Occupy Movement Recharges for 2012

occupy keystone

Occupy Keystone in Washington DC (Photo: Ryan Meehan)

When a movement completely changes the way a nation looks at itself in its first month – as Occupy did in getting even Republicans to talk about growing income inequality – it’s not easy to quickly come up with a second act. This helps explain the floundering that Occupy exhibited at the end of 2011, which led some to question the movement’s future.

But events targeting Wall Street and the banking industry are resuming, and spirits appear high. One challenge Occupy faces is how to bring issues like “Wall Street” and “Big Banks” down to a manageable size. Foreclosure protests and bank occupations could soon become overdone, requiring new strategies to maintain public attention. Activists working to combat the massive issue of climate change faced a similar question in 2011, and found a great strategy in campaigning against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Occupiers might want to take a page from their struggle.

After extensive labor criticism of the Occupy movement’s second West Coast port shutdown, the movement’s moral high ground appeared to be tottering. Many activists raised serious questions about who Occupiers were speaking for, and why elected union leadership was being associated with the 1%.

But the passage of the holidays appears to have put that controversy to rest, and a series of Occupy actions are planned for this week that avoid past divisions. They include a large event targeting specific banks and companies in San Francisco on January 20. Backed by over 55 organizations, organizers predict it will be the largest street protest of the Financial District since anti-war protests in 2003.

On January 19 in Oakland, MoveOn will bring a crowd to the local Obama campaign offices to deliver more than 226,000 petition signatures supporting a full federal investigation of Wall Street. The group is calling on the president to take bold action to hold Wall Street accountable on behalf of the 99%.

These actions and similar events across the country keep activists enthused and the campaign momentum going. But an ongoing schedule of such activities will steadily lose public interest, particularly when forced to compete with the electoral events of 2012.

That’s why the parallel between Occupy and the Keystone campaign is so intriguing.

Targeting and Climate Change

randy shawAs Occupy grapples with the massive institutions of “Wall Street,” “Big Banks,” and the “financial industry,” activists face a challenge not unlike those trying to address the multi-headed hydra of climate change. The very size and complexity of the climate change issue made mobilizing difficult – until the Keystone pipeline became a target that activists could rally around.

On November 6, 2011, over 12,000 activists circled the White House in opposition to Keystone. Opposition became worldwide, and climate change – an issue said to be off the national political radar screen – was suddenly front and center.

The Occupy movement could greatly benefit from choosing a similar big target that could engage activists across the world. And like Keystone, this target would have a pending government action associated with it, so the protests would have focus and achieve a result.

This approach is what made the 1999 Seattle WTO protests so effective, and Occupy has already laid the groundwork for a similar effort in 2012.

Bill McKibben, a key leader in the struggle against Keystone, went to Occupy Wall Street on October 8, 2011 to urge the movement to participate in the November 6 protest. So the parallels between the two struggles have long been clear.

randy shawToday marks another great strategic decision that the Occupy movement and all activists should appreciate: Wikipedia’s decision to close down its English version for 24 hours in protest against proposed legislation in the United States – the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and PROTECTIP (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate. Wikipedia believes this legislation “will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States.”

Think that action will bring some attention to these measures? Wikipedia explains its action here.

Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron

Published by the LA Progressive on January 18, 2012
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About Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Director of San Francisco's Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Editor-in-Chief of the online daily newspaper "Beyond Chron." He is the author of three books, "Beyond the Fields", "The Activist's Handbook", and "Reclaiming America".