Tonight’s musical selection is “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-DMC. It’s that time of year when you hear nothing but Christmas music out and about. I’m not a big Christmas fan. In fact, this song and the Peanuts Christmas album are pretty much the only tunes that don’t make me hate the whole month.
It might have something to do with the fact that I used to work retail.
It seems almost weekly that some oldster will take to the mainstream media to decry the “Millennial” generation — those people now in their twenties, calling them lazy, useless, hopeless. The infamous “worst generation ever” speech on Newsroom is an example of this trope, and I hate it. I have many friends in their twenties, and they are some of the most passionate, activated, hard-working people I’ve ever met, yet the odds are stacked against them in a way no generation in memory has faced.
In These Times has started a series called Generation Hopeless? about young people, their future, and their political place in the world. Here’s the title essay from Matthew Richards:
Occupy didn’t fail due to the lack of a “clear message.” It didn’t fail due to a lack of structure, organization, hierarchy or visible leaders. It wasn’t because Occupy wasn’t radical enough, or wasn’t reasonable enough, or was “too polite” in its protests. It wasn’t because of the narrow-mindedness or egos of the activists.
Occupy was doomed to fail from the start because it faced challenges no other U.S. social movement has had to face. Occupy was created in the midst of a Category 10 shitstorm that involved a hostile American social climate, decades upon decades of brainwashing, a media black-out, an unrelenting foe and an unprecedented amount of police repression.
The Occupy generation was taught from a young age that strangers are to be feared. We were told not to associate with our neighbors. We were made to believe there is a child molester behind every corner and a razor blade in every piece of Halloween candy. We make superficial friendships on social media that make us feel more isolated than ever. Under these conditions, it is incredibly hard for any social movement based on mutual trust, understanding and shared experiences to flourish.
In addition to this, city councils across the country curtailed access to public space. The Occupy movement then became about reclaiming a place to meet.
But the Occupy movement didn’t stand a chance to build a mass movement when the police kept evicting us, and most of the General Assemblies were about how to protect ourselves from police violence. There was too much intimidation, and we didn’t have the time or the influence or the physical space to ever make it sustainable. When the parks were cleared, people resorted to social media, because it’s the only place where my generation knows to go.
But Carl Davidson responds, “If Occupy is a Battle, the First Round is A Success:”
I don’t think Occupy failed, or has even disappeared. But to understand why, you first have to grasp what it was.
Occupy was largely an elemental rising of the “precariat,” today’s new working class, a distressed young generation burdened with debt and facing a precarious future of frequent joblessness in a wider order of savage inequalities. They had the audacity to choose the right target, Wall Street. They had the wisdom to seek allies, the 99% vs. the 1%. For at least a year, they changed the national conversation and spotlighted the main enemy.
Which is not bad at all for your first round. Add to that the personal changes wrought by the communal solidarity of tens of thousands in the 600 Occupy encampments across the United States and on-again, off-again street battles with the police, and you have a new cadre of organizers birthed in rather large numbers.
Richards details the weaknesses as well as anyone. But again, it’s only the first round. One of the lessons I drew from the ’60s was that everything in the universe moves in waves—light, water and social movements, too. Movements ebb and flow. When they ebb, it’s not our fault. What is our fault is whether we have the foresight and capacity to prepare for both ebbing and flowing, to cast out the net when the tides are rising, and to pull it in and consolidate new organizations when they are ebbing, so as to prepare even better for the new surge.
Occupy was a rising of a militant minority, and I’d urge Richards to maintain his audacity even as it gets tempered. But I’d add that Occupy was a militant minority of a progressive majority of the country.
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Photo by Timothy Krause released under a Creative Commons license.