Regarding the Occupy movement, the question on everybody’s mind seems to be: well, what the fuck now?
Or, more appropriately, “Where Does the Occupy Movement Go From Here?” I began writing an article on precisely this topic, working myself to the bone and pausing only to get dead stinking drunk for a couple weeks. Upon sobering up I started researching again and realized, to my embarrassment, that I had been beaten to the punch by practically every writer in the US (and some abroad) that follows the movement.
No, really! Type that question into a search engine and you’ll see this.
Well, it is an important question — this isn’t Tunisia or Egypt, one cannot count on the amount of popular support combined with near-suicidal rage necessary for a protest to topple a government. The US is a different animal and this is a different struggle. So what to do?
Miles Mogulescu, over at the Huffington Post, asks some pertinent questions. “It’s time,” he writes, “to ask whether the organizational forms and tactics which birthed the #Occupy mass protests are adequate to building a long-term movement which can change the country and the world.”
That’s something of a dangerous question. Leadership rarely transfers smoothly. He’s correct when he writes that the “open source, participatory, horizontal structure may be one key to its early success, and the ease with which it has been replicated in city after city around the country and the world”, but what will the reaction be when someone suggests changing that? It has become a hallmark of the Occupy movement, something looked upon with pride, something that says “we’ve done something amazing here”.
One may ask “well, why would we want to change that?” In a word: politics.Mogulescu suggests that while the protests are all well and good, it may be that the best way to accomplish something substantial is to engage in the rough and tumble world of politics. And the horizontal leadership that he praised earlier may not be the best tool with which to enter that world.
Michael Moore, well-known author/filmmaker and fan of trans-fats, has gone a step further. He has submitted a “vision statement” to the Occupy Wall Street general assembly, something that reads suspiciously like a wish-list. More useful, to my mind, is the comprehensive list of goals and demands (examples include “Eradicate the Bush tax cuts for the rich and institute new taxes on the wealthiest Americans and on corporations, including a tax on all trading on Wall Street where they currently pay 0%” and “Join the rest of the free world and create a single-payer, free and universal health care system that covers all Americans all of the time”. I encourage everyone to check them out).
Whether you agree or disagree with the items on the list, one has to admit they are significantly better goals and demands than those expressed by some of the protest signs that have been seen in various cities (“Jobs Are A Right” read one I saw, which reveals a frankly staggering ignorance about either the nature of employment or the nature of rights. “End Corporate Greed”, a slogan I heard at an Occupy Chicago event, is almost as bad. Greed is the foundation of the economic system in this country, which in turn drives the world economy. Curtail it? Sure. Maybe make it less short-sighted? Absolutely. Spread around the profits resulting from that lust for money? Great. End it? That statement is, for all intents and purposes, meaningless in this country). More importantly, it seems to suggest something similar to what Mogulescu was saying. After all, to accomplish any of these goals, the movement will have to start messing around in politics.
William Pfaff at TruthDig claims that the Occupy Movement is fighting “the system”, a phrase that always makes me nervous. Look around at the people near you, how good are they at recognizing, manipulating or even consciously and willfully interacting with systems? How can the masses fight a system? The author gives several examples, and you may or may not be surprised to discover that many of them are covered in Moore’s list of goals and demands. Pfaff also notes, though, that none of these goals will be possible unless there is severe campaign finance reform. Until the candidates no longer have to go on their knees to the money-men, the list of goals will only ever be a wish-list.
This, I think, separates the Occupy movement from other successful movements in the U.S.’s history. The Civil Rights movement did indeed combine home-grown protests with political aspirations, and did so successfully. But that struggle was different — they were combating hate and ignorance, which while powerful nevertheless takes a back seat to greed. An example of this principal is the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott of 1955. The protest campaign managed to prove that treating a certain portion of society as second class citizens is not a smart business plan, especially when that particular portion of society accounts for 80% of your annual income. Like the Civil Rights movement, the Occupy movement is battling an entrenched power structure committing injustices — but the injustices the Occupy movement are fighting are not, if you’ll forgive the pun, as black-and-white. Hate and ignorance are ugly, and that ugliness was seen by the entire nation in the responses to the Civil Rights movement, in the terrible attacks on the brave people involved in that struggle. Arson and murder will not rally the masses to your cause. Dead children being pulled out of a burnt-down church will not win the hearts and minds of the people. It will, in fact, do the opposite of that.
The short-sighted greed that runs through the reigning power structures cannot be seen as easily, though, and even when examples of it are brought to the public’s attention — the Wall Street crimes, the Super PAC legislation — it can (and has) been written off as business as usual, nothing to see here, move along folks.
So everyone is asking “Where Does The Occupy Movement Go From Here”, and the responses are all pretty similar: Get Political. I’m not seeing too many ideas on how to do that in terms of process, but hell it’s a start. While I’m here, let me add that now is the time to start getting the police on our side. Because what worries me the most is something I predicted a while back, something of which I am a little terrified but at the same time am anxiously awaiting: if and when the Occupy movement gets some real leverage, the shit will start hitting the fan in a much bigger way. When that happens, let’s hope the police are at least a little less willing to crack skulls and squirt pepper-spray down someone’s throat, because someone with a lot to lose will be telling them to do exactly that.