Tony D'Souza Writes from St. Louis

[Taking a hint from  Tony D’Souza (Ivory Coast 2000-02, Madagascar 2002-03) about focusing on what’s happening in America (and around the world) I have emailed a few RPCV writers and asked them to drop me notes from their cities. Paul Eggers (Malaysia 1976-78)  in California commented the other day on the pepper-spray incident at U of Davis. And soon we’ll have reports from Dublin, Switzerland and Cairo. But first Tony D’Souza tells us what is happening in St. Louis, Missouri, where he is encamped for a few years as his wife earns her MFA and he cares for their two young children. Here’s Tony’s take on the gateway city.]

St. Louis: Mutual Assured Destruction

We’ve had 51 Occupy-related arrests so far here in St. Louis, daily protests outside Bank of America, union-led marches to the MLK Bridge, and the requisite forcible eviction of the tent encampment from the downtown city park. Covering it for the alternative weekly Riverfront Times, I’ve been feeling more like a radio than a print journalist: everyone in these protests has a camera; what can I contribute with another photo of the same event?

All the cameras have created an atmosphere of Mutual Assured Destruction between the Occupiers and law enforcement…one false move and you’re up on YouTube, knee-capping your own side and outraging millions like the Pepper Spraying Cop. The Occupy St. Louis protesters eschewed yelling “F— the police,” for the first 41 days of their action here, then when the fleet of paddy wagons finally rolled up to haul them away, the F bombs started flying for a grand total of five minutes. Of course that was all that was reported by most news outlets.

St. Louis, like a lot of formerly industrial American cities, isn’t located in St. Louis anymore; it’s in a ring of sprawling suburbs that begin at the city’s western limit. The people there, uniformly white, don’t come into the urban center; the downtown park Occupy St. Louis has been squatting in-as pointed out by one RFT reader-has long been  a ‘blighted wasteland.’

Still, the message boards after my stories about Occupy seethe with right-wingers telling Occupiers to ‘get a job,’ and, ‘stop crapping on the sidewalk.’ But mostly, they’re incensed that Occupy drove Macy’s Christmas-tree lighting ceremony out of said wasteland, which none of them would have attended anyway. Think of the children!

There’s been such a focus on isolated events-a shooting in Oakland, a rape in Philly-to smear the whole movement, it’s clear the opposition is taking Occupy seriously. I just have trouble understanding what they find so threatening about a bunch of liberal arts majors who couldn’t make a Molotov cocktail if they were handed glass bottles, rags, gasoline, and instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails? (Besides, all the American liberal arts majors who do know how to make Molotov cocktails are apparently over in Egypt.) Occupy is talking about those things-economic inequality, unemployment, corruption-that are affecting everyone, even in the suburbs now. It’s hard not to be sympathetic to people making sense.

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  • I still think it insructive that the Occupy Peoria crowd share the same bogeymen as the Tea Party clan – Wall Street Fat Cats, the Moneymen who brought down our economy, the mysterious cabal of the rich and powerful who manipulate our economy and country ala the Wizard of Oz. Perhaps we should all take a good look at ourselves before we start blaming “bad guys” for our economic plight.

  • Tony

    Top 25% not top 1%. “Next time we meet,” I don’t recall meeting you. At 6 foot 210 lbs I don’t need pepper spray to stop an attack.

    So what don’t you accept? Occupy Peoria and Tea Party have same bogeymen? Pet theory of the conspiracy crowd that a cabal of the rich and powerful manipulate our country? Or that we all share blame for our economic mess?

  • Tony. I am one of the few who have visited the “May 15” site in Madrid and the “Occupy Wall Street” site in New York. I was struck by the similarity of what appeared to be the main complaint, financial blood suckers who brought down the economy, got bailed out at public expense leaving the less fortunate to foot the bill. To set the history right, the May 15 movement began on May 15, long before Occupy Wall Street. The May 15 movement had several thousands occupying the center of Madrid, the entire Puerta del Sol, and thus was far larger than Occupy Wall Street. Of course both demonstrations included side issues. The May 15 had a large contingent of “Free Sahara” warriors who want to wrest their country from Moroccan rule. Occupy Wall Street had those protesting bad treatment of animals. But the main thrust was the same. And it is the same main target of the Tea Party, which I have also observed up close.

  • Tony, I teach at a university ten hours north of Detroit but in Michigan. The nearest large city is Minneapolis, 7.5 hours away by car. In other words, my only contact with the Occupy Movement is through television or a newspaper. I’m saddened that the only news for quite some while now has been scenes of people getting pushed out of parks and other sites. Then their material possessions, especially tents, are taklen away and maintenance people arrive to clean up. The only message being portrayed is one of violence and loss. If there is a political message, none is shown to us who live in those vast expanses outside of the city sites where this is occurring. Of course I personally get more detail about the movement from the New Yorker, The New York Review, the New York Times, Harper’s, the Atlantic, Newsweek but nearly no one else reads those types of magazines in the world I inhabit. I’m an oddity. Nearly everybody else out here in the vastness of America gets news (if you can call it that) from TV. My point is that the Occupy Movement needs to focus on Washington DC in order to be heard. The movement should be encircling as much as possible the legislature, which is controlled by right-wing semi-fascist assholes who don’t seem to give a damn about the common citizenry of this country. They’re intent only on regrabbing the presidency so that they can make the tax cuts for the super rich permanent and so that they can advance the cause of corporate America, whether or not it does harm to the mass of people and so that they can destroy the safety net. The Movement needs slogans that are repeated endlessly until they get into the national consciousness and it needs leaders who become nationally known because they are in Washington occupying Congress in some way. Every day those leaders should shout out the Republican opposition to bills that make sense, Republican inactivity at a time when a lot needs to be done. The movement’s leaders should specifically name Republicans and the inanity of their actions. People over time get fed up with passive action in their own city but nobody would get irritated if the action was focused on Washington. They would continue to support it no matter for how long. Plus the Movement would be on the news for reasons other than that they are once again being tossed out of their tents.

  • Semi-fascist–A political party that supports stripping people of habeas corpus and holding them indefinitely without charges; that supports extraordinary rendition and torture by waterboarding and that sends victims of extraordinary rendition to countries where torture of multiple kinds is common; that creates an alternate reality and publicly supports through speeches and Fox fake-news, a history that is just made up (such as publicly announcing that the President is a Muslim terrorist and a foreigner); that does nothing to try to get jobs for the jobless but instead passes legislation to dump more and more people out of their jobs (such as hundreds of thousands in the public sector; that through legislation imposes its own definition of morality onto individuals while proclaiming that big government is bad; that always throws more and more money at the military without questioning; that always supports war (and what wars are stupider than Vietnam, Iraq?); that strongly supports capital punishment and that votes to prevent the use of DNA in old cases. I could go on but that’s enough for the moment.

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Tony D'Souza has new book & Movie Deal

Tony D’Souza ( ) the author of Whiteman and The Konkans has a new book coming out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in September 2011 entitled Mule. He is also writing the script for the movie that has sold to

The novel takes place in the U.S. where James and Kate, two children of the twentieth century, are victims of the economic downturn and with Kate pregnant seek a way to make ends meet. A friend in California’s Siskiyou County grows prime-grade marijuana, and convinces James to transports one load from Cali to Florida. So begins the novel and life of a mule.

It is being billed as a “page-turning, timely novel that perfectly captures the anxieties of plunging into the criminal underworld and the zeitgeist of the recession.” It is a novel abouot young people trying to make do at the moment that the “American dream” suddenly vanishes.

Tony has written for many magazines, including The New Yorker, Playboy, Esquire, and McSweeney’s. He has won the Sue Kaufman Prize, the O’Henry Award, and a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. He was also nominated for a National Magazine Award for coverage of Nicaragua’s Eric Volz murder trial.

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