In ordinary times my Dilbert-like existence in a drab brown office cubicle is tolerable—free coffee, friendly coworkers, no heavy lifting. But while the Arab world rises up against dictatorships and unveils the possibilities for a different kind of society emerging from mass resistance, I am inserting commas and correcting grammar in advertising copy.
The banal craves the sublime.
I have taken to waking up before 6 am, though I don’t need to arrive at work until 10 am—anything to lengthen the time I have for absorbing news and the spirit of revolutions streaming live on Al Jazeera and Democracy Now!
I walk the dog before dawn while texting and tweeting with friends in Tahrir Square as I look around at the garbage piles frozen into snow mountains on Brooklyn sidewalks. I read that the people of Cairo clean the streets and squares after protests, while snowfall and mass layoffs have crippled New York’s trash collection for weeks.
A heated debate takes off in a work meeting over whether to insert dashes or periods into phone numbers and for the first time in my life I have absolutely no opinion about a dispute. All I can think about is what will happen after Mubarak falls.
What is the meaning of the translated memo I read last night that a new and independent trade union federation is being formed in Egypt that will initiate workers’ committees in each factory and workplace to plan a general strike? Will these committees be democratically elected and will they be able to create the infrastructure of a political alternative to imperial tools like Omar Suleiman or even Mohamed ElBaradei, whom CNN’s talking heads have already anointed “head of the opposition”—a title that would certainly be news to the millions of Egyptians fighting for genuine economic and social transformation.
If Mubarak steps down and the military takes over, will Egyptians have the strength and unity to fight for a civilian alternative? What will happen at the Rafah Crossing border with Gaza? Will 1.5 million Palestinians on Egypt’s border be allowed to enter a liberated Egypt? Would they want to? How will Israel respond? And what machinations are the Obama administration up to right now to thwart the Egyptian people’s will?
A million questions about the implications of the uprising flood my brain, but I am stuck 8 hours a day, like most people who are fortunate enough to be exploited, performing useless tasks in order to pay the rent and buy groceries.
The only sanity of daily life inside the Empire lies in the solidarity protests and meetings I run off to the minute work ends. I sat in a packed planning meeting last evening discussing the implications of Egypt’s revolt and realized it was the first time since early morning that I’d felt alive and was reminded of Marx’s dictum about alienation and work:
The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home.
The supervisor just came by and dropped off new copy for me to edit. I cannot wait for 6 PM when my life resumes!