Everyone knows this expression: There was method to his madness.
What does it mean? It means that regardless of how crazy the person acted, no matter how much he appeared to be nuts, behind that facade there was a solid plan, and that plan presumably resulted in successfully achieving what he set out to achieve.
It is this sense of 'method' I'm referring to in the title of this essay.
If there is any doubt about my message, here it is: To mobilize people behind any cause, regardless of how worthy that cause is, regardless of how intrinsically appealing it may be to get these folks marching, singing, chanting, shouting for that cause, if there is no clear strategy which targets an equally clear and obvious outcome, with a realistic expectation that the strategy will achieve that outcome, then the mobilization is a waste of time.
I didn't say it wasn't fun or satisfying. I didn't say it didn't have notable and perhaps positive collateral effects. But I am saying that anyone who thinks that mobilization is some guarantee of making substantial change and achieving desired reforms is surely kidding themselves.
This is why, despite being the biggest mass movement in recent history, OWS completely failed. Spokespersons for OWS will say it didn't fail at all, because it had no preconceived agenda or goals. But that is a frivolous cop out. By the time OWS went international and 'occupy' was attached to everything from towns to shopping malls, labor unions, and even Facebook, there was certainly a goal. It may not have appeared on any official documents, but that was because as an experiment in unstructured, horizontal command-and-control, married to spontaneous democratic expression, any attempt at formalizing anything at all was discouraged and successfully thwarted.
Nevertheless, it was evident to everyone who watched the marches, read the protest signs, listened to the speeches, or was constantly bombarded by the most successful, ubiquitous meme to erupt in colloquial English in the last five decades -- the 1% vs the 99% -- exactly what all of the brouhaha was about.
In the broader sense, it was about the ruling class -- the 1% -- forcing its elitist world view and self-serving agenda on everyone else -- the 99% -- using their privilege and raw power to callously and ruthlessly turn everyday people into serfs.
In a more specific sense, it was about overwhelming, abusive, and anti-democratic wealth inequality. It was hardly random that the movement was started in the heart of America's financial district and the anger and vilification was directed at incomprehensibly wealthy investment bankers and Wall Street high-rollers.
Of course, any thoughtful exploration of these two parallel themes -- monopoly on power and obscene accumulation of wealth -- would naturally conclude that they are inextricably related and mutually reinforcing. Not that there was much analysis going on. The OWS protests were pretty much an 'it's-us-against-them' affair, with lots of noise and bluster, but with absolutely nothing remotely resembling a grab for power anywhere in sight.
Thus, in terms of specific demands, it was quite common for news commentators to ask: What do the protestors want?
This was a legitimate if mostly rhetorical question. As a matter of record, there were no actual demands aired by the movement, much less tacit undercurrents of a coup d'etat.
There weren't any coherent demands, no specific policy proposals, not even obvious ones. It wouldn't have been out of place, as an example, to at least talk about GBI -- guaranteed basic income -- as a conspicuous path to begin addressing the grotesque level of wealth inequality.
There were no hard and fast calls for student debt forgiveness, free college education, mortgage default relief, capping credit card interest rates, free access to universal health care, and a host of other palliatives which would have somewhat reduced the wealth gap.
This is not a criticism of OWS or anyone who bobbled up, even if temporarily, from the rank-and-file to take credit -- or blame, depending on where you stand in judgment -- for what happened. OWS was an intriguing and inspiring new experiment in activism, which attempted to skirt the usual pitfalls of hierarchical, top-down organization. It was what it was, and I believe should be respected for that.
But that doesn't prevent us from learning from it, and taking every precaution to not make the same mistakes again.
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