined by consumerism has created a landscape devoid of public space. (The attempt to redefine what constitutes public space is one of the many threatening aspects of the Occupy Wall Street movement to the current power structure.)

Therefore, the inherent human need for a sense of place and belonging can be easily warped into a belligerent nationalism that deadens the heart as it warps an individual’s libidinous drive for communal engagement into displaced rage, conveniently appropriated by political demagogues into a lust for perpetual war.

Under such conditions, one’s life is not one’s own. A disassociation occurs, an attempt to distance oneself from the demeaning demands of exploitative social arrangements. Under these circumstances, a kind of cultural amnesia can occur. Perhaps, this relates to the U.S. populace’s difficulty involving collective memory, expressed in the well-known witticism that U.S. citizens inhabit: “The United States of Amnesia”.

When one’s authentic identity is not engaged in creating the criteria of one’s life, even one’s memories seem the dismal, evanescent dream of a stranger; it is difficult to store and recall unfolding events when one is in a trance of false consciousness. Hence, one must insist upon regaining possession of one’s life to regain memory and engage imagination.

Distinct from self-indulgent navel-gazing, this is a call to action. At this critical point, the situation involves more than a search for meaning and resonance (although those things arrive as byproducts of the effort) — for we have been presented with a worldwide crisis involving not only the nature of our lives as individuals — but also a radically worsening crisis involving the health of our environmentally besieged planet.

“Psychological awareness rises from errors, coincidences, indefiniteness, from the chaos deeper than intelligent control.”–James Hillman

Therefore, pardon this writer’s brief digression into personal memory.

I buried a turtle in the sky.

While exploring a creek near my home in Georgia, one spring afternoon, when I was ten, I happened upon a group of boys defiling the corpse of a massive — easily five feet in circumference — snapping turtle, by detonating firecrackers, cherry bombs, and M-80s that they had placed in the creature’s putrescent flesh.

Overwhelmed with mortification, I turned and staggered from the scene, before the boys, entranced in vicious revelry, noticed my presence. I retreated to the cover of a swath of scrub brush and pine saplings and vomited. At that time, I lacked the lexicon, both verbal and emotive, to come to grips with what I had witnessed.

Years later, I had this enigmatic dream. I’m ascending in an elevator into a high tower, a modernist structure that serves as “a college dorm room in the sky.” I proceed to the top floor. Upon entering the room, after passing two pretty, brunette, female twins in their mid-twenties, who dismiss me as “a poor prospect in a material regard,” I came upon an individual, who, in the waking world, in the years to come, I would mentor and I would come to write the bulk of a spoken word act he still tours with to this day.

Outside the window of this dorm in the sky, earthbound transportation vehicles, such as passenger, freight, and subway trains, made a path through the heavens. Then, descending from above, with increasing velocity, an object appeared that was on a collision course with our perch. Before we had time to react, it crashed through the ceiling of the room revealing itself to be the corpse of a massive tortoise, its shell affixed with wings constructed of papier-mâché.

Apparently, during childhood, to paraphrase the poet, the world was too much with me. Its casual cruelty and inherent brutality caused me to retreat skyward I was a poor prospect in the “material” realm, with its attendant rotting flesh and vicious laughter. I chose to ensconce myself in a psychic university above the stupid and brutal to find a means to bury the corpse of that poor turtle in heaven.

The temptation is still great to stay above it all. But, unlike a child, I now have the lexicon to remain on earth to hold my ground when I am mortified and give voice to my sorrows and outrage. Therefore, to be true to myself, I must give wings to the living and dead. I must address matters that are hard to stomach.

It is a hard slog I proceed along, at times, at a turtle’s pace but there are moments when a terrapin brings me images from the brackish depths, and, on occasion, I can make mundane thoughts fly.

But this is not only about me. On an environmental level, as a global-wide business model and a personal mode of being in the world, we, in our demented revelry, are treating the earth as if it is a dead thing, a corpse we happened upon, and, like those cruel, ignorant boys of my childhood memory, we are blasting our world to bits (e.g., bombing, mining, fracking, defoliating and the hideous list goes on and on) without reflection or regret.

Given, the rapidly declining ecological balance of our planet, a balance of diverse, interrelated systems that are essential for the continuance of conditions favorable for our species to thrive, an individual can no longer afford to bury one’s outrage in heaven or vault it in the depths of oneself. It is selfish to believe that one’s angst and alienation are exclusively one’s own.

One of the powerful attractions of the OWS movement has been its emphasis on reclaiming the public commons from the corporate state, and the dire need for cultural communion beyond the commercial sphere. Thus, for an atomized, alienated populace, the movement has provided a refresher course in the act of simply being human, on existing together in communal space.

OWS is not about “winning” political advantage that approach plays into the fallacy of the winner/loser dichotomy of the capitalist superstate. Conversely, by acting in the world in a manner that is unique to one’s character, one awakens memory and reanimates imagination, thereby allowing an individual to occupy his own life and times, and serving to help ameliorate the noxious effects of the internalized false consciousness of corporate state authoritarianism.

Unless we start to see the world and our role in it with new eyes, we will be unable to alter the structure of the present system. Withal, it is imperative to be in full possession of one’s humanity when facing the desperate, dehumanizing forces of an order that has grown ever more brutal in direct proportion to its rapidly declining purpose and legitimacy.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: [email protected]. Visit Phil’s website: or at FaceBook:!/profile.php?id=100000711907499 

2 comments for “Reclaiming the Commons

  1. Insaf
    March 17, 2012 at 12:35

    If only the American people were less complacent, the govt would not be allowed to imprison them with the new crazy fascist laws being passed on a daily basis…
    “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth”-Albert Einstein

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