As media attention to Occupy dwindles to a faint echo in the background, many people are asking themselves what happened and whether the dream of revolutionary change it inspired can still be realized. Finding the answer requires us to thoroughly and unflinchingly critique its successes and failures in light of historical precedents provided by previous efforts to effect radical change.
You say you want a Revolution? Well you know, we all want to change the world.
Many of the lessons learned in the 60s in the struggle for the rights of women, Blacks and the Peoples of the United States and other nations were nicely summarized in the Beatles' classic song Revolution. Ironically, the song was not calling for political revolution but suggested that individual transformation was enough to change the world. Sadly, that has proven not to be the case. Once the immediate crisis of the Vietnam war passed, the urgency of the need for individual and national soul searching seemed to pass with it. We are now paying the price for having not demanding democracy at the time, when so many had seen through the lie and so many had died to expose it.
You say you got a real solution. Well, you know, we'd all love to see the plan.
Efforts to unify to fight an oppressive system that is crushing the life out of the middle class, destroying American society and perverting the American dream into a nightmare from which many U.S. citizens have yet to awaken will not succeed without a comprehensive strategy. The most fundamental flaw in the Occupy movement was the stubborn insistence of the leaders of this "leaderless" movement that having a specific agenda would be counter to the spirit of Occupy.
You ask me for a contribution. Well, you know, we're all doing what we can.
The Occupy movement has been largely led by youth who for the most part have little or no understanding of the lessons to be learned from revolutionary movements from the 1920s to the 1960s. Many of us who had lived through the last such effort in the 1960s tried to be heard but were ignored by those who each had their own agendas but no plan to realize them. The movement was doomed from the start by the essential split between those who understand that societal change is a process and those who naively expected that somehow they could unify the 99% and transform American society by demanding it, while simultaneously calling for abandonment of the electoral process.
This rigid mindset is as fruitless as that of American society in general, the majority of whose members are so deluded by their own assumptions about what is "politically possible" that they can't see the need for revolutionary change. The problem is not so much the dysfunctional political process itself as it is blind adherence to a failed approach that assumes that only by working within the existing political power structure can the people of the United States acquire the power to change it.
Party loyalists believe that despite an increasingly uphill battle to elect candidates who will put their interests over those of the 1%, somehow they will make progress if they just work harder for the politicians now in office who got there in the current system. They have no higher aspiration than to elect more candidates from their own party in the blind hope that somehow they will do the right thing if they have a large enough majority, despite the fact that both parties have come to put re-election of its members over all other interests. The primary reason that Congress has about a ten percent approval rating is that its members are beholden to their corporate backers and the rich. That guarantees ineffective reform of campaign finance at best, until we can make a candidate's stance on the issue the deciding factor in congressional elections around the country.
The debate about whether Occupy supporters should be reformers or revolutionaries missed the point that both are required to create fundamental change that will stand the test of time. In a society whose dominant response to Occupy ranged from apathy to ridicule to violent reprisal, revolution will first require constitutional reformation of the electoral process, which in itself would require a revolutionary change in political consciousness. This can only happen if voices are encouraged to emerge from the anarchy of Occupy which can compellingly articulate the values that bind Occupiers to the rest of the 99% and the need to unite behind an effective strategy of political reform with the goal of creating a revolutionary change in the US government.
Loyalty to the Democratic and Republican Parties is a major reason for resistance to change. As long as party stalwarts continue to treat politics as a war between conservatives and liberals, they cannot achieve the consensus necessary to force their representatives to respond to the demand to work together to serve the interests of the 99% and not those of corporations and the rich. When the terms conservative and liberal are used in their traditional meanings, it is clear that neither major party can be said to be truly either, since neither tradition has historically held corporate power over government to be a fundamental value. While the Republican Party may have abandoned this principle long ago, Democrats have to do more that pay lip service to checking corporate power to regain the trust liberals used to invest in their party. As long as they assume that winning elections depends on putting corporate interests over those of people, they will not serve those who elected them but those who paid for their campaigns.
In its effort to distance itself from a corrupt political system, Occupy missed a crucial opportunity to marry libertarian support for Occupy with liberal ideals that could have served as the basis of building the mass political movement with the potential to Take Back America for the People. We cannot afford to miss such opportunities to forge links between the self-identified Left and Right if we are serious about wanting revolutionary change.