Social Movements and the Future of Occupy

Wow.

I was not expecting the flood of responses to my previous post. Whenever I find myself in these situations, I always find the most engaging conversations I have are with the people who only partially agree with me. It’s always nice to know there are people out there on board with what I have to say, but Alexandria Sage really made me use my noggin’.

Of course, this is a huge topic so I’m going to specifically address the movement and it’s goals rather than the specifics of government policy. Alexandria, I’m sure we could go back and forth for ages on the specifics, but for now let’s start on the potential effectiveness and meaning of the occupy movement in the context of social movements. I’m using your comments as a springboard, but I may go off topic…

The movement quickly became uncivil, violent, and destructive. And there is never a place for that in America. Tax-payer dollars are paying for all the damage they did. And the crime became horrific.

Had they stayed civil and occupied Washington DC, maybe then I would have joined them, at least for one week, not protesting Wall Street but protesting my bloated government, who has exempted themselves from Obamacare, by the way. Sorry, but my job does not afford me extended time off for protesting. And I’m not willing to let go of my other week, which I really need for a vacation.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for homeowners who purchased what they could not afford to begin with. Besides, there is nothing wrong with renting.

I would argue that the main flaw of our collective analysis of the Occupy movement is that we frame in the context of a political movement, such as The Tea Party or Reform Party movement, or even the Progressive movement of a century ago. In those cases, we had organized blocs of political activists and politicians working in an organized effort to win elections and pass certain kinds of laws. The Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party lasted for barely more than a 4 year cycle (as a national force), and the Tea Party movement within the GOP appears to have reached a plateau of electoral success.

It is fair to judge a political movement by its electoral influence and appeal to the mainstream. But social movements are an entirely different animal.

Social movements are less organized, more diverse and often times take decades to accomplish their goals. When people criticize the Occupy movement for being unfocused or having not changed policy in a fundamental way, you are criticizing an orange for tasting not tasting like an apple.

This isn’t to say that they are necessarily good or bad things. But when one exists, there will inevitably be mistakes and sins on the part of the collective. The civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s was dominated by sexism and, in some factions, homophobia (Stefan’s note: Google “Bayard Rustin”). And to take it even further back, the abolitionist movement had John Brown, a man whose tactics fit most people’s definition of terrorism. In the larger scheme of things, the petty crime of the early period of the Occupy movement does concern me. However, if you look at history, social movements are often organic and spontaneous. When the periods of great change come, the ones who participated are the ones who write the new rules of the system. More on that later.

Question: Would you consider the Civil Rights movement a political movement or a social movement? I would call it a hybrid of both, but I say its strength came from its power as a social movement. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference didn’t seek to elect officials in order to fight Jim Crow laws or ensure voting rights for blacks. Why not? Well, because our elected officials weren’t willing to take action. There was a lack of political will and for the federal government to intervene would’ve been political suicide. The Democrats knew that if they voted to end the southern practices of the late-19th and early 20th century segregation system, many of them would be out of a job.

Spoiler Alert: That’s exactly what happened. But I doubt any of you would say this was a bad thing.

So what can you do when you know Congress isn’t willing to do what’s right? The only thing left is direct action and civil disobedience. When something isn’t right, and the elected officials aren’t acting, don’t we have an obligation to disobey the law?

Why is it that we judge harshly the pepper sprayed student activist, but we honor and commemorate the hose sprayed and dog bitten African-Americans of the 50’s and 60’s? Full voting rights then, and the end of corporate influence on policy now. Are those not two noble goals?

We spend so much time talking about the government as the problem, but we don’t talk about how little we do to influence and control our government. I saw people in the comments talk of a third-party. We have third parties, but they always get accused of spoiling by the corporate owned media. Even the so-called liberal MSNBC is owned by General Electric, one of the most powerful and influential corporations in the nation. The Green Party and Libertarian Party offer, in theory, very different visions of government from their respective left and right-wing counterparts. However, neither can get significant media attention outside the spoiler narrative and neither has the money to effectively attack the airwaves.

Some people hope for a “moderate” party, but let’s be serious here. The major problems underneath everything else are campaign finance, corporate lobbying and the death of American democracy. This is not a left-right issue. Classical market liberalism, Keynesian economics, fiscal conservatism, none of these ideas really attack the elephant in the room. Our representatives don’t listen to us once the money comes flowing from lobbyists and big donors.

We often look at the government as the start of the problem. I would argue that the usual debate between big government and small government is irrelevant at the moment. Either way, in electoral politics we have a choice between big or big. Underneath it all, we have a common enemy. We have to take responsibility for ourselves and terrify the powerful. They’re comfortable because they know you will vote for one of them or not vote at all. Voting is becoming meaningless because we stopped engaging after the ballot is cast.

Both political parties are owned by corporate interests. The mainstream political discourse is no longer an argument between Keynesian market policies and supply side trickle down. We’re fooled into thinking we have a choice between these two visions, but what we have are warped versions of these ideas written according to corporate interests. The choice between corporate America’s left and right-wing factions is just that: Two corporate friendly visions of the 1%. Don’t believe me?

Follow the money. No, really. Whole lotta Rs and Ds in there…

Those were just the first three big corporate and banking industry donors I could think of. Try it, look up big business’s political and PAC contributions. It is staggering the amount of money they spend on state, local and federal campaigns. And the worst part is: all of this is legal. Any attempt to fix our major problems through the electoral process will be scuttled by unlimited moneyed interests. I will swear by that.

So, with this in mind, I come to my next point:

What use is the law when the law serves only the powerful? We can criticize the littering and destruction of property by some of the undisciplined, uncouth individuals who show up (and by the way, these people show up to everything) to these events. But, what are we doing to offer an alternative? The Occupy movement is the only movement right now really taking any direct action. And if we don’t like the tactics, why don’t we offer alternatives?

My biggest regret from last week is that I wasn’t brave enough to ask this question to the individuals I saw photographing an overweight police officer and mocking his body: Can’t you see that the success of this movement relies on the eventual disobedience of the security forces? What successful non-violent revolution or social movement didn’t have its major breaking point when the security forces stopped obeying? East Germany and Egypt would’ve ended in bloodbaths had the security forces not stood in solidarity with the protestors.

It was my first time at an occupy action and I was shy. I regret not saying anything, and I’m resolute not to make that mistake again. But that’s the thing, we have to start engaging in our own way. If we don’t like the social movement’s tactics, but something must be done, it’s our duty to engage and offer alternatives.

Social movements are much more susceptible to their ground troops than political movements. And as time goes on and the movement becomes more disciplined, it may factionalize, become more hierarchical and from then on the direction will be shaped by those who choose to engage rather than stay away. Moreover, like the Civil Rights movement, I believe we will see diverse organizations under new names rise up with more specific goals and differing tactics. SCLC, SNCC, The Black Panthers, and even groups like SDS, all arguably coming from the same origins but with different specifics. Occupy will do something similar, and I intend to steer the direction of those organizations with my actions and my words.

Now, Alexandria had an excellent point about not having the time to take to the streets. And I say: That’s okay. The foot soldiers are already there and will continue to grow. I hate to admit it, but I’m a classic old school revolutionary in many ways and I don’t believe the conditions are right for a major revolution in how our government operates. People are just too comfortable and on the passive side of discomfort. It’s hard for humans to revolt when they have things to lose. But in the meantime, we can all educate ourselves and try to learn about what’s going on.

Bypass the New York Times and MSNBC, so called liberal media. Watch the home eviction resistance on youtube. The Hernandez Family in California is bypassing the traditional media and using youtube/twitter to alert the world to the thug-like mafia tactics being used by Bank of America and the LAPD to remove them from their home.

Whether or not you have sympathy for people losing their homes, you have no choice but to feel the impact of mass homelessness of the working and middle class. Our economy can’t handle such shocks and the economic collapse had nothing to do with bloated government. Recessions are created by lack of demand, and if people are going homeless en masse after a bubble burst, then there’s going to be no demand.

Ack, there I go getting specific. I said I wouldn’t do that, but I’m sure we can tackle that another day.

Friends, the only thing that’s going to stop this movement is cynicism. Social movements are diverse and often include factions, as this one already does. You can’t stop history from progressing, so your choice is to engage or be left behind. If you’re too comfortable to act, at least educate yourself. We are living in a police and surveillance state where the traditional media is stifled and owned by the new ruling class. This is undeniable and when the next collapse happens, the citizens will write the new rules. Left or right, you don’t want to be left behind.

Okay. That’s all I can muster for now. Back to my real job!

Til next time, solidarity!

K

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11 responses to “Social Movements and the Future of Occupy

  • bravesmartbold

    My favorite paragraph is your “Now, Alexandra” one. Nobody wants to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable, especially when you’re working your butt off for that measly paycheck. I’m putting that nicely. But, how I wish I could scrap my plans–all of them–and Occupy anything. Those “kids,” those middle-class outlaws, those with no other alternative, those are my heroes. Great writing Actor/Rockstar.

  • SimplySage

    Kenny,
    Alexandria here. Will read when I get a break from the day job this weekend. I look forward to going back and forth. 😉
    Peace.

  • the51percent

    Take your ugly f’in face off your gravatar and stop calling yourself a rockstar like Obama and the rest of the bastards leading you astray pretty boy! Do you really want to learn from a man? A man who worked on Wall Street and will give you the inside track?

    Look here and ask yourself why is the FDIC linking up to historical context? I will tell you why dumbass, and sorry to use you as an example of the stupidity that surrounds you and the rest of you idiots looking for a real mom and dad! That’s what it’s about isn’t it?

    Again, after you play with these links… look at your local bank, you and the rest of the useful idiots… go to the freedom of information act site on the FDIC web site and sign up. Once signed up, you will get a password on your little IPhone that will give you a chance to ask about your bank were you take money out to destroy McDonald’s in NYC.,,

    Check the profits vs. outstanding debt that includes real estate, EBITA and if you see a negative number… they are your enemy!

    Especially if you are paying a surcharge on each of your transactions.

    You wanted help pretty boy?! There it is and now go change the world asshole!

    This is the last advice you and your deviant community get if you want it.

    Maybe after this you can see God and get how you are being used by your politicians!

    Peace Brother!

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  • armenia4ever

    Very interesting post. I’ve had very similar thoughts myself. Money always plays a large part in every election of every kind. Both sides consistently point out the big money influences, but it ends up boiling down to it being acceptable depending on the ideology the money is advocating and supporting.

    I.E Progressives constantly point out, and rightfully so, the influence that the Koch brothers have had on issues particularly in elections. However, they have conveniently ignored their big money interests such as the Ford foundation, MacArthur Foundation, the Tides foundation, and the Rockfeller foundation, ect. (The Ford foundation has a networth of over 10 billion!)

    What does this imply? It implies a kind of hypocrisy regarding the effect of money on politics by both sides. How can we change this?

    One concept I’ve been examining regards representatives per person:. http://www.democracyjournal.org/8/6587.php.

    It seems to be that our representatives are so far away from us and so untouchable (Unless we have 20k+ to shell out for one of their dinners) that the average individual is of no consequence to them, specifically their constituents. Right now it is so easy to buy off just your 3 or so congressman, but imagine big corporations, lobbyists, unions, ect trying to buy off 300 or more for a district?

    Be cautious of the idea of major revolution. Every revolution we’ve seen has been filled with bloodshed and thousands upon thousands of innocents have been caught in the crossfire. The French Revolution, The revolutions of 1848, The South American revolutions (What happened to the peasantry.), The Russian revolution (5+ million civilians died.) People are always willing to justify change through bloodshed.

  • SimplySage

    I agree with Armenia4ever. Violence begets more violence and when a country is guilty of it, it leaves the worst unremovable stain on history. During the Martin Luther King era, the civil rights movement finally became peaceful because he advocated peaceful protest and revolution. And you know what? He accomplished it. Unfortunately, he was taken from us. He truly evoked change in the most powerful way. History has proven time and time again that violence moves no government. When a government is overtaken through violence there is usually a transfer of power from one dictator to another. I’m afraid the current Arab spring may be just that. Violent coups usually leave a leadership vacuum. Look at all the coups in Africa, a continent so rich in resources it could sustain the world. It’s abject poverty and repression have nothing to do with a lack of resources, but oppressive government regimes. There are other ways to implement change and they may take longer but true change takes time and happens with diplomacy and peaceful protest. Peace always speaks louder than violence.
    I’m not sure which American History book you learned from but I recommend you read some older editions. The newer ones are written from a leftist ideology. If you don’t believe me I challenge you to get some older editions. You will note the change. Since you are an anchor baby it’s very important you know U.S. History from several sources, not just what you were taught in your liberal college. You also state you are a “libertarian socialist”. Do you not realize the two are mutually exclusive? Like I said, I’m not sure where you learned U.S. History or American Government but you are either one or the other.
    In our country we arrived at our current state through small incremental political decisions imposed over the past 100 years. I’m afraid our country will implode if we don’t begin to work together toward a reversal. Our debt is our biggest threat. Taxation and tyranny are replacing our liberty.
    I will have my full remarks on your blog post soon as I complete them. I think you may be surprised at how much we agree on some things, though we will disagree on the methodology.
    I will also be blogging about some of these same issues and will keep you posted. For a warm-up, look at my current post.
    http://simplysage.org/2012/09/30/weekly-photo-challenge-solitary/
    Peace,
    Alexandria Sage

  • SimplySage

    The question of would I consider the Civil Rights Movement a political movement or a social movement. My response is, does it really matter? It seems all social movements are eventually politicized. First, let’s be sure we refer to the civil rights movement being framed in the context of the blacks. It is unfortunate today it is merged into other minority issues. These minority factions keep us divided. For heaven’s sake, we are all Americans, most of us descendants from other nations. Why can’t we focus on what unites us rather than what divides us? I’m a blend now of about four nations—my great-grandmother an immigrant. We are a nation of immigrants who should be united. But we keep ourselves divided by trying to claim our immigrant status.

    As we intermarry and become acculturated our skin color and language merges anyway. Can we not shed the race card finally and wholeheartedly?

    The Civil Rights did hybrid into politics which moved our government to pass laws that spilled into the private sector—businesses are required (forced) to hire so many blacks, schools—education is required to give special preference to blacks, and now even a state is looking at policies that might be racially profiling black inmates guilty of violent crime, who have already been tried, convicted, and sentenced to death row. When, oh when, does it stop??? When politics give preference to a particular race or people the exchange is prejudice toward the another group. Government needs to stay completely out of race. It needs to mete out punishment for crimes against humanity in general and the civil rights movement was borne out of that. What are you going to say to the group that is known the be the most prejudiced against—the white, blond, blue-eyed male? Are they going to start a racial movement? Will government try to pass laws to appease them?

    For the blacks slavery was one thing. But segregation was another, resulting from post Civil War hostility from frustrated, former slave owners. And it was so wrong, wrong, wrong. It stains on our nation. I mean, if you want to go back further go to the Indians, who also fought side by side joining white and blacks during the Revolutionary War. Segregation was not initially part of our country. It was as you say a phenomenon of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    I would also say our government now has habitual problems with catering to special groups for votes in the name of “caring about their plight.” Such hypocrisy! In other words, all social movements become politicized. Perhaps it started with the civil rights movement. Just an idea. But it sure is business as usual today—the black vote, the union vote, the Hispanic vote, the women vote, the corporate vote, the soccer mom vote, lobbyists, ad nauseum. Why are they dividing all of us? You want to see something else interesting? I work with black people from Africa and American blacks and they are prejudiced against each other! The point is you cannot stop racial prejudice but you can fight it with the truth that we are ALL HUMAN! Skin color is a small fraction of our DNA. And ethnicity should be respected by all, but not given political deference or preference. Okay, back to topic. (I digresseth too mucheth.)

    As to the Occupy Movement being a social movement, would you please define how it is? What is their mission statement? What is their vision? How do they plan on carrying out their mission? Define it however you will but they will need to come forth and rewrap it all with new paper if they have a mission to bringing about positive societal and political change. They are not off to a good start. They have left a bad taste in America. The early petty crime is one thing. What about all the violent crime that ensued? What about those small businesses, coffee shops, restaurants who were trying to function? Once again, the innocent suffered. What about the attacks on law enforcement? Yes, yes I’m aware of officers who were out of line but that was the exception rather than the rule. It descended into complete chaos and lawlessness. Whether you define it as social or political is irrelevant. Come up with a vision to begin to repair our broken government with common sense principles, work within the broken system and within our laws, and I’m in.

    Okay, so I will now address how do we fix things. You’re right. We don’t talk about how little we do to influence and control our government. I have never considered myself an activist but I guess I am now. It is because of what the future may or may not hold for my children. One thing I am doing is talking to my neighbors, not trying to influence them to vote a certain way but to talk to them about investigating facts vs. propaganda. Have they educated themselves on making a choice based on fact. Are they just swallowing hook, line, and sinker everything being coughed out by the news everyday. Have they noticed the growing list of “taxes” tucked neatly anywhere and everywhere. Do they feel they really have a say? I honestly don’t try to sway them one way or the other. I challenge them to educate themselves and think. How do they spend their evenings? A little entertainment is good but are they devoting slivers of time to becoming an informed citizen? Are they like I was, meandering through life, raising my kids, saving for the future, doing the right thing, paying my taxes, etc, etc, and trusting our voted officials? I was completely caught off guard and the more I investigate the more I see how we citizens have been completely used and abused. But it only because we checked out. We became out of touch and did not hold our government accountable or call them out. Look at us now. We have surrendered so much liberty in the name of security that our children are buckled, coddled, helmeted, and now even what we send for their lunches is being threatened. And you are right. Our government knows all about us. And it will get even worse. Think of your electronic medical records and Obamacare—Washington bureaucrats nosing into your health records despite HIPPA. How long before they decide how and when your health care stops?

    Our elected officials are now so elitist they now have the audacity to say I’m not smart enough to do anything. I cannot agree with you more on how our representatives don’t listen to us once the money comes flowing from lobbyists and big donors. It is truly a tragedy that our own government has used our owns laws to totally destroy us. You are right in saying what they’ve done is completely legal!

    I’m not personally doing much on a large scale but I am doing what I can in my own neighborhood. I’ve even thought about running for office on a local level. Heck, I’ve balanced a checkbook for years and managed my own home well, even got out of severe debt. Why not?

    I completely disagree with a third party, though I do believe the Libertarian Party is growing. I also completely agree with you about corporate owned media. And I agree with your comments regarding the “moderate” party.

    You could not be more correct when you say “we’re fooled into thinking we have a choice between two visions, but what we have are warped versions of these ideas written according to corporate interests. The choice between corporate American’s left and right-wing factions is just that. Two corporate friendly visions of the 1%.” I agree. FOLLOW THE MONEY. However, I take issue with one thing, or rather one man. And that is our current President. He is a topic for another discussion but I will preface what I’m about to say so I don’t get a finger pointed at me. I don’t care what color he is, for if there is one thing I AM NOT, it is a racist. Yes, I agree with you about following the money but with Barack Obama you also have to follow his philosophy, which is ingrained and resolute. And all of his actions, inactions, and general neglect of his duties point to one thing. He has no respect or belief in our Constitution. But when he gives one of those stellar speeches he can make you think he walks on water, while the facts show the country is sinking deep both at home and abroad. And for sake of this current discussion I will leave it at that.

    When you say the Occupy Movement is the only movement right now really taking any direct action, I honestly have no idea what you mean. What DIRECT action are they taking?

    The part about the overweight police officer appeared like cheap shot to me or was that to try to portray law enforcement as such? Around here the law enforcement is in top physical condition!

    In the cases of Egypt and East Germany, I agree with you. But we are talking about regimes that had been sacrificing their people to death for years. The American problem is staggeringly different. It’s more subtle. We are repressed by a government that has legally used our own laws to keep us satiated “just enough” to keep us not noticing the dramatic chipping away of our liberty. And suddenly we are awakened without a clue as to what or how to deal with it.

    So what do we do? And when? Let’s engage. Let’s engage here. You and I can banter forever and we can agree and we can disagree respectfully. Perhaps you can learn from my experience and education and I can do the same from you. After reading your current blog I respect what you’ve done with your life as well as your education. We don’t have to follow the paths of other bloody revolutions of history. Let’s have a different kind. Let’s spur one another to hang out with our neighbors and have peaceful, objective, open-minded dialogue. Let’s commit that if the dialogue becomes heated we stop, but we commit to come together after we’ve each investigated facts. Let’s investigate the facts. Let’s be wary of swallowing any propaganda out there. Let’s reverse some very bad habits that have dulled our minds to the point of oblivion where we swallow everything hook, line, and sinker on the tube. Let’s do away with celebrity worship and reality TV overload and actually read some history. I agree with you that people are just too comfortable. Let’s challenge our neighbors to think. Let’s become “grassroots” again. And let’s drop all the racial, ethnic, and gender divides and unite as “Americans”. Our country has devolved into a nation divided. We may not be able to change all but perhaps we can change just one. We used to be a nation that talked about things. We don’t do that anymore!

    And lastly I now turn to the topic of home foreclosure. Thug-like mafia tactics are just plain wrong. If people are going to foreclose, the bank could offer them notices of rentals available in the area. But the foreclosed must face the reality. It’s like credit card debt. If you have that debt it’s because you spent it. Nobody else did. Nobody forced you to sign the dotted line. Our nation wants to stay comfortable and live like there’s no tomorrow. And we want the government to come to the rescue! And yes, I’ve been in HUGE personal debt. I am now debt-free. Getting out of debt was absolutely painful and I will never inflict that sort of pain on myself again!

    Like I said, nothing is wrong with renting. People in this country have the notion that home ownership is the be-all to end-all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once you own a home, there’s a whole lot more to it than the monthly payment. Home ownership easily turns into a money-pit and many times I’ve wondered if my own investment was worth it.

    Also, home foreclosure does not mean mass homelessness. It’s means people no longer making payments to own a home. They have to find other places to live. Yes, it’s heartbreaking to give up a home. But honestly, it’s not the end of the world. Home is truly where family is. And you can make a family anywhere. Even the meagerest of four walls to a small child is home as long as mom and dad are there. A coworker of mine is a single mom and she and her son lived in a tent in a campground for good while. She had to move to a warm climate to do this but she did it. Hey, they had each other and that was more important than anything. She got herself through school and now has a good job. Her son? Smart, secure, thriving in school. How many times have I told her to write her story and perhaps someday she will!

    I cannot agree with you more about the cynicism part and your last paragraph hit an out-of-the-ballpark home run. Let’s engage. Let’s get educated. Isn’t that what happened to me? Let’s ask each other some tough questions. Let’s give up those propaganda coated pat answers. And let’s hope the country doesn’t implode in the meantime.

    And I think I have written enough!
    Peace, my new “neighbor”,
    Alexandria

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