In its Dec 2 edition, The Week asks the question, "Will the crackdown end the movement?" In the following paragraphs, opposing views are presented by columnists from major news outlets from all points on the spectrum.
Arun Gupta of Salon.com asks "Can an occupation movement survive if it no longer occupies a space?" He provides his own answer, saying that the movement can, indeed, survive but it has to change in order to do so. He relates the reaction of Occupy Mobile -- a little-publicized part of the movement that is important for the fact that it sprang up in one of the most conservative cities in the country. After being shut down by city government, the small group staged a silent protest at an ArtWalk being held. The protest involved more than a thousand people according to Jason Carey, cited in the column as one of the participants in the protest and a victim of a police beating during his arrest on the final night of the encampment.
Mike Gavin, columnist for the Wall Street Journal expects Occupiers to concentrate on political results by backing candidates who support their causes. But, he says, "that will be impossible unless somebody takes charge, narrows the focus, and identifies exactly what they want changed." This is no surprise because those who represent and speak to the one percent have never gotten the message of what the movement is all about. It does have a focus and a purpose. This was stated eloquently by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post : "There is a central idea, by the way: Our financial system has been warped to serve the interests of a privileged few at the expense of everyone else."
He continues, "This is a conversation we haven't been having for the past 30 years. For politicians -- and those who pay lavishly to fund their campaigns -- the discussion is destabilizing because it does not respect traditional alignments. For example, white working-class voters are supposed to be riled up against Democrats for policies such as affirmative action and gun control. They're not supposed to get angry with Republicans for voting to bail out the banks and then flatly ruling out the idea of relief on underwater mortgages."
David Carr in the New York Times is quoted in the magazine as saying "The people who make up Occupy Wall Street know enough to sense that a tipping point is at hand. Regardless of how the movement proceeds now that it is not gathered around campfires, its impact on the debate could be lasting and significant. If the coming election ends up being framed in terms of "fairness," the people who took to the streets, battled the police and sat through those endless general assembly meetings will know that even though their tents are gone, their footprint remains."
The problem with a footprint is that it marks the passing of whoever left it. It may provide a path for others to follow, but those who follow cannot join.
But the point being made by all of these respected journalists -- at least on my part -- is vividly accurate: occupation was and should be seen now, as only a beginning. There must be a second chapter -- a next step -- a stronger, louder, more insistent voice that demands, rather than requests, attention.
The occupation phase of the protest -- taken from the same tactics used by Spanish protesters who occupied Madrid's central square for four months to affect changes there -- was a terrific beginning for the expression of dissatisfaction and contempt for what our nation has become. But it is, by its very nature, a passivist method of expression. What is needed now is an activist approach.
To me, the reasons are simple.
What we are dealing with on the opposite side of the ideological battle lines are people who got what they have by being aggressive and assertive. To them, passivity is no more than an invitation to be exploited. The one percent did not get to be the one percent by sitting back and waiting for someone to agree that they should wealthier than God. They got their wealth and their power by pursuing it with zeal, dedication and sometimes ruthlessness. Not only do they not understand passivity, they disdain it, in many cases seeing it in the same contempt that that the 99% see their greed and avarice. These are, in large part, the people who see themselves as 21 st Century warriors locked in battles with their enemies (competitors) in a war where victory belongs to the last man standing.
Of course, this is a generalization, just as it is to say that all wealthy people are greedy and that no one who makes eight or nine figures per year could possibly be part of the Occupy cause. There are always exceptions. But generalizations are generalizations because they are more prevalent than the exceptions and therefore more widely true.
The Occupy Movement can indeed survive -- and succeed. But it will have to change its tactics and its approach to do so. It faces a turning point at this time, and depending on which way it turns, it will erect a new signpost for the future; either it will read "we submit" or "we win."
The first thing that needs to happen -- as happened in Mobile and some other sites around the country -- is to get out of the parks and squares and into the street. Get into the halls of government, into the citadels of business and finance, into the sight lines and earshots of those who need to understand that the movement is real and is not going away.
Secondly, it must relinquish the naivete of absolute anarchy in favor of a more realistic approach. As one philosophy professor I had defined anarchy, it is not the absence of leaders, but the natural emergence of natural leaders. In other words, the anarchy he defined is one where leaders become leaders by their demonstrated worthiness and responsibility to those who allow them to lead, not by election but by consensus. There are leaders within the movement, and good ones, who can set the course for the future. But as long as the movement refuses to acknowledge that leaders are needed, there will be no course set and no course followed. The ship of change will simply wander through one current to the next and aimlessly float wherever those currents take them. If that is true, why should anyone in power pay attention to it? After all, the philosophy of the Soviet Union in dealing diplomatically with the US during the Cold War was to simply wait for the next election. If they couldn't deal favorably with one administration, there would be another come along in no more than eight years, so all they had to do was sit back and keep an eye on the electoral mood to see how to get what they wanted. The same holds true of the one percent. As long as they don't have to confront an organized, focused opposition, they have only to wait until it all blows over.
Thirdly, the activism has to be real and it has to hit where the one percent feels it most. One of the pivotal events in the Civil Rights Movement was the Montgomery (AL) Bus Boycott, now recognized as the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. The boycott lasted 381 days and nearly crippled the Montgomery transit system. It set the tone for hundreds of boycotts around the country, each focused on getting the message home: "If you want what we have, you give us what we want." Even though a large portion of WalMart shoppers agree in principle with the right of the employees to organize and deplore the oppressive management of the company, the corporation still succeeds in its anti-union strategy because those same customers still shop there. As long as WalMart makes money, it has not concern over morality or ethics and why should it? If people truly believed in what they were saying, they'd put it into action, right?
So, if the Occupy Movement wants to create a new economic structure or to level the playing field of the one we have, it needs to put its actions where its thoughts are. I wonder how many Occupiers absentmindedly stop in a Starbucks for their coffee on the way to the protest? How many buy their clothes from national chain stores or run out to buy the latest techno-gadget or download the latest app for their smart phones?
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