Dispatches has received a communique from an anonymous collective called OBU, announcing a sixteen-part Manifesto. The group has stated that it intends to send Dispatches one section every week over the next four months. The Manifesto apparently meditates on the current conjuncture and calls for the formation of a diffused cultural resistance of a brand new kind. The Manifesto as a whole is entitled OBU Manifestos 1-14 (Plus Two OBU Interludes). Past sections of the manifesto can be found under our Dispatches section tab, where they will be archived as they arrive.
OBU Manifesto #4
OBU asks–after William Blake–why should the “cut worm forgive the plow”?
OBU answers, Because it’s a worm! It fertilizes soil. And anyway, both halves of it live.
But OBU speaks as people, not as worms. Two parts of a severed man or woman cannot live again.
OBU notes that two parts of a severed country, a country severed by the plow of global capital and lacerated by histories of stigmatizing, humiliating, oppressing, and assaulting weaker social groups cannot easily or quickly be healed.
OBU believes that forgiveness must be earned.
But OBU also believes that deeper bonds of human connection and recognition can be located, although they seem well-hidden.
OBU is not sure it knows what is meant by recognition. It seems the wrong word for what it designates.
To “know again”? As if one knew before? What is that prior knowledge?
To know the “other,” OBU is certain, means to know his/her history. And then, one can say, ok, I’ve seen that before… not that history exactly, but something akin to that. That story is familiar. One ought to hesitate before saying, yes, that story is just like my story or just like some other story I’ve heard. The other will say, “Bullshit. Fine. Your people have suffered; my people have suffered. But my history is what is at issue now, because the consequences of that historical oppression still constitute the basic facts of my experience. Your history, on the other hand, has ceased to wound you. Or ceased, at least, in ways you can immediately recognize.”
OBU is One Big Union?
And so, OBU reasons, to recognize the other is one step. The further step is–what word can we use?–to “cognize” the other. Not to know again, but to know anew, to know, perhaps not as unique, but certainly as particular–that there is a particular and not universal history that has brought the other to where they are.
And yet, OBU recognizes, the histories are kin. The capacities to suffer and to inflict suffering have their places in all histories. They are generalizable. Others’ histories must be recognized.
OBU remembers that because we were slaves in Egypt, we are obligated to be just to the stranger. And all of us were slaves. All of us were in “the narrow place.” That is the point of the story.
And what if one’s own group has played the role of Blake’s plow in recent history, and cut through the bodies of others? Shall we ask for forgiveness? Or shall we, as another of Blake’s proverbs advises, “drive our cart and plow over the bones of the dead”? Why dwell on the past? Forget and move forward. And is either of these remedies sufficient?
OBU remembers also Walter Benjamin’s admonition that if the oppressor triumphs, “even the dead will not be safe.”
OBU is Oligarchy Busters United?
OBU wonders what songs we know? What songs can we sing together? Do the old labor and folk and civil rights songs still work? When we’re in the street, confronting power, what will we sing? Can we make new songs? Can we make new poems?
OBU is frustrated by the insipid, mindless chants that fill the air during demonstrations. If we’re going to win this, we need good songs.
And we could use some good poems.
What about, “When will we be paid– for the work we’ve done?”
OBU says, Google it if you don’t know it.