To Occupy, or not to Occupy?

Written on:October 12, 2011
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The revolutionary in me wants badly to endorse the Occupy Movement, but the intellectual in me just can’t do it yet. While I applaud what they’ve accomplished on an activate the masses level, they have stated ‘it will last until the country changes’ but they have not adopted a specific set of changes or policies that they support. In other words, what ‘changes’ would constitute the end game? I’m sorry, but ‘greed’ isn’t going anywhere protests or not; ‘greed’ can only be contained in the form of regulations or laws, coupled with adequate enforcement.. so, we need specifics. Otherwise, the Occupy Movement will only be symbolic of our frustrations, which is commendable, but it won’t have any real political teeth. Even Matt Taibbi, a liberal journalist who has written about Wall Street corruption for years, was on CNN earlier saying “..eventually they will have to put forth a list of concrete demands”. At the moment, the Occupy Movement is really just generalized anger over the wealth gap (throw in campaign finance reform and under-regulation of the financial sector if you’re reading between the lines) being expressed communally in the form of these gatherings. That’s cool and all, and deserves a Dr Dre style ‘Heyulll Yeaaaah’, but a person like me needs more than an “I’m pissed off, too” affirmation to get on board; I’m too old, educated, and cynical for generalized emotional sentiment to bring me off the sidelines.. I need solutions. I’ve read enough about them, and the argument goes something like: “we’re just concentrating on growing the movement for now, we’ll concentrate on our message later”. But, this seems immature to me.. more like a defense mechanism than a predetermined tactical strategy; it’s like grass-roots without the roots, or invading Iraq without an exit strategy, or to quote a line from the movie Waking Life “all action, no theory”. The Occupy Movement is reportedly already expanding globally with demonstrations. My fear is that the Occupy Movement will grow too big for their britches, and when they finally publish some official demands, they will be over reaching or too generalized, if not completely radical or ideological, and will blow the opportunity and the momentum to make this a legitimate movement that believes in pragmatic solutions. I, for one, would be pretty damn pissed if I endorsed them now, and then later on they go off on some stupid immature type shit. My point is that they need to start articulating specifics now so that it can either start shaping actual policy stances going into the election season and gain more mainstream legitimacy, or reveal itself as simply generalized anger turned ideological so people like me can go about our daily business of bootstrap pulling and lesser of two evils vote casting. What I don’t want to see is an equally radicalized, left-wing counter-part to the Tea Party, which without stating what exactly you intend to change, is exactly what the Occupy Movement could turn into. It could even break into different factions in this event, just like the Tea Party did. Got too big, too fast, became uncontrollable and incoherent, radicalized the Republican agenda into government shutdown but was absorbed politically. The result being very bad for the country’s politics. We need more pragmatism in our politics, not more radicalization; I truly hope that Occupy will come to represent the former, but they have yet to solidify my confidence in that regard. There are already hints of immaturity, but that can also come to indicate youthfulness, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it definitely adds to my uncertainty the longer they remain ambiguous to political realities, or they should at least attempt to define a new political reality. To their credit, they have been quite forward about being non-violent, and have branded themselves cleverly as ‘occupy’ with equally clever slogans like ‘we are the 99%’. However, they have also made comparisons to the ‘Arab Spring’ (some going so far as to call it ‘American Autumn’), which in my view at least, is a sophomoric comparison as the two contexts are just not analogous, even if well intended as a comparison of tactic. At the end of the day, I’m following the Occupy Movement with excitement and optimism as a revolutionary, but they haven’t satisfied the pragmatic litmus to get beyond my caution and skepticism as an intellectual. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for me to show some solidarity in spirit, but to give them a free pass based on emotional sentiment would be intellectually dishonest on my part.

4 Comments add one

  1. avatarTed James says:

    Who is Occupy Wall Street? My understanding is that part of the inspiration for #OWS going viral were some Twitter posts by the hacker group Annonymous. I’m pretty sure that most of the emerging movement doesn’t defer to Annonymous to speak on its behalf or propose pragmatic solutions to America’s problems. My point is that there is not a face yet to the movement, there is not a leader. Just like the tea party, I’m sure that there is a long line of opportunists putting their hand up to say “let me be your leader” Hopefully the person who will emerge as the leader of the movement will be Barack Obama. That development would be a healthy, pragmatic way for the movement to mature. But lets set that aside for now. Again, who is Occupy Wall Street? According to the mantra “We are the 99 percent” it is every one who is not prospering in this prolonged period of economic policies that have resulted in the unmericful growth of the wealth gap and the decimation of the American middle class. 99 percent includes a very diverse group of people. I don’t think that it is immature to say “we’re concentrating on growing the movement now, we’ll concentrate on the message later.” Organizing has to be the number one priority. There are alot of hearts and minds in this country that need to be changed before pragmatic solutions to our problems have any chance at enactment. The Occupy Wall Street movement should include the tea party. The tea party was conceived out of similar frustration. Sadly, the tea party was qucklly co-opted to do the beckoning of the 1 percent by making the government the boogey man. These tea party members need to be talked to and converted back to fighting on the side of their own economic interests. If the #OWS doesn’t focus on organizing and building mass appeal, your fear of an “equally radicalized, left-wing counter part to the tea party” is a very likely result. As an extemely radicalized left-winger, I’ll gladly stand with them, but the end result will be more of the same. Gridlock. The early endorsement of #OWS by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as well as endorsements by several major unions is a big victory towards sustainability for the movement. Having the backing of labor adds a backbone of stability to allow the young organizers an opportunity to persevere through the onslaught of misinformation coming out of the right-wing echo chamber. As to your point about worrying that the movement will become “all action, no theory” I would argue that to me this is better than the opposite. There are plenty of people in this country that are intellectually capable of conceiving meaningful pragmatic solutions to our problems, President Obama being chief among them, the problem is that there is not enough action amongt people who would agree with them. Again, I come back to organizing some sort of a consensus among a healthy majority of the 99 percent to be politically engaged in supporting these solutions as being vastly more important than the clarity with which these ideas are expressed. As your long-time comrade in the push for progress I would urge you to set your intellectual hat down temporarily and rock your revolutionary hat by endorsing #OWS. Or at least create a bad ass t-shirt for the movement and start rocking that.

  2. You know I wear a hat made of hats 🙂 Truth be told, I was sparked to write my original post while making an Occupy tshirt design.. which conjured up these questions in my mind. Do I really want to endorse this group? What are they really about? And, yes, Who is Occupy Wall Street? Maybe ‘immature’ is too harsh a wording, maybe ‘young’ would be a better fit, but there are still some unanswered questions as OWS grows, and I think it is fair to ask them. Coming from a dude like myself, I’d consider my critique ‘tough love’. I’ll probably end up endorsing them anyway, but I can’t help but to point out some things I see as potentially problematic or incomplete. Because if a dude like me is still on the fence with questions, then imagine where the everyday person stands in their interpretation; I think that is my central point.

    But this is where it gets interesting to me. Is a horizontally organized, leaderless people’s assembly capable of defining itself? Does it intend to define itself even if it could? Does it even need to? I’ve read articles and snippets and there are yes/no arguments for each of these questions. Point being that people are projecting onto it what they think it means because it hasn’t really defined itself. And, yes, some argue that that is the point.. to start a conversation and not dictate it. Others find that inadequate or even inaccurate. I’m hip to the jive yo, but personally I prefer some set of defined objectives beyond the abstract, because while this type of leaderless/horizontal movement has proven awesomely effective for the Arab Spring where the stances are more about solidarity around grand themes like freedom of speech right to assembly anti-oppression regime change etc, the model may not be as effective in debates that require more nuance or specific regulations or numbers-based policy. I say ‘may not’ because I’m posing a question, not expressing a definitive belief of mine.

    I’m not saying there isn’t a place for grand themes or symbolism in our society; economic inequality, the American Dream, main street v wall street, elite greed, money in politics, etc. There is enough justification in my mind for these arguments as a pre-cursor for further action. I’m more or less asking how are these dots going to be connected moving forward and into what specific action.

    I don’t want the random reader here to get the wrong impression about me; I’m not coming at this as just some ultra stickler ass punk. I’m coming at this as someone with my own philosophies about revolutionary movements, and as someone who has attempted to make one a reality in the past. My revolutionary credentials aren’t paper thin. Being that our M7 Movement was largely music based, I’m familiar with the idea of galvanizing involvement through generalized sentiment; inherent in music even for cats like us that sprinkle more facts and specifics in our lyrics than the average. But, we also provided more in-depth definition of what we were about in the form of the Stash Box and Graffiti Radio LIVE. If our movement had popped off, I’m pretty sure we would have published both a list of overarching idealistic objectives/missions, and a specific list of current, specific policies that we support or denounce.. whilst also encouraging bottom-up debate, conversation, and an overall collective discussion. As of yet, the OWS movement has not done this, so in that context I’m simply asking.. why not?

    I’m not critiquing OWS with any intent to marginalize them, I’m just expressing some concerns that I have, and I don’t think I’m alone on this. Like I said, I’m pretty much on board, but I’d be remiss to blindly endorse without at least acknowledging my concerns. And yes, it is kind of ironic to ask questions of a movement that has no leadership in which to answer them; at best it could only be someone’s projected answer. To borrow a line from the movie V for Vendetta, “asking a masked man who he is”. But, if they encourage bottom-up collective discussion, I think some of the questions I’m raising would be welcomed.

  3. See what happens when I start endorsing shit? I spend an afternoon doing things like this: I think I’m going to drink some beers tonight and brainstorm about what I’m going to do with this.

  4. avatarTed James says:

    “Slim, with the tilted brim…what’s my mother f***ing name?”. You rock that revolutionary hat like a champ!

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