Will Occupy Spring Forward or Melt Down?

occupy eat localA healthy debate has finally gripped the Occupy Movement: there is now a discussion over strategy. Most Occupiers have learned that raw enthusiasm alone cannot bring victory to a social movement; ideas matter too. Action divorced from strategy equals wasted energy, divisiveness, diversions and unnecessary mistakes. Not all tactics push the movement forward.

Why this debate now? Anyone paying attention can tell that the Occupy Movement has lost momentum; the winter months showcased increasing amount of actions combined with fewer and fewer people. After taking the lead in national Occupy enthusiasm, Occupy Oakland is doing some soul searching after an attempted building takeover resulted in massive police violence.

Some Occupiers claim that Occupy was simply in winter hibernation, waiting for its own Arab Spring. But the movement in Europe has grown during the same winter months. The movements in the Middle East, Russia, and elsewhere too have voted with their feet against hibernation.

A social movement, by definition, requires masses of participants, without which momentum grinds to a halt; the movement ceases to move.

Numbers matter, and Occupy has been shedding numbers for months. A major reason for this is because Occupiers have swerved drastically left, leaving the broader 99% ashore. If this trend isn’t corrected soon, Occupy will resemble the pre-Occupy left: small isolated groups pursuing their own issues, disconnected from the very broader population that must be involved to actually win any significant demands.

This is the original sin of Occupy: Without first sinking its roots deep enough into the broader population, Occupy marched quickly to the left, unconcerned with who was following. Hopefully Occupy can correct this mistake in time, since not doing so would be fatal fast.

Hopefully, Occupiers have passed through the movement’s immature adolescence. For example, Occupy must shed its focus on radical-themed direct actions that inevitably attract only a couple hundred Occupiers but no one else. Again, this was the strategy of pre-Occupy that has already proved its lack of worth. Mass direction action is truly effective, but that raises the critical question: how to bring the masses of working people to Occupy, and vice versa?

Europe has already answered this question, having passed through the adolescence if its own movement, and now focused on bringing down unpopular governments. Greece, for example, went through an immature stage of rioting that showcased much bravery but could provide no real answers. Now, however, a massive workers movement has emerged, the entire 99% is directly involved in producing gigantic demonstrations that soon evolved into one-day General Strikes, and then two-day General Strikes. A common demand in Greece is now for an “indefinite general strike” to bring down the government and stop austerity, i.e., the massive cuts to public programs — education, health care, social services — and jobs.

Demands matter. The entire Greek population would not be going on strike against capitalism — at this time — or against corporate greed, etc.

Typically, an effective general strike — one where the entire 99% participates — happens after a prolonged struggle over demands that affect all working people, where they are agitated enough to take action in the streets. A general strike is the culmination of this movement, itself the byproduct of reaching out to and connecting with broader and broader layers of working people.

Throughout Europe working people are inspired to fight against austerity. Workers in the United States would likely also be inspired to fight against austerity. Unfortunately, there is no venue to do this. The labor and Occupy Movements have failed to take on the key issues that actually have the potential to unite the U.S. population in a European style social movement.

Austerity is happening fast in the United States; on a state-by-state level massive cuts are being pushed through while taxes on the rich stay low. Health care, education, and social services are being killed on a city, state, and federal level. Public sector jobs are being slashed in an epoch of mass joblessness. Medicare and Medicaid are undergoing a very public attack and Social Security is on the chopping block.

Yes, Occupy is too “radical” to unite around these demands; while the labor movement has acted too timidly. Some Occupiers avoid these demands because they fear Democrat co-optation; labor avoids seriously pressing for these demands because they don’t want to upset the Democrats. This is exactly the point: the Democrats — with the Republicans — are the ones pushing these cuts. Fighting austerity in the United States directly challenges the two-party system, while engaging the broader population into struggle.

shamus cookeWithout struggle there is no movement. If working people do not identify with the issues that Occupy is fighting for, they will not join, and Occupy’s issues will remain un-achievable.

Occupy Oakland has called for a general strike on May Day. Unless conditions change fast, it is unlikely to succeed, and more likely it will put further distance between Occupy and working people, since the 99% will not take Occupy seriously if it calls for actions it cannot organize. Occupy would do better to follow Europe’s example: organize around demands that connect with working people, so that the real power of the majority of working people can be mobilized in the streets.

Shamus Cooke


  1. Joe29 says

    Finally, a coherent article coming from an Occupy supporter. Occupy will die unless it makes a fundamental decision to get involved in the political process (like the Tea Party), elect leaders, and formulate an agenda that people can rally behind.

    Also, as a person of color, Occupy’s leadership appears to be white, crunchy granola, marijuana advocate, radical anarchist types, who have no appeal to minority communities. To put it bluntly, Occupy needs to take a real hard look at itself and ask whether it is consciously or unconsciously trying to discourage minority participation because its Anglo “leaders” want to remain in control?

  2. Eugene Hernandez says

    The one lesson that Occupy should remember is that when mass action groups fail to participate in the political process the lose a lot of their effectiveness and undermine their initial goals. This happened to the Wobblies who refused to join with the Socialist in boycotting elections in the early 1900’s. Obama should not be getting Occupy’s vote( it is not even worth it to discuss the Republican candidates with the exception of Ron Paul who carries some of Occupy’s message and aims.) But a wasted vote for Obama’s re-election would mean more more to the banks, further spying and ending our civil liberties and moving us to a permanent war society at war with the world. Obama has endorsed the placing of over 30,000 drone planes to spy on Occupy They have equipped police dept. with better weapons of war to use against protestors. They have made this a police state by controling the internet. I pray that Occupy see beyond the trick of the Obama administration and VOTE GREEN in November 2012.

  3. marie says

    Not enough people have gotten the right attitude. Most fight just for their own issues and needs, and when those are met they sit down again in front of their entertainment-set.
    There is a lot to learn from watching the Polish movie “Strike” (with English subtitles, on Netflix).
    Only through total solidarity, fighting together, also for the wellbeing of other groups, did they have success and got all their necessary demands met by their government.
    The 1% is working as fast as they can to strip us from any of our possible strengths, to weaken us into sheep-like submission, with more and more subduing laws and regulations. The longer we wait, the more obstacles they will have created.
    It is not so much a matter of Republicans against democrats; it is the super-wealthy, and powerful corporation-owners (and War-Lords) against the rest of humanity. Already in High-school they try to brainwash our children in into militarism.
    We need a very active think-tank of intelligent creative people, to come up with solid strategies. For example moving our money away from the big bad banks, has been an excellent choice. We need much more of that kind.

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