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Occupying a Common Cause

By       Message Leslie Pickett     Permalink
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I was at the Occupy DC protest today, and I think it's fair to say that this Occupy Movement is still in the fetal stage of development.  A dozen or more reporters must have asked me the same question:  "Why are you here?"  Meaning,   "What is *your* issue?" 

There's an understanding behind that question that goes well beyond "I can't package a story without a cute catchphrase comprised of less than 10 syllables."  Nor is it just the sense of a drifting cloud that will soon disperse and go home to watch American Idol.   It's the understanding that as well-organized (or even moderately organized) groups coalesce under the Occupy umbrella, there's a very real potential for a fractious and divisive energy to grow.  And quickly.  We have to understand and remember that these are all special interest groups, no matter how they present themselves.  They may have a larger theme of "social justice" or "economic reform" , but every one of the groups that I saw handing out flyers had a particular flavor of social justice and economic reform.   That isn't a bad thing.   But when they've lent their support and organization and money to an effort, there's an expected payoff.  So when this group or that one feels that their pet cause isn't getting the anticipated notice, there's a powerful sense of indignation, followed by a battle for control of the conversation.   All of which occurs behind the scenes, away from the ears of the masses on the mall or the reporters panting for a soundbite.   There's a real danger that the power struggle backstage could seriously cripple or even kill the movement before it gets out of its infancy, and while everyone out front is still holding hands and wondering who is going to speak next.   Worse still, it could open the door to allowing the loudest and angriest rhetoric to become the most attractive, if only by virtue of its sheer certainty.   Should leadership emerge that way, the movement will almost certainly fail. 

That said, it seems to me that the private and corporate ownership of all 3 branches of government is the one overriding concern at the heart of the Occupy Movement.   All roads lead to Rome.   Whether it's the wars, the banking industry fraud, the institutionalized racism/sexism, the unemployment, or any of a dozen other effects, the United States government as a wholly owned subsidiary of XXX, Inc. is the cause.   How we address the slaying of this Hydra as a loosely organized network of grassroots activists remains unclear.   But this is at least one issue that we can safely agree upon.   It certainly isn't a new theme.   I would posit that Obama made it into the White House in large part on the strength of a common dream; that a nearly unknown newcomer could rise up on the strength of private $20 donations, uncorrupted by the interests of big business and political moguls.   So for now, we have a clear Common Enemy that resonates within a huge segment of the population, crossing racial, economic, and even partisan lines.   And it's in our best interest as a movement to keep that unifying theme in sight at all times.  

It's easy enough to get caught up in the enthusiasm that accompanies a formal examination of grievances and plan of action.   We make a lot of progress quickly, and the certainty of purpose is a relief and a blessing after such a long wait.   But I think that we need to be clear within ourselves, as individuals and as members of a wide network of activists, that our common purpose is one of service to a greater cause; that of democracy and justice.   Not every grievance will be fully addressed in equal measure from the outset, and we must be prepared for that reality.   A bit of detachment will be an ally in the coming weeks and months.   This movement will not be a sprint.   It's a marathon, for sure.   And if we want to make it to the finish line, we'll need patience, fortitude, and forbearance, not just for the opposing forces without, but for those within. 

DC Freedom Square occupants in discussion group, talking about Justice and the Prison System
photo by Rob Kall

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Liberal Arts fanatic, sometime artist, mystic, dreamer, and (practically) lifelong Democratic Socialist.

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