05 October 2011

Occupation distraction

I'm increasingly worrying that the Occupy Whatever movement could do the progressive cause in this country some real harm. It's sucking up attention and enthusiasm which, especially right now, are needed elsewhere.

If you haven't already, please read the critiques I linked to in the last link round-up, by Joseph Cannon and Feminisnt. The problem with the Occupy movement is that (a) it does not have specific, clearly-articulated goals, and (b) there is no sense of how, exactly, the actions it is taking are going to achieve whatever the goal is.

The movement claims inspiration from Tahrir Square. But Tahrir Square had a clear goal -- the end of the Mubarak regime. And it succeeded because it was a mass movement -- the protests drew hundreds of thousands of participants, not just thousands. When the Occupy movement can get 300,000 mainstream Americans together in one protest, in one place, and they stay there for weeks or months, it may accomplish something, but right now it seems very far from that point.

Others have drawn inspiration from the Arab Spring. Earlier this year, anti-austerity demonstrations in Portugal and Britain drew hundreds of thousands of participants. Yet notice that even they have not been able to force their governments to change course, partly because these were one-day events, big but quickly over. Also, democratic governments are less brittle than dictatorships.

Today, the people of Greece are launching their own campaign against the austerity policies which their craven rulers are forcing on them at the behest of the EU -- a campaign of mass strikes and a tax revolt. They've got a chance if participation is high enough -- hundreds of thousands of working people, not just thousands of people from the fringe.

Some have made an analogy with the teabaggers, hoping that the Occupiers can become a similar force for the left. But insofar as the teabaggers have accomplished anything, they did it by focusing on electoral politics -- supporting candidates and getting them into office. Amorphous ranting against "the system" has certainly been there, but that's not what got things done.

How many of the Occupiers voted in 2010 -- when a collapse of turn-out enabled the Republicans to take the House and create the paralysis they decry? How many will vote next year?

So far I see nothing that suggests the Occupy movement has the potential to achieve any concrete results whatsoever (well, there's one small exception, but I'll get to that in a moment).

Right now, we do have an opportunity to achieve something real. With his American Jobs Act, Obama has finally broken away from the Republican navel-gazing over the deficit that has consumed Washington for months, and made a serious proposal to deal with the greatest concern of mainstream Americans -- unemployment. Economists agree that the plan will stave off another recession at least. As Booman Tribune points out, Obama is finally doing what his critics on the left say they want -- drawing a line in the sand and showing willingness to fight for what the country needs. The Republicans insist the plan is DOA, but mass public pressure has swayed legislative outcomes before -- never forget how, in 2007, a mass outpouring of public fury (which crashed the Senate's telephone system) stopped an illegal-alien amnesty which had bipartisan support and was considered a done deal. Who's to say that a similar mass display of support now couldn't scare enough Congressional swing votes to get the AJA through?

Yet when I look around the liberal blogs today, I'm seeing very little being posted about the AJA, and a lot being posted about the Occupiers. The energy and enthusiasm which, properly focused, might actually get something done, is being diverted into what looks like an exercise in plowing the sea.

As I mentioned, I do see one small sign of hope about the Occupy movement. This is the fact that it's attracting some significant support from unions. Unions are pragmatic and not ideological; they have clear goals and know what works and what doesn't work to achieve those goals, and they're very engaged with electoral politics and the Democratic party. And -- forgive my bluntness -- their decision-makers are people older and more experienced than those who seem to predominate among the Occupiers.

If the union connection can help the Occupy movement become coherent -- help it develop specific practical goals and grow into a large-scale, sustained movement with a plan for achieving those goals -- then it may actually get something done. (And by "large- scale" I mean what I said about Tahrir Square above. 500 people in each of 15 cities doesn't mean anything.) A sign of this would be if the movement starts pushing for action on the AJA.

Update: Two more worthwhile posts on this topic: Joseph Cannon warns of libertarian subversion of the movement, while Nance suggests that bloggers try to shape its agenda.


Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

Great post--and I also have had those concerns about the "Occupy Wall Street" event.

The President has been traveling the country for nearly a month talking about the jobs bill...and the liberal blogosphere--with a few exceptions--has been quiet as a mouse. But there's a lot of focus on OWS.

And at the end of the day, if OWS does not lead to political action, such as voting out in 2012 many GOPers who were gumming up the works and allowing for progressive candidates to be elected to state and local offices and into the US Congress....then it will be a failure.

Where is Michael Moore on the AJA? Where's Thom Hartmann? Where are the so-called progressive leaders who were so ready to take President Obama to task and are so silent now when he has thrown the gauntlet down at the GOP?

Anyone care to answer those questions?

05 October, 2011 08:15  
Blogger JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

The higher ups on the left have been far too reliant on Obama to deliver the message since he burst on to the scene.

The poor guy has to do everything.

What worries me about the OWS are that it could burn out fast. Snd just as bad, get taken over by ultra leftists. The face of the movement, IMHO, needs to be mainstream America. Mom and Dad struggling to get their kids through college. Having to help out cause even after graduating, no job available so they can pay their loans. if these people are the faces of the movement, all Americans could find a place in it. I know this will piss off many on the hard left. But paying off education loans. Our kids being able to find work. Being able to retire securely. These are the issues that will resonate. Not gay marriage or gun control or demanding Bush be arrested.

05 October, 2011 19:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

MM: Thanks. I hope this movement will evolve in a constructive direction. The greater union involvement is a positive step. Maybe they can swing the focus onto crucial issues like the AJA. I do wish the political blogs would focus more on it (my blog isn't a political blog, as such, though the topic comes up fairly often). And it will need to shift its tactics to things which will actually influence legislatures -- which marching and camping in parks won't, unless they achieve truly Tahrir-like numbers.

T101: Unless the movement gets more focused, it probably will indeed burn out fast. In order to attract ordinary Americans in great numbers to be its face, it needs to focus on the issue they care most about -- unemployment. Though I'm all for gay marriage, I agree with you that the goals shouldn't get too broad and unfocused. There's already a successful movement for gay marriage, and that movement sticks to its own issue rather than trying to advocate everything -- the Occupiers should do the same. A person can choose to support more than one movement.

05 October, 2011 19:58  
Blogger Nance said...

My initial anxiety over OWS (which arose out of some of the same sentiment you express plus my own old-fart concern for instability), has turned to something more optimistic and enthusiastic. This effort feels truly grass-roots to me and it has real potential.

True, it began in May with a handful inspired by the Arab Spring, but it took off just in the past three weeks. I believe the televised GOP debates, the booing and hissing from the audiences, the failures of the candidates to show leadership in their responses...these fed the movement. The refusal of the House to seriously consider AJA and their dismissal of the Super Committee's work has made Americans realize that good sense may not prevail unless the 99% add their voice.

I realized that I could stand by and critique OWS as formless or I could join my voice and help shape the form. I think that's what you're doing here...isn't it? Trying to lend shape and direction? I entirely approve of the agenda you propose.

Hop on the bus before someone else's agenda prevails. The tea party is making noises like they want to claim OWS and steer it. You wonder if the occupiers even voted? Here's a populist referendum for you.

Yes, of course. I posted on it, too. WE are the occupation; not THEY.

06 October, 2011 05:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nance: I hope I'm proven wrong, and if I am, I'm ready to acknowledge it. I'm looking for a coherent agenda, effective tactics, and significant numbers. I see no sign yet of any of those things, but if they materialize, I'll happily renounce my skepticism and help out.

I think that's what you're doing here...isn't it? Trying to lend shape and direction?

I'd be delighted if anyone in the OWS -- or anyone else -- read this blog and thought the ideas were worth supporting, but I'm not holding my breath:-)

You wonder if the occupiers even voted? Here's a populist referendum for you.

It's still a valid question to ask whether they voted in the actual real election where the outcome has an actual real impact on things (see the mess created by Republican control of the House and several state-houses, which low turn-out allowed them to obtain). A protest may be considered a referendum in a metaphorical sense, but except in unusual circumstances, it doesn't have the same impact.

Thanks for commenting.

06 October, 2011 05:54  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Thanks for this post, Infidel753. I think the key element is the question Did they vote in the last election?

In addition to what TRUTH pointed out about focusing on unemployment and financial hardship, I wish OWS would alert citizens to the voter suppression going on in battleground states.

This is a countrywide scheme to corrupt the electoral system, and few people seem to be worried about it.

06 October, 2011 06:18  
Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

@Shaw: Good point, Shaw. Thankfully, it seems that there will be attention paid to this.

What is also not making sense to me is this: why is there no effort to call for voter registration at the OWS event?

Again, I do think that the OWS event and the others that are forming around the country could lead to something positive. Notice that I said "could" because I still have the uneasy feeling that unless there is a defined endgame for all this--a defined goal or set of goals that can be achieved...it will be for naught.

Milt Shook wrote a great post about this. You can read it here:


With the involvement of unions and organizations like Move On, there could be a chance for a defined set of (workable) goals. We'll see. And the protestors certainly have my support.

06 October, 2011 07:29  
Blogger Malcolm The >:} said...

"It's sucking up attention and enthusiasm which, especially right now, are needed elsewhere."

Elsewhere? What elsewhere? AJA? That's like pointing out a faulty tail lamp while you have a gaping hole in your head gasket. The issue with the occupiers is "Money Corrupted Governance". And boy, is it corrupt. I can't compete against $38,000 a day for each Congressperson or Senator in lobbying activities or campaign contributions while Congress is in session.

A pox on Wall Street, Democrats, Republicans, K Street Mall,ad nauseam.

06 October, 2011 17:23  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

SK: Another important point, indeed. Those vote-suppression laws, at least, have been getting a good deal of attention in the blogosphere, and from activists. I hope you saw this last link round-up.

MM: Voter registration is another good suggestion. Some of the people involved with this movement might disdain voting for whatever reason -- but those people are irrelevant anyway, and many others there might not have the same attitude.

PCTC is a great blog, one of the best for dealing with the Obama-bashing loony left (who are de facto allies of the Republicans).

MTSquiggle: You clearly miss the point of my post, which is not that I object to the Occupiers' grievances, but rather that, as presently constituted, they are unlikely to accomplish or change anything. In any case, anyone who can look at the Republicans as they are today and the Democrats and say "a pox on all your houses" clearly has grasp-of-reality issues too severe to be helped by one blog post, or by dozens.

06 October, 2011 19:27  
Blogger Ahab said...

I got back from Washington D.C. last night, where I observed the Values Voters Summit (yuck). While I was in the city, I swung by Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square to observe the goings-on of Occupy Washington D.C. I'll blog about it this week, but I just wanted to say that I left a little disappointed.

I have high hoped for Occupy Wall Street in New York, but I have doubts about what the Occupy movement can achieve in Washington and other cities. The gathering I saw might have been good for networking and revitalizing energies, but I doubt that it will achieve anything in D.C. To be effective, movements must bear tangible, concrete, practical fruit.

09 October, 2011 08:49  

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