Defying Skeptics, Occupy Wall Street is Winning Over Mainstream

art pope

North Carolina right-wing political fixer Art Pope.

A surprising shift has occurred in mainstream attitudes toward the openly anti-corporate Occupy movement: after first ignoring and then downplaying the effort, skepticism has given way to praise. While some continue to draw foolish parallels to the Tea Party – always part of the Republican Party, while Occupy activists are working outside electoral politics – even political moderates like New York Times media critic David Carr now describe Occupy with respect. And conservatives are increasingly angry at Occupy’s throwing a spotlight on startling income inequality in the United States. An exasperated FOX News anchor told Occupy activists to “go take a shower,” and conservative pundit David Brooks falsely associated the Occupy movement with anti-Semitism. Occupy activists have again reminded progressives of the importance of going beyond electoral politics in challenging economic injustice.

If you are among those still wondering if the Occupy movement sweeping the nation is sustainable, read Jane Mayer’s article “State for Sale” in the October 10, 2011 New Yorker. Mayer paints a stark picture of how right-wing millionaire Art Pope, little known outside of North Carolina, has used to wealth to effectively buy control of the State Legislature.

Like her landmark piece August 30, 2010 on the Koch Brothers war against Obama, what makes Mayer’s story on Art Pope so significant is that Pope is another wealthy right-wing plutocrat who has gained vast political and economic power – and has done so without media scrutiny.

randy shawPope’s agenda, like the Koch Brothers, promotes the interests of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. And Pope has achieved his power through the United States system of democracy, which even before Citizens United allows the most uneven playing field for the wealthy in the Western world.

Mayer shows how Pope has used foundations, non-profit institutions and other legal means to effectively rig the electoral game in his favor. And that’s why activists cannot simply battle Pope or other right-wing interests by the standard rules, but must instead chart their own course – as is happening with Occupy Wall Street.

Directly Pressuring Wall Street

After writing a book on the farmworker’s movement and its success at mobilizing national consumer boycotts to pressure large corporations, I wondered why similar grassroots, non-electoral strategies did not target Wall Street. Activist disappointment (for some bordering on depression) over President Obama’s lack of aggressive action was certainly one reason, and it may have taken the worsening of the nation’s economic crisis to galvanize action.

But now that Occupy has begun, there is no turning back. Even the largest activist campaigns often start with small steps, as those who attend a rally increasingly feel comfortable using more confrontational direct action tactics. We saw this increasing activist influx happen with the African-American civil rights movement, UFW boycotts, anti-Vietnam War activism, the anti-nuclear power campaign, the Central American Solidarity movement and other grassroots progressive movements through the end of the 20th century.

But we did not see such sustained progressive movements over the past decade. This is largely because the dangers of the Bush Presidency justifiably compelled activists into prioritizing electoral politics. But as the Obama years and the rise of people like North Carolina’s Art Pope have shown, putting all progressive eggs into the electoral basket has proven a mistake.

Now progressive activists are playing a game by their own set of rules. Conservatives know how to win elections; but they have not figured out how to squelch a growing movement targeted at Wall Street and specific corporate behavior.

Occupiers are too smart to fall into the trap of measuring success by demands granted and/or new regulations on Wall Street behavior passed. They have already reframed the national debate and forced even the national Democratic Party to at least rhetorically embrace their demand for reining in Wall Street.

Will, as Paul Krugman asks, the Occupy Wall Street protests “change the national direction”? Well, the election of Obama and a Democratic-controlled House and Senate in 2008 did not meaningfully change Wall Street’s control over the economy and the political process – so that’s a tall order.

randy shawBut what we do know, as Krugman also points out, is that the super-rich and their political allies are angry. And they appear more upset about Occupy Wall Street than they were about Obama’s election, which Wall Street insiders apparently knew would not threaten their control.

Unlike Obama, Occupy activists have no hesitation about waging “class warfare.” And like the Freedom Riders, UFW boycotters, ACT UP die-in activists and anti-nuke blockaders of the past, the Occupy Wall Street activists will not be bound by their opponents’ rules, but will instead seek economic justice by all nonviolent means necessary.

Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron

Randy Shaw is author of The Activist’s Handbook and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.


  1. Michail Kalman says

    Historically all mass movements, and this one is no exception, that is leaderless and aimless, a “happening” so to speak, eventually falls into the clutches of a small, well organized, well financed, group that has a clear (though not necessarily overt) agenda. Such groups have taken over in the past in the US (SDS and Black Panthers come readily to mind) and around the world (Mullahs in Iran, Muslim Brotherhood in Arab Spring, etc.). Watch how this metamorphosis takes place with OWS, as those steeped in radical revolutionary education, funded by well-meaning billionaires, supported by naive intellectuals and their fellow travelers, start quietly injecting violence here and there to first test the reaction of the authorities and with the help of the ever compliant and gullible MSM, escalates and escalates. Their aim is clear, to overthrow the current system of government and install their brand of left wing dictatorship. Just read a little history of revolutionary movements in the 20th Century. Those who fail to heed the lessons of history are bound to re live it.

  2. David Kendall says

    I’m not sure any sort of ‘leadership’ would improve the situation. But I agree this is not a so-called ‘non-violent’ demonstration that someone like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would endorse. Damage to persons or property (whether public or private) is a violation which Dr. King never advocated.

    Moreover, this so-called ‘movement’ generally dismisses every principle of nonviolent direct action that Dr. King pursued. It has no singular purpose or direction. In other words, it has no specific goal and no specific target. It also places its participants in danger of injury or death without any formal training. But most of all, it has no economic leverage.

    To quote Dr. King directly, this so-called ‘movement’ has no “constructive coercive power”. Instead, it appears to be exactly the opposite. It tends to be a fairly destructive effort with little or no power to impose its unspecified demands upon either rational or irrational forms of authority.

    But this is a pitiful shame, because now seems like an appropriate time for a far more organized ‘protest’ against the established structures of authority. Instead of causing people to gather randomly in the streets, perhaps social media will become a viable means of building a new system through community economic development. And who knows? Maybe this is precisely where the ‘movement’ will be headed, once the smoke clears and the snow melts in the spring.

  3. hwood007 says

    I judge people by their actions. I have no problem with people marching for what they believe. While doing so, they must not break the law, they must not harm the porperty of others, which include publlic property as we all own that. They must not trash the location where they marched.

    Looking at what the tea party did I saw people that picked up the park area better than when they arrived. I saw couples, many with their children, I saw no one harming public or private property.

    What I see today is not a peaceful march, it is different in every way from what the tea party folks did. It could have been so much better with a little leadership.

    • pigdog67 says

      The Tea Party has done nothing. ‘Nothing’. Where is the balanced budget? We need to cut 1.5 Trillion per year in Federal spending to balance the Federal budget. Thats 30 million additional job losses at 50K USD per job. Bring it on. The Tea Party has been coopted by the Republican party which supports big government so long as the money goes in the ‘right’ pocket. If the Tea Party was for real they would have started their own political party. They are worse than useless…
      The Republicans coopted the Libertarians. No true Libertarian would even sit in the same room with a Republican and would certainly not be in the Republican party. Which means Ron Paul is a fake also… I would vote for Ron Paul if he ran as an independent. But his running as a Republican indicates a lack of integrity.


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