Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The Spring of our Discontent

Posted by Charles II on April 14, 2012

An excerpt from a post by an Occupier (Kasama) on a 99%Spring event:

It was largely an older crowd. Many had been to Zucotti but hadn’t found a way to get involved. If you visited Zucotti after the change, it was a difficult place to fit into. In the early days of Zucotti, I knew allot of the people in the park. It was easy to pop in and do something to help out. They were the kindest, most loving people you could have met. It was hard to visit Occupy Wall Street and not fall in love with the place. A good chunk of them disappeared some time around the first threatened eviction in October and when the tents went up. When the tents went up, the park became insular and intimidating. The “real occupiers” frequently showed contempt for people who didn’t sleep in the park. There used to be a guy sitting at the “information” desk on Broadway who was so rude and contemptuous that I saw people who came to visit turn away (I haven’t seen him since the eviction).

Yes. 99%Spring really is an attempt to co-opt Occupy Wall Street. There is a huge hunger right now by people who want to get involved but do not know how.

Instead of enhancing an existing movement with experienced activists who very badly want to be involved, 99%Spring is attempting, very badly, to replace that niche and attempting to formalize something that is organic.

My response:

I would like to dissent.

First, talking and trying to persuade people is not co-opting. If they start offering jobs or cash, then you can call it co-option, but what you describe is no more than a well-organized effort to persuade. If the occupiers want to do what 99%Spring is trying to get them to do, then they should do it. If they don’t, they should refuse.

(click for more)

Second, it’s frustrating to me to see how Occupy makes some of the same mistakes that past movements did. One major mistake, in my opinion, was the refusal to define some basic principles. There were things that people agreed on that could have formed the basis of a position statement. For example, that corporations have too much power and people have too little. For example, that the basic freedoms to dissent and protest have been trampled upon by the justice system. If a movement does not define itself, the opposition will.

Another mistake that some Occupy groups are making is the failure to define the movement as strictly non-violent. But if the police pay agents to infiltrate and commit acts of violence, why are Occupiers willing to do the same thing for free? In the past, protest movements have been destroyed by portraying them as violent and disruptive. It seems to me that there are some things that Occupy could learn from the old fogies.

It’s great that there are people who want an organic movement that serves no one else’s goals. There has always been a role for that, back to the IWW. But being an organic movement is not an end in itself. Unless Occupy demonstrates that it provides something for the general public, it will end up being defined as a nuisance. It will gradually wither.

I want to suggest that instead of using the frame of conflict, of treating 99%Spring as an opponent, frame it as opportunity. Say, OK, we’ve listened to you. This thing that you say is useful. This bit of history I hadn’t heard before. But we don’t want to try to elect candidates or otherwise do politics as usual. We want to teach how participatory democracy works by creating a just society right here in Occupy. We might be willing to help you on individual actions, and we hope you’ll help us with food aid, legal aid, and so on.”

Almost every effort at reform has been defeated because the Left (which is where most reform efforts come from) would rather fight amongst itself than develop solidarity and common goals. I hope that Occupy will learn from the errors of the past and succeed where others fell short. It might help if Occupy were to reflect that the old fogies actually did succeed at a few things, and that maybe not everything they’re saying is crap.

This is the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement. The people who were so young and idealistic then are pushing 70. They watched as the ferment of the early 60s fell into chaos, and was destroyed by the backlash and official criminality of the late 60s and early 70s and ultimately the ennui of the mid-late 70s. That ended with Reagan running the country into bankruptcy, the rise of Gingrich, and the rest of a history of a nation falling away not just from its pinnacle of power and wealth, but also from a moment of justice and reform. They of the 1960s–the New Left–would tell you that they ignored the lessons of the Old Left to their own peril.

Added: and, right on cue, Sara Robinson writes a constructive post:

There’s not enough that can be said about the genius of Occupy at raising America’s awareness of the corporatization of our culture, and defining and framing the predations of the 1 percent against the 99 percent as the defining conflict of our age. But now it’s time to take the message out of the parks and streets and into the American mainstream. If the goal is to build a truly diverse nationwide movement that will change the foundations of the American economy, getting more established groups like, Rebuild the Dream and the labor unions involved can only be a good thing.

As she says, you need not only activists, but intellectuals, artists, insiders, supportive elites, and the masses of ordinary people. In fact, the latter are the sine qua non. They are inherently conservative, because they have a little bit to lose and because they know what it is to be without, they are careful about making change. They drive the activists crazy, always hanging back, slow to join, quick to betray… and yet, they are who it is all for.

2 Responses to “The Spring of our Discontent”

  1. jo6pac said

    I agree with your last sentences and with Sara but I had hoped it wouldn’t happen this way.

    • Charles II said

      Jo, if MoveOn rather than the corporations and the superwealthy and the televangelical empires and the superpatriots is the real enemy of democracy…well, then the country really is in trouble. No more than, say, 100,000–maybe, stretching it, 200,000 people have ever attended the Occupy events. This is a nation of 300 million. The Occupiers are less than 0.1% of the citizenry, and probably more like 0.01% if one only counts the regulars.

      By demonizing the insufficiently radical, the radicals condemn themselves to irrelevance. It is their choice and if they want to do it, fine. The American Left has done it time and time again. But let no one say that they haven’t been warned. The history of excluding the center and the left because they’re insufficiently radical is very clear.

      For the record, I’m not a member of MoveOn or a union and I haven’t given to the DNC/DSCC/DCCC for a decade. The Democratic Party considers me a nuisance. But the more I read of the accusations of “co-option,” “infiltration,” and “subversion,” the more I wonder whether Occupy isn’t either incredibly naive or perhaps a bunch of whiners. If there message is so weak that it can’t withstand MoveOn, for hevvins sake, well, it sure isn’t going to withstand the much more serious challenges that lie ahead.

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