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?
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!