In an interview with Al-Jazeera English, Truthout contributor and McMaster University professor Henry Giroux spoke about the social and economic forces that have turned young people into what he says is the most powerless, least represented and most disposable group in America, and discussed how youths of marginalized race and class might join the growing Occupy Wall Street movement.
Asked whether young Americans “really have that much to complain about,” given that the U.S. “has many more freedoms than many other countries,” Giroux said: “While we certainly have the right to vote and the notion of freedom of expression is operative in the United States, it becomes dysfunctional when people don’t have the personal freedoms that would make it possible—when they’re poor, when they’re homeless, when they don’t have health care, when they’re living in tent cities, etc.” —ARK
Al-Jazeera English: Police have used batons and pepper spray against some protesters in New York, and have arrested more than 800 of them. In your latest article, you describe non-physical government repression in the US—especially within the education system. Can you describe that, in the context of why people are angry enough to camp out for weeks on end in protest?
Henry Giroux: The theoretical framework for that is that one of the things you have to realise is that democracy doesn’t work without the formative culture that makes possible the skills, the knowledge, the ideas, the modes of dialogue, the modes of exchange, that can actually provide the foundation for people to be critical and engaged social and individual agents. If you don’t have that formative culture, democracy becomes empty. What you end up with is actually a culture that is so wedded, in this particular case, to a neoliberal logic, that people can only see themselves as individuals, they can only see themselves as competitive, they hate the social state, they have no understanding of solidarity; and what I have been arguing for at least 35 years is that you have to take seriously that education is a fundamental part of politics, and that we’re not just talking about schools. We’re talking about, as C. Wright Mills said, an entire cultural apparatus that now has an enormously educational function. All you have to do is look at Fox News in the US, or look at the right wing takeover of talk radio, which is overwhelming.
The fact is that these media don’t entertain, they produce subjectivities, they produce identities, they produce desires, they create framing mechanisms for how people understand politics and their relationship to immigrants and to each other and to a larger global audience. It seems to me that until this question of pedagogy—of the articulation of knowledge through experience and how people relate to the world—until education is seen as a fundamental dimension of politics, we’re in real trouble, because if you don’t do that you can’t understand social media as a profoundly important political educational tool. If you don’t do that, you can’t understand how people come to internalise understandings of themselves that are at odds with their own possibilities for freedom.
That’s why I believe the dominant media finds this movement so threatening. They’re hysterical. What it suggests is not that young people are simply protesting. It suggests that they’re not buying the crap that comes out of the dominant media, they’re challenging it, and secondly, they’re setting up their own circuits of knowledge and education. That’s frightening to think that young people can actually create a culture in which questions of dialogue, dissent, critical engagement, global responsibility, can come into play—that truly frightens, in my estimation, financial and dominant elites.
The protest encampment in New York City’s Zuccotti Park began with a few dozen students and unemployed university graduates.