November 2011, Week 3


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Thu, 17 Nov 2011 23:53:35 -0500
text/plain (304 lines)
Occupy Movement at the Crossroads - What Next (two views)

* Occupy Movement at the Crossroads (Randy Shaw in Beyond 
* OWS: R.I.P.? (Michael Engel in MR Zine)


Occupy Movement at the Crossroads

by Randy Shaw

Beyond Chron - San Francisco's Alternative Online Daily
November 15, 2011


Two months after launching, the Occupy movement faces a
critical test. Since drawing worldwide attention to the
unequal distribution of wealth in the United States, and
becoming a powerful voice for "the 99%," the movement has
become ensnared in local battles over the right to camp in
public places.

For some, the control of public space goes to the heart of
the Occupier's agenda, as the guardians of these spaces are
seen as also protecting the 1%. For others, battles with
local governments and police forces distract from focusing
on Wall Street and the economic elite.

Regardless of how one comes down on this question, the media
coverage and messaging of the movement has shifted from the
1% vs. 99% struggle to battles over the right to camp. And
energies devoted to battling police at Occupy Oakland,
Occupy Portland and other spaces are not being spent
occupying banks, hedge funds, foreclosed homes, and other
tangible targets of the initial Occupy drive.

Successful movements must be flexible enough to change
tactics in the face of roadblocks, and activists' camping in
public spaces is not strategically necessary for the
movement's success.

In the past few days, police actions in Oakland and Portland
(and at Wall Street's Zucotti Park this morning) have
highlighted the shift of media coverage of the Occupy
movement from struggles by the 99% against the 1% to battles
with police and local governments over the right to camp in
public places. Public discussion of Occupy is also focusing
on the struggle by campers to hold their turf, with abuses
by financial institutions a secondary topic. Public Squares
vs. The 1%

Does a movement to redress income inequality have to camp
overnight in public squares to succeed? I don't think so.

Occupy galvanized the nation by highlighting the obscene
control of the nation's wealth by the 1%, and our political
system's inability to correct this. The takeover of a
private park near Wall Street offered a perfect symbol for
Occupy's economic inequality message.

After Occupy Wall Street, activists in hundreds of other
cities sought to replicate its transformation of a public
space into a campaign headquarters. While many questioned
sustaining such campgrounds come winter, the more imminent
threat came from local authorities that did not want
overnight camping in their public squares.

If the Occupy movement had originally emerged as a strategy
to takeover public squares rather than to redistribute
wealth, it would not have so captivated the world. Yet now
we have activists across the nation rushing to defend Occupy
campgrounds against police evictions, with many suggesting
that reclaiming public space, rather than income inequality
was what the movement has always been about.

These expressions of solidarity with Occupy campers are
understandable. But if the movement spends the next weeks
battling police and local governments over public spaces,
critical momentum will be lost and potentially dramatic
direct actions highlighting inequality will not occur.

With many religious groups, unions and nonprofits backing
Occupy, there are plenty of available buildings in which
activists can operate local chapters of the movement. The
African-American civil rights movement, anti-war campaigns,
and nearly every other social justice struggle has grown
without supporters camping out in public places, so it is
not clear why some believe Occupy's success depends on this

A Movement in Infancy

The Occupy movement is less than two months old. Its
remarkable success in its short life can cause us to forget
the normal time trajectory for successful social movements.

The Civil Rights Movement had proceeded for decades before
Rosa Parks? refused to move to the back of the bus in 1955,
and it took another nine years after the Montgomery Bus
Boycott? for the key federal civil rights bills to pass.

Cesar Chavez?  began his quest to organize a farmworkers
union in 1962, and it took thirteen years before the
California Agricultural Labor Relations Act was enacted.

The list could go on and on.

In every successful movement, tactics and strategies change
as the situation demands. This flexibility overcomes
roadblocks, and puts authorities on the defensive as they
try to anticipate what activists will think of next.

The Occupy movement's takeover of public spaces worked for a
time, but has now become a diversion. There is no shame in
abandoning a fight over camping in public spaces that was
always a means to an end.

Wall Street does not fear battles between police and
activists in Oakland's Frank Ogawa (renamed Oscar Grant?)
Plaza. But it has to be concerned when thousands of non-
campers march as part of the November 2 Oakland General
Strike, raising the specter of ongoing direct actions
targeting the 1%.

On Thursday, November 17, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, CWA and the
Laborers' Union are joining with Occupy Wall Street and
groups like MoveOn.org and the American Dream Movement for
"We are the 99 percent" rallies. These events commemorate
the two-month birthday of Occupy, and will hopefully be part
of a refocusing of the movement on its original goals.

The eviction of campers is not a "defeat" for Occupy, nor
even a setback. And if it redirects activist energies toward
the 1% and away from local police, Wall Street and its
allies will regret not pushing to allow the camping to

[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.]


OWS: R.I.P.?

by Michael Engel 

MR Zine
November 16, 2011


If Occupy Wall Street is to develop into a movement that
actually prompts serious political and economic change, it
should disband the "tent cities" on its own.  Local
government authorities are actually doing OWS a favor by
pushing it out of the parks.  Continued occupation can only
serve the interests of those who favor violent
confrontations, either among the police or among the
protesters.  It also allows the mainstream media, which has
up to now been forced to recognize the issues raised by the
protests, to focus instead on the violence and thereby
delegitimize the movement.

OWS has been most creative in coining slogans.  The new one
now should be "Out of the Parks, Into the Communities."
This shift could truly be a step forward in challenging the
power structure.  But unless participants in the movement
abandon their explicit rejection of the organizational
elements that lead to political victory -- ideology,
structure, and leadership -- exit from the parks may instead
result in its demise.

Recent episodes in the Doonesbury strip satirized this
rejection.  Cartoonist Garry Trudeau portrays a protester
being interviewed wearing a bag over his head to avoid being
identified as a leader.  A crowd of protesters in the strip
chant: "What do we want?  Nothing!  When do we want it?

If we are to make the ruling classes tremble, that has to

OWS has taken pride in attracting supporters with a
multiplicity of different agendas.  In the short run, this
may be a useful strategy.  But in the long run, failure to
take a comprehensive look at the ideas and values that unite
or divide a movement makes it impossible to find a common
direction.  Sympathetic and constructive critics of the
movement have repeatedly asked the question: What do you
want?  The answer cannot be a laundry list of causes and
issues, regardless of their worthiness.  A movement has to
discuss and deal with ideology.  That word strikes dread
into the hearts of many on the left; it is, in American
society, a loaded term with unpleasant implications and
associations.  But if it is defined to refer to a coherent
and consistent system of ideas and values about how society
is and should be organized, there can be no such thing as a
"non-ideological" or "non-programmatic" approach to
political organizing, as the Tea Party knows all too well.
In a vain attempt to achieve a comfortable but illusory
"consensus," OWS has thus far avoided serious collective
discussion of what a new world might look like.  Slogans
like "We're the 99%" may make good bumper stickers, but
ultimately organizations have to examine critically the
dominant ideology of American society, decide explicitly the
extent to which they want to challenge it, and organize
themselves consciously on the conclusions they reach.  Once
OWS is out of the parks, that painful and difficult
discussion will have to begin.

Leadership is not an easy concept to define.  The radical
right has no problem with that: It means an elite group that
calls the shots.  The mainstream literature on leadership is
firmly grounded in corporate managerial theories and
perspectives.  The left today, on the other hand, has failed
miserably to define its own alternative models, and in fact
has often unthinkingly adopted those of the mainstream or,
like OWS, disavowed the need for it.  In part this is a
result of events in the 1960s.  What remained after
assassinations on one end and co-optation on the other was a
mistrust of leaders because it appeared the good ones got
killed, and the others sold out or abused their power.  The
predominance of males in leadership and the male chauvinist
styles they brought to that position created additional
problems.  The movements of that time, which avoided
established leadership in favor of participatory democracy,
never succeeded in finding a way of training and developing
democratic leadership that could continue their struggles.

That is absurdly self-defeating.  If the goal is to build a
different kind of society, groups on the left such as OWS
need to formulate -- or more precisely, rediscover from
their own history -- specific ideas on what a leader is and
should be, and devote energy to the task of developing a
leadership group.

Structure is a formal organizational arrangement and
decision-making process of some kind insuring that
individual members -- especially if they are leaders -- are
answerable for their actions to a broader constituency.  The
fear of elite dominance that can result from this type of
organization has led to the formulation of unstructured
alternatives such as the OWS "General Assembly."  Supposedly
this keeps things loose and informal, and thus ostensibly
more democratic.  The consensus model of decision-making is
preferred to majority rule; ad hoc "affinity groups" --
cohesion by choice -- are considered less restrictive than
formal membership arrangements.  But the real result of this
arrangement is exactly the opposite, as those with the
strongest motivation to lead, the best public speaking
skills, or the most "charisma" end up taking charge.  Clear
structure is in fact the only guarantee of democracy, and
the only protection against arbitrary decision-making or
factional takeovers.  It is also the only guarantee of group
survival.  Groups on the left must adopt coherent models of
structure and decision-making that clarify and routinize
lines of accountability without sacrificing democratic
procedures.  This, too, is a complex and difficult task, but
it cannot be avoided.

None of this can happen in tent cities.  Thus far, OWS has
had a magnificent impact on national and international
politics.  It has turned the public debate away from
comparing models of austerity and towards discussions about
ending economic inequality.  The mass media has been forced
to pay attention to the issues it has raised.  It has
seriously shaken the ruling elites.  It would be an historic
disaster of the first magnitude if all this were to go to
waste.  If this is not to be the fate of OWS, protesters
should leave the parks, return to their communities, connect
with each other on their home turf, begin to organize
themselves for the long haul, and recognize that ideology,
leadership, and structure are essential elements of a
movement that has the capacity to transform the world.

[Michael Engel is Professor Emeritus of Political Science,
Westfield State University (MA); a former local elected
official (Easthampton, MA); and an independent candidate for
US House, 2010.  He has been a political, community, and
union activist since the 1960s.]



Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

Submit via email: [log in to unmask]

Submit via the Web: http://portside.org/submittous3

Frequently asked questions: http://portside.org/faq

Sub/Unsub: http://portside.org/subscribe-and-unsubscribe

Search Portside archives: http://portside.org/archive

Contribute to Portside: https://portside.org/donate