This coming Thursday, a central intellectual figure of the Occupy Wall Street movement will give a talk on “Austerity and its Discontents.” And across the city, at the very same time, powerful anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist will mix it up with an elite group of San Francisco Republicans (yes, they really do exist).
Graeber, an American anthropologist and anarchist who teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, was dubbed “the anti-leader of Occupy Wall Street” in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek Magazine article published shortly after a determined band of committed activists staked a claim on Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, kicking off the global Occupy movement. Graeber’s tome on wealth inequality, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, recounts the ages of human history through the lens of the indebted, vis-à-vis their creditors. The book helped give rise to Occupy activists’ famous chant: “We are the 99 Percent!”
Norquist hails from the polar opposite end of the political spectrum. An influential lobbyist who leads Americans for Tax Reform, he was once described as “the dark wizard of the Right’s anti-tax cult,” in the words of Arianna Huffington. The fiery conservative is most well known for his role as keeper of “the Pledge,” which essentially asks Republican lawmakers to swear that they will never, ever vote to raise taxes for any reason.
The Thursday meet-and-greet, billed as “Cocktails with Grover Norquist,” is being hosted by the San Francisco Republican Party – a political body that barely registers as a blip as far as local elections are concerned, but apparently has enough clout to make it worthwhile for a famed operative like Norquist, whose group is based in D.C., to dip into San Francisco for a visit. The cocktail hour will be held at The City Club, a financial district venue. It costs $100.
Just as San Francisco Republicans sip cocktails and discreetly await the chance to engage Norquist in a few moments of powerful face-time, an audience of lefties will gather to hear Graeber’s studious analysis of global austerity measures and anarchist organizing tactics. Billed as a forum that’s free and open to the public, Graeber's talk is being hosted by the Anthropology and Social Change Department of the California Institute for Integral Studies, located at 1453 Mission Street.
In a recent interview about the round of national budget cuts known as the sequester, Norquist told The Daily Beast: “I’m for the spending cuts. Just let them take effect. ... The only thing worse than the sequester would be not reducing spending.”
And here’s Graeber’s take on the underlying economic climate that gave rise to the Occupy movement: “It's becoming increasingly obvious that the real priority of those running the world for the last few decades has not been creating a viable form of capitalism, but rather, convincing us all that the current form of capitalism is the only conceivable economic system, so its flaws are irrelevant. … The economic crisis of the 1970s never really went away. It was fobbed off by cheap credit at home and massive plunder abroad – the latter, in the name of the ‘third world debt crisis.’ But the global south fought back. … The debt crisis has come home to Europe and North America, replete with the exact same approach: declare a financial crisis, appoint supposedly neutral technocrats to manage it, and then engage in an orgy of plunder in the name of ‘austerity.’”