There’s been a common theme lately of calling for a new OWS. I would be overjoyed if all of these calls were in fact calls for a new OWS. But they aren’t. I want to make clear that this isn’t necessarily an attack on people making these calls. They make them for different reasons, and those reasons are often reasons I agree with. But, they are in fact calls for a completely different movement, one that bears little if any resemblance to OWS. I’m going to go through the common refrains of what “the movement” needs and my responses to them.
Let me say first that I think that people really mean that they want another successful and visible social movement when they say they want another OWS they really . I’m completely on board with that, I want another movement with the energy of Occupy. The problem is that the things that made OWS successful are exactly the things people are calling to change.
1) Occupy just needs to occupy the voting booth
There’s a lot wrong with this one. I’ll start with the base assumption that the people involved in Occupy didn’t vote. The majority of people who participated in Occupy voted. I’d bet that the majority voted for candidates that most progressives would agree with. Worse than that though is the idea that there were enough occupiers to actually swing an election. There were about ten thousand of us across the country at the height of everything. It seems hopelessly naive to think that ten thousand people across the country could affect change by voting alone. They couldn’t.
So what exactly is it that occupying the voting booth is suppose to mean? It clearly can’t mean just going out and voting, because that’s already happening for the most part. The other side of that is going out and campaigning for candidates and causes. Of course, this is a democratic website, so it’s not surprising that people would be advocating for voting in the right candidates, presumably candidates from the Democratic Party. Of course, this is never followed up with the actual candidates to be voted or campaigned for, and when it is they’re the same old dems that are already in office or are “electable.” Or the quixotic quest for a primary that will get attacked every time as being a progressive purity quest.
But really, what we’re talking about here is business as usual. Calls for OWS to be another wing of the Democratic Party. We’re talking about OWS as doing the *exact* same thing as MoveOn or OFA. Literally the exact same thing in regards to voting.
2) Occupy needs leaders
This one is fun because it’s always terribly unspecific. Occupy “needs leaders” but no one can point to the actual leaders that occupy should follow. There just needs to be a leader there, leading and stuff. Of course, not only can people not point to actual leaders, they can’t explain how we should chose a leader. Paradoxically, folks like Trotskyists or Maoists are brought up constantly as an example of what not to do, despite the fact that they are the leaders out there offering to lead. The irony here of course is that Occupy was constantly criticized for not having goals and specifics, and yet the people who are calling for leaders are just as vague. They “want leaders.”
And all that is leaving behind the practical aspects of the issue. What happens with to a leader once they’re there? How do you maintain accountability while keeping people following them? Because based on my experience you have a choice of one of the two. Otherwise you dump the best leaders because they’ve got some horrible flaws, just like all your heroes have terrible flaws.
3) We need demands
This one is funny, because the problem was really the opposite. We had demands. We had a statement that we put out a couple of weeks after we had started the occupation in NYC. Strangely, despite the constant calls for demands the media completely ignored what we said. What everyone wanted was some specific policy recommendation that they could tear to shreds. The fact of the matter is that we’re beyond policy recommendations. Sure, there’s some policies that could help, but what people seemed to want was a treasure map. A perfect game plan that would lead to the solution. But that doesn’t exist.
Even politicians don’t have that sort of solutions. It’s literally impossible to have the solution that people wanted from us because that solution was something that no one group of people could know. The whole point of occupy was that we’ve all got a piece of the puzzle and we have to work together to know what the answer is. There isn’t one answer, there can’t be because there isn’t one situation we’re all in. I can’t know how to help a black woman living in the ghetto of St. Louis because I don’t know what the problem is, I haven’t experienced it. What I can do is listen to what people have to say and we can all work on synthesizing the solution between ourselves. That’s not easy. It’s really fucking hard most of the time. You have to listen to people that you think are stupid and repetitive and naive. And you have to figure out the common ground between you and them. And we did that and agreed on a bunch of things.
And then what we agreed upon was completely ignored.
4) Purge the Anarchists
This is related to point number one, although a lot of anarchist do vote, so it’s very different as well. The basic idea here is that Anarchists are somehow politically untouchable. At best they’re fools, at worst bent on destruction and terrorism. Of course either version ignores the fact that Occupy would probably never have happened, and certainly wouldn’t have succeeded without Anarchists. Yes, Anarchists have broken windows. Yes, Anarchists threw things into the street. Yes, Anarchists don’t respect property rights and by extension property. And, this is the most important one, yes, Anarchists don’t play well on TV. People are afraid of the damn word. Most people here are.
And yet a rag tag bunch of Anarchists managed to kick off the most successful social movement in the last two decades. And you want to purge those people. Literally the people who fed Occupy. The people who organized and sustained it. And those people were the problem? The fact of the matter is that people with radical politics are more likely to be active, more likely to take risks like the risks we took in New York.
To be fair, I suppose we’re making progress as no one was calling to purge the communists and socialists. So we’ve got that. Although that may speak more to the prominence of those two groups in the movement as opposed to how people view them.
Let me make clear here that there are plenty of people who are calling for a new Occupy Wall Street that is substantially similar to the old one, or who are still working with the old one, it isn’t dead yet; but, I see comments on the need for a new Occupy again and again and I hope I’ve explained why those calls are not for an actual Occupy when combined with these sorts of conditions I talked about in this diary.
So where does that leave us? What is to be done?
Elsewhere I’ve pointed out what I think three of the biggest failures of Occupy were. 1) Being stuck in the occupations and not going out and canvassing and organizing door to door and block to block in a cohesive way. I blame this in part on our focus on PR and media, which caused other problems as well in terms of how we organized. 2) Marginalized people were still marginalized. Women who participated were still more likely to end up in the kitchen or cleaning up while men were more likely to be speaking out as “idea people”. We weren’t worse than society in general at this but it was a problem. 3) We never converted action into a tangible victory except in a few isolated cases because of the first two problems. Working out solutions to these problems should be the first step forward in building a new movement, and the common complaints about Occupy don’t address them at all.
Photo by cadillacdeville2000 released under a Creative Commons license.