With upwards of ten thousand Occupy protesters flooding through downtown Oakland yesterday to close shipping facilities there and organizers here in Los Angeles planning a full teach-in weekend with the likes of Robert Reich and Robert Scheer, the Occupy Movement has the world’s attention.
And yet, the media is ever quick to point out the messiness and disorder and even Occupy forces at many of the sites are grappling with the difficulty of maintaining their encampments long term. So, which way will the Occupy Movement go?
At a conference yesterday in Watts discussing restoring voting rights for the formerly incarcerated, Harlem organizer James “Jazz” Hayden wondered if they should somehow try to tag their cause onto the Occupy Movement. “You’ve got your Occupy Wall Street and your Occupy LA,” Jazz said. “What’s next? Occupy Your Mama?”
Apples to Oranges?
In this week’s LA Progressive Saturday Survey, the largest group thought the most apt historical comparison for the Occupy Movement was with the Arab Spring demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria earlier this year (30% of the 161 respondents), followed closely by the Wisconsin public employees state capital takeover last winter (28%). Training were the 1932 Bonus Army encampment of the nation’s capital (18%), the Selma Civil Rights March (18%), and the Vietnam War demonstrations at Columbia University in 1968 (4%).
“I was a hippie back in the day,” wrote one respondent. “The energy of the OWS movement is the energy of the Vietnam war protests.”
A couple naysayers chipped in as well: “Your in-laws camping in your back yard permanently for free” and “Totally ridiculous — whinny privileged kids wanting stuff.”
The general consensus, however, seemed to be that this movement is unique:
“This Occupy movement has no real parallels in history. It is the most important thing happening in the world today (as Naomi Klein has written) and will determine the future of the human species on this planet — i.e., whether there will be a future, how long that future will be, and what it will look like.”
Lacking a Cohesive Vision?
Pundits have made much of the fact that the Occupy Movement does not have a clear sent of demands or formal constitution and does not operate according to Robert’s Rules of Order. Our survey’s respondents seemed much less troubled by those concerns, with the great majority (57% arguing that the movement is organized the vision of undoing the nation’s economic inequality and another large section (30%) positing that the lack of a single focus gives the movement its broad-based strength.
“There are no simple sound-bite solutions to the current economies crisis. Our 24-hour news cycle leads folks to believe that there always should be very simple answers which are always represented of two equal positions; one from the left and one from the right; each of equal weight and veracity regardless of whether that is true or not (global warming is but one example of this syndrome),” wrote one respondent, capturing the consensus. “Life nor economics are ever that simple. However, the interviews I have heard from the movement have been for the most part rather intelligent and addressing the issue of unequal US income inequality in all it’s necessary complexity. That is what we need more than anything right now; not sound-bites.”
“The Occupy movement has a cohesive vision,” wrote another. “Corporate media pundits don’t understand it because it’s outside their range of thinking. The Occupy movement is creating an alternative, democratic (lower-case “d”), consensus-based system that challenges hierarchical structures and competitive capitalist frames in favor of humane, cooperative frames. This is invaluable.”
Only few worried about the movements lasting power without a cohesive vision or that it would become a magnet for every imaginable complaint (both at 9%): “It already seems to be fraying and is becoming a platform for malcontents who have interests — legal marijuana, the Socialist Party — that diverge from its origins as a protest against economic inequality.”
The survey pointed strongly (59%) to the need for the Occupy Movement to dig in for the long haul and profoundly shape the 2012 elections and beyond. A fair number (29%) think the Occupiers should throw their weight behind effective progressive candidates of established political parties. Both sentiments, however, had their detractors:
“Throwing weight behind Progressive candidates only appeals to the far-Left and not the Middle America we need behind us to force change. The Tea Party only survived by being co-opted and wholly sponsored by billionaires shaping their agenda. By eschewing billionaire’s co-opting, the 99% remain pure and their message will be heard.”
“They cannot shape the 2012 elections because the Republicans have used gerrymandering, electronic voting manipulation, voter registration purging and suppression, voter ID laws, and unchecked corporate money to manipulate the elections and the votes.”
A few thought the Occupiers should form a third party (7%), something like the Tea Party, or declare victory and move on (4%):
“They should create a committee to represent them with a central theme like the Tea Party, and focus on only a few demands for now, and continue to protect for the long haul.”
“They’ve made their statement. They need now to take their passion to a new and different level. They should look for allies in other groups, rather than remain in ego-driven isolation.”
Others had more radical directions in mind:
“Revolution. The existing US political system is a sham, so the Occupy movement should have (and currently has) nothing to do with it — other than opposing it vociferously. We need to replace the existing political structures with new, democratic (lower case “d”) ones. Working with in the existing structures will represent a total failure and capitulation (or co-optation) of the movement.”
Occupy Movement’s Lasting Impact
In comments on how the Occupy Movement should sharpen focus and what its lasting impact is likely to be, most commenters returned to the Movement’s economic focus:
“Prosecuting the bankers and other financial interests that created this fiscal crisis, respecting the rights of the citizens as enumerated in the Bill of Rights, engaging in rolling direct boycotts and picketing of large corporations acting against the interests of the American people (such as closing their bank accounts and moving their investments out of the most egregious institutions).”
“Their focus is on failed financial policies and a corrupt financial system where people profit from insider trading and destroying others while legislators assist the corrupt financial leaders and condemn citizens who complain about it. The courts cater to the rich and politicians fleece the poor to provide tax breaks for the rich under policies that over a forty year period have caused a great shift in wealth that goes unchecked.”
Despite recent encouraging polling trends tied to his tougher stance on the “Do Nothing Congress,” President Obama came in for a few brickbats:
“I was out there the first day in San Francisco in front of Chase Bank. We MUST get a different candidate in the Democratic primary. Obama has simply not performed as we have needed. The fact that he caved on single-payer health care is THE reason Republicans took the house and almost the Senate last election. He could have filled all judicial appointments temporarily before these last Senate stunts. He just keeps dawdling and caving. He could have removed all the soldiers from all these wars. We are not out of any of them yet. He could have had the justice Department investigate the voting machines but has failed to do so. I could go on and on. We need someone else.”
You can read everyone’s comments on the next page about the Movement’s lasting impact. We’ll close with this thought:
“They have completely changed the national dialogue. We’re finally talking about economic inequality, corruption, greed and the failure of our institutions to address basic economic issues. And as Oakland, Nashville, Denver and other Occupations have clashed with local authorities, we’re also finally talking about civil rights, free speech, and the hypocrisy of our government officials. Here in Nashville believe it or not we have the former spokesman for the Tennessee Republican Party calling on our Republican Governor Bill Haslam to abandon is efforts to quash the occupation by passing arbitrary curfews in our Legislative Plaza. He called it a gross overreach and an assault on free speech. When liberal activists can find common ground with someone like that … well, what can I say. It’s a miracle.”
Please also take this week’s Saturday Survey on the Prison-Industrial Complex.
– Dick Price, Editor