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.