SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Wall Street – What Comes Next?

Things Have Changed. Time to Adapt.

The Occupy National Gathering, held July 1-4 in Philadelphia, perfectly captures the current state of Occupy Wall Street.

First, the cops pushed the Occupiers around, refusing them space in Independence Park. They wound up in Franklin Square. (Just like old times. In September 2011 Occupiers found Wall Street blocked off by the NYPD. Zuccotti was ad hoc option two.)

Second, the Philly confab was wimpy and watered-down. When one of your honored guests is Daryl Hall of the 1980s duo “Hall & Oates,” militancy is probably off the menu.

Third, the Occupiers weren’t really Occupiers (though many no doubt didn’t know that they’d been coopted by Democratic Party operatives). ONG was yet the latest attempt by front groups set up by MoveOn.org in order to channel the energies of the OWS movement into the Obama reelection campaign.

“What’s going on with Occupy?” people ask me. “We don’t hear anything about them anymore.” By which they mean, they haven’t seen or read anything about OWS in the corporate media. They also probably haven’t “heard” about the enormous street protests in Montreal, which routinely draw 400,000 to 500,000 people, or about Bill 78, a law passed by Quebec’s parliament that suspends the rights of free speech and assembly, which has transformed the province into a police state, or that the real unemployment rate—the way it was calculated before 1980—is 23 percent.)

When your media is this far gone, you don’t “hear” much.

Some say Occupy is dead. Others disagree. “Occupy Will Be Back,” liberal writer Chris Hedges wrote recently.” It is not certain we will win. But it is certain this is not over.” (I don’t know who this “we” is. As far as I’ve heard, the squishy former New York Times journo’s role at Occupy has been limited to book-shilling.)

As a person who helped plan the event that initially sparked OWS; as one who was thrilled by its instant popularity, potency and potential; as someone who participated in the branch of OWS in my own community through the winter, including direct action confronting the authorities—and as a long-time student of historical crises and revolutionary movements—I think it’s less important to guess whether Occupy has a future than to examine how a movement with widespread public support from left and right alike devolved from nearly 2000 public encampments to its current situation: marginalization and cooption.

That said, this summer offers good opportunities for OWSers to make some noise. Occupiers will protest the two major party conventions later this summer. The longer the campaign goes on without either candidate seriously engaging jobs and the economy—hands down the most important issue in Americans’ minds—in a credible way, the more removed from reality the political horserace and its media carnival barkers become, the longer the suffering goes on (and suffering, we sometimes forget, is cumulative, each pain and setback exponentially building upon the last), the more appealing Occupy, or perhaps some more aggressive successor, will be.

Whether the first major street movement since the 1960s survives, grows or metastasizes, we must learn the lessons of Occupy’s first year.

Like every political system, every movement contains the seeds of its future demise. OWS began with an unsustainable premise: occupy public space, yet remain nonviolent. What happens when the cops show up? You leave peacefully. Game over. Which, with the exception of Occupy Oakland—an interesting exception, insofar that clashes with the police increased popular support—is what happened everywhere from lower Manhattan to City Hall Park in Los Angeles.

Occupy should have permitted resistance, violent and/or nonviolent. That, or it shouldn’t have camped out in parks in the first place. Similar movements, in Spain and Russia for example, operate out of offices and churches and use flash-mob tactics to carry out hit-and-run direct actions against banks and other targets. If you’re going to make an Alamo-like stand, well…make a stand.

As I and just about everyone else pointed out at the time, moreover, camping out in the cold sucks. A dumb tactic for a movement that began in the fall and intended to last indefinitely.

Occupy has been overly inclusive. As a reaction to and rejection of the two big corporate-backed political parties, OWS was inherently radical. Yet for week after week, month after month, General Assemblies all over the country have been disrupted and hijacked by liberals, Democrats, and other traditional partisans who don’t share the OWS ideology of non-partisanship and non-affiliation with Ds or Rs, and militant resistance to their backers, the banksters and other corporate hucksters.

Others have criticized OWS’ unwillingness and/or inability to issue a list of demands. Not me. I have seen how the debates within Occupy have empowered voiceless men and women who used to think politics was for politicians. It was—is—powerful.

Let the oppressors try to guess how we may be mollified, how they might avoid revolution. Demands, we believed, would define us too narrowly and separate us from one another.

But things have changed.

We have been kicked out of our encampments. Occupy groups in numerous cities have split into radical and reformist (liberal and/or Democratic) factions.

There really is no place for the liberals within Occupy. Democratic apologists should go where they belong, to volunteer for Obama, to waste their time and money on the torturer of Guantánamo, the drone murderer of Waziristan, he who golfs while the 99% watch their wages shrink and their homes taken away, he who extended his “good war” against Afghanistan through 2024.

We real Occupiers, we radicals, should come together around a list of demands that define us, and allows the wait-and-see public what we’re about, to understand that we are fighting for them—demands that a somewhat reasonable and responsive government would agree to, but cannot and will not because it would counter their insane, addictive greed, their lust to control and own everything, everywhere, everyone.

They even trademark the germs.

There should be demands for justice: prison sentences and fines for the politicos and corporate executives of those whose behavior was not only reprehensible but illegal, along with the seizure of their companies and their properties for the public good. One would start, naturally, with the President.

There should be demands for redress: payments and other material compensation for those who were the victims of crimes, economic and otherwise. Torture victims need counseling and homes, and deserve punitive and compensatory damages; those who lost their homes to illegal foreclosures need not only their old lives back, but also interest and cash penalties to serve as a deterrent to those tempted to engage in such behavior again; the same goes for those who rotted in prison for non-criminal “crimes” like using drugs.

And there should be demands for systemic changes: opening up ballots to third parties; making it illegal for elected representatives to talk to businesspeople, much less accept contributions from them; rigorously enforcing the constitution, laws and treaty obligations so that, for example, Congress gets back the exclusive right to wage war; expanding the Bill of Rights to include such obvious 21st century necessities as a right to a college education should a citizen desire one, a right to a living wage that doesn’t depend upon the whims of local employers, and a right to be treated for any illness, without charge, just because you’re American and you live in the wealthiest society that has ever existed, anywhere.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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5 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Wall Street – What Comes Next?

  1. What a joke. Thanks for defining exactly why OWS was not, cannot, and will never be taken seriously.

    “Let the oppressors try to guess how we may be mollified, how they might avoid revolution.”

    Newsflash, those you refer to as opressors do not WANT to avoid revolution, they are salivating at the prospect. Your pitiful attempts at revolution will be easy for them to crush, and will provide the excuse they need to finish the transformation of the United States into a fascist theocracy.

    And like good little patsies, you and the rest of the OWS’ ers are playing directly into their hands. It is only your own ineptitude at fomenting revolution that has kept the “oppressors” from achieving their goals already.

    “There really is no place for the liberals within Occupy. Democratic apologists should go where they belong, to volunteer for Obama, to waste their time and money on the torturer of Guantánamo, the drone murderer of Waziristan, ”

    There is no place in politics for those who lack understanding of nuance (and who is REALLY responsible for certain outcomes) and demonstrate it through childish name calling such as this.

    “he who golfs while the 99% watch their wages shrink and their homes taken away,”

    Childish shot at Obama for something he doesn’t bear any responsbility for? Check. Seriously, what does Obama golfing have to do with well, anything about anything? When you’re so desperate to bash that you resort to reaches like this, you’ve lost it- it’s time to consider retiring from politics because you’re doing more harm than good.

    “We real Occupiers, we radicals, should come together around a list of demands that define us, and allows the wait-and-see public what we’re about, to understand that we are fighting for them—demands that a somewhat reasonable and responsive government would agree to, but cannot and will not because it would counter their insane, addictive greed, their lust to control and own everything, everywhere, everyone”

    Wow. 3/4 through your column before you’ve said anything that is true and valid. Your ODS has corrupted your writing and cartooning for a long time, making you, and the brand of liberalism you represent less and less relevant, but that’s a new record, even for you.

    “There should be demands for justice: prison sentences and fines for the politicos and corporate executives of those whose behavior was not only reprehensible but illegal, along with the seizure of their companies and their properties for the public good. One would start, naturally, with the President.”

    And then you go and ruin it. Here’s a tip- reasonable goverments will not comply with unreasoanble demands. When you make demands which are clearly unreasonable, YOU are the problem, not the goverment that quite senisbly refuses to comply with them.

    “And there should be demands for systemic changes: opening up ballots to third parties; making it illegal for elected representatives to talk to businesspeople, much less accept contributions from them; rigorously enforcing the constitution, laws and treaty obligations so that, for example, Congress gets back the exclusive right to wage war; expanding the Bill of Rights to include such obvious 21st century necessities as a right to a college education should a citizen desire one, a right to a living wage that doesn’t depend upon the whims of local employers, and a right to be treated for any illness, without charge, just because you’re American and you live in the wealthiest society that has ever existed, anywhere.”

    And if you and OWS actually agve a crap about ANY of that (instead of merely stroking your own and each others ego’s about how “revolutionary” you are) you’d be out busting your asses trying to replace Republicans with Democrats and Democrats with liberals; you’d take a good hard look and the unachieveable and unrealstiic nature of your demands instead of complaning that demands that no one could meet aren’t being met.

    Cause you see, that’s the ONLY way you are going to get your goals achieved on a time scale that doesn’t involve milllenia of astounding levels of human suffering. That the systemic collapse you are trying to engineer will bring about.

  2. Ted,

    You make an interesting point about OWS being over-inclusive. Look at the Gay Rights movement. The people who started that were the most marginalized members of one of the most marginalized groups in existence. Drag queens, homeless teens, the transgendered, all hanging out at a dive gay bar.

    And those groups were pretty quickly squeezed out of the process. Why? We come right back to the hard crust of reality: Any population consists of the people in the movement, those opposed to the movement, and the vast middle that can be swayed in either direction.

    In 1970s America, how many people in the middle were ready to embrace drag queens or swishy young men who hung out in dive bars? On a purely tactical level, these were the very people who could not be involved, at least not as the public face of the movement.

    OWS had two major failings:

    1. No structure. Look at ACT UP. That’s been described as leaderless. But it wasn’t. The leadership was there, but it wasn’t rigid, and it wasn’t interested in hearing from literally every single person.

    2. It didn’t do anything. Sitting in a park, playing drums or camping overnight while the temperature hovers in the 50s isn’t DOING anything. Twenty OWSers could have shut down the city a dozen times over. But they wanted to “win” without breaking any eggs. This is exactly how the powerful stay in power, by making sure no one wants to upset the status quo. I’ve never heard of a political movement that succeeded by NOT inconveniencing people.

    If the remnants of OWS ever reconstitute, it will have to be done by some people with actual comprehension of how these things have been done successfully in the past.

  3. The hope that there is a large, leftist group waiting for someone to organise them was OBE in the ’60s.

    In 1964, Goldwater said the US had to fight Communism, that not fighting Communism would be like Chamberlain in ’38. Johnson warned that, if people voted for Goldwater, the US would find itself in a senseless war leading to a nuclear holocaust.

    Some 30% of the electorate voted for Goldwater, and, just as Johnson warned, the US found itself in a senseless war, squandering money and young men to kill Vietnamese villagers. In ’68, the Party Regulars put up Humphrey, who promised to continue just as Johnson had been doing, and Nixon with his ‘secret plan for total victory’. Given the choice, the voters chose Nixon.

    In ’72, the Democratic Party Regulars were overrun by leftists who put up an anti-war candidate. He got about as many votes as Goldwater. Times had changed. The overwhelming majority ‘knew’ that, if the US didn’t expend at least 10% of its GDP fighting Commies, they’d take over the US and Americans would have to queue for meat and only have one brand of toothpaste.

    Now, the overwhelming majority of Americans ‘know’ that if the US isn’t killing Muslims throughout the world, all American woman will have to wear burkas, plus Americans will have to queue for (goat) meat and will only have one brand of Islamic tooth-cleaning stick.

    And the US never tortures. Under US law, NOTHING the US does to those designated as enemies by the President can be called ‘torture’. It was ‘enhanced interrogation’ that got bin Laden, who was ‘found’ thanks to information from such ‘enhanced interrogation.

    Most Americans ‘know’ that bin Laden was living in a multi-million dollar mansion (a la http://www.villainsource.com/lairs.html) with huge amounts of porn and a detailed plans for an attack in Fall ’11 that would have made 9/11 seem like a minor incident. Also that bin Laden was only tracked down using ‘enhanced interrogation.’ That internal contradictions prove that the White House version is patently false is only accepted by eggheads who haven’t realised that Analytic Philosophy has been completely refuted by modern philosophers.

    And most Americans agree that the innumerable Al Awlaki speeches demanding that people kill Americans inspired the 9/11 hijackers, the Fort Killeen shooter, and many more. The fact that no one can find a single Al Awlaki speech calling for killing anyone just means that, of his thousands of speeches, looking at hundreds is less than 50%, and the 50% not viewed must ALL have demanded death to all Americans in ways that persuaded all English-speaking Muslims to kill Americans.

    Americans are divided between Obamabots and whatever one calls the complete nutcases that plan to vote for Romney. There aren’t enough leftists in the US to fill a large phonebooth. And anyway, the phonebooth is a relic of a long-forgotten time.

    So the winner of the election will continue killing Islamic villagers, taking our money, and doing his best to restore the sacred but lapsed system of feudalism.

    And only a tiny minority of ‘aginners’ like Mr Rall will make a few, feeble attempts to complain.

    I have a question: I understand why the gentry want the return of feudalism, but why do most of the rest of the citizens think that’s the best way to go?

    But the Majority has Spoken, and that’s it in a Democracy.

  4. I agree with Ted. Putting a “radical” list of demands out there expands the political space on the left, leaving room for compromise positions that might actually do some good. Without anything strong and coherent on the far left, the Limbaugh crowd skews the debate so far to the right that compromise means right-wing lite, a la Obama.

    Here’s an idea for the list: our government should be a profit-center for the people. Every citizen should get a check every month from the government. Nationalize all natural resources. Oil, coal, natural gas, gold; and send me my check!

  5. Wait a minute, the liberal Occupy Movement was hijacked by liberals? You really have lost your mind Ted. I don’t think you truly want the movement to succeed, you just want it to turn into a big pile of contrarian mush. If Democrats and liberals want to “coopt” the movement, more power to them.

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