OWS: Time to Grow Up
Yesterday, Elias Isquith asked what should occupy Wall Street do next? His own answer is that OWS should rally against “voter suppression.” Doing so, Isquith notes, could be a step toward building a more extensive and longer lasting activist infrastructure.
It would certainly put the movement more in-line with the civil rights movement it appears to want to emulate. And what easier way to wrap one’s self in the America flag then by protesting restrictions on the right to vote? Dominic Tierney argues that this is exactly what Occupy needs to do to revitalize its rapidly declining public image.
I definitely agree, and the clearing of Zuccotti Park early this morning leaves the movement with a much-needed moment to re-evaluate their message and tactics. Indeed, this morning’s raids by police were probably the best thing that could have happened for the protesters. Like being saved by the bell, the movement which is arguably on the ropes now has a chance to redefine itself going forward.
One of the things that is perhaps most surprising to me is how little the Internet has played a central role in how the movement seems to operate*. Obviously, social networking and communication through sites like Twitter and Facebook have been important, and new media has certainly shaped how the mainstream media report on the protests. But when it comes to organizing marches, coordinating actions, and taking charge of their brand, OWS and all the other Occupy movements seem more interested in setting up camp libraries and yoga lessons.
The movement’s General Assemblies appear to be more about venting face-to-face with one another than trying to fast-track consensus and action. The Internet makes executing democracy rather easy. Instead of echoing concerns via audience chants, why not use an extensive network of community chat sessions, forums, and blog pages to hear dissent and reach agreement? OWS’s website incorporates some of these elements, but it’s hardly the kind of online community you’d expect to find based on the structure of the movement’s day-to-day activities. And it certainly doesn’t offer a platform for circumventing long deliberative sessions in the cold by offering a conventional democratic platform for voting on new proposals as they are introduced.
The movement could even invite national involvement by interested parties who lack the required amount of time or level of interest to actually go and “occupy” themselves. They could launch something of an online “Continental Congress” of sorts where people are free to discuss goals and concerns, and go through a process of arriving at a more concise and less polarizing set of proposals for alleviating the inequality that first motivated the movement. This would help boost involvement and the reach of OWS, while also giving the movement a chance to reassert itself as quintessentially American and democratic like Tierney recommends.
But whether Occupy re-invents itself as a crusade against voter disenfranchisement, bathes itself in red, white and blue, or makes better use of online tools, the bottom line is that for the movement to become anything other than pockets of disgruntled citizens acting out in fits and starts, more direction and more hierarchy is needed.
I agree with Erik, “Even if I do find the “Ban corporate greed!” and “Down with capitalism!” sentiments a bit silly, I think the anger expressed at OWS is good (similarly I find many of the Tea Partier’s sentiments a bit silly, but their anger – largely driven by similar things – is also good.)”
And when I first wrote about OWS, I saw them largely as a cultural movement rather than a political one. They seemed more interested in building a community on occupied green space than strategically trying to enact plausible economic and financial policies. And if the bulk of the Occupy protesters are largely still interested in clashing with police and camping out on the street, then it’s rightfully time for the less than 1% of the 99% to go home.
But if the movement is more about issues than about “resistance,” they have the perfect narrative to reboot with. Glen Greenwald writes:
“Could #OWS have scripted a more apt antagonist than this living, breathing personification of oligarchy: a Wall Street billionaire who so brazenly purchased his political office, engineered the overturning of a term-limits referendum and then spent more than $100 million of his person fortune to stay in power, and now resides well above the law?”
To the extent that anyone wants to simplistically and naively “abolish corporate personhood.” I’m not with them. But I don’t think many other people, inside or outside of OWS, are either. It would be a shame, and unfair, for a movement expressing valid frustration at increasingly clear inequities to be narrowly defined by fringe manifestos or momentary chants.
Young people in this economy have been given an especially raw deal. After burdening themselves with student debt at the encouragement and behest of parents, counselors, and teachers alike, they now encounter a marketplace that just isn’t capable of absorbing them all. They, as well as many of their parents, counselors, and teachers see Banks getting bailouts and loans at astoundingly low interest rates, even while mortgage foreclosures continue. Add to that calls by nearly every high ranking public official to lower corporate tax rates despite high profits. And even as wages stagnate, many claim that the working class hasn’t been paying enough.
Everything seems to favor Occupy’s call for solidarity among the 99%, and yet the movement seems intent on alienating support whereever it arises. They’ve reached the point when it’s “evolve or die,” and the next couple weeks will reveal which fate Occupy embraces.