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The many successes of Occupy Wall Street

danps's picture

[Welcome, Shakespeare's Sister readers! --lambert]

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is less than two weeks old but has already proved controversial, even though it has only received sporadic attention from traditional outlets. While it should not come as a huge shock for corporate-owned media to bury an explicitly anti-corporate occupation, there is a political component as well. As Yves Smith points out, the left "is actually deeply divided on the things that matter, namely money and the role of the state." In our post-Citizens United world, Democrats and Republicans in Washington are (or think they are) dependent on those who can move vast sums of cash.

Widespread attention only started when mass arrests and some particularly brutal police behavior last weekend gave the MSM the hook it presumably needed to spill a little ink. Of course, they immediately went for the "kids vs. cops" narrative, and to OWS' enormous and everlasting credit they refused to play along (Kelly Heresy: "And our position has been this entire time that we are not against the cops. The cops are part of the 99%").

All of the above was at least somewhat predictable. Not happy, mind you, but expected. What was not expected (at least by me) was the sharp criticism from the left. Some thought they didn't look nice. I don't really know how to respond to the Mr. Blackwells on the left so I'll just link to Athenae.

But some think OWS is a failure because it lacks direction or purpose, and that seems wrong for a number of reasons. The first is that organizers had the whole wide world from which to choose, and they chose Wall Street. That cannot be a coincidence, right? Could one not infer that a movement called Occupy Wall Street might have something to do with Wall Street even if those involved did not say a single word? Shouldn't that choice of location have communicated a fairly clear purpose?

Second, there does not have to be a set of demands at the outset. This is not The Further Adventures Of Action Item. Organizers are at the "building support" phase, where they get their message out. It seems straightforward to me that by being there day after day they are saying: We object to what has gone on here; we do not agree with it and do not support it; we want it to change. For now, that is message enough. What they need is to get the word out - which, given the informal media blackout, is no small feat. Not everyone is jacked into the Internet, and there is a huge amount of WOMP (word of mouth publicity) required. That is slower, so it will take longer to build up a head of steam.

Concrete demands can wait. As one commenter put it (via):

The FDR liberal impulse is to jump immediately into pre-formed, almost traditional, policies and to prematurely suck off the energy into electoral politics. As process, we (and they) should work the process and hold off on electoral commitments as long as we can. The political environment must be transformed so that people have a voice again before electoral politics can make sense.

The folks there do not need to come out blasting policy prescriptions; they need to get more and more people supporting what they are doing. (And as Angus Johnston wrote from the site, "Folks who say '#OccupyWallStreet should have demands' should be here now. Process is hard. Process is beautiful.")

So, direction? Check. Purpose? Check. If OWS had done nothing else it would already be a success. But wait, there's more! The occupation is now being used to support other nearby efforts. They have supported postal workers and (deliciously) workers at Wall Street's high end auction house. There is at least one union coming out (via) to support OWS in the next few days as well. The site is quickly turning into a general purpose center for area workers.

Still more: The media vacuum has opened up opportunities for voices that otherwise might not have been heard. Sites are popping up with information and pictures from the scene, onsite Twitter users like @Newyorkist, @studentactivism and @fuelnyc have provided invaluable coverage, and anyone following the #occupywallstreet or #ourwallstreet tags has been able to find some great independent sites for news and analysis. See here, here, here and here for example.

Generating attention to an issue that the Beltway wants to go away, building support among disparate groups the old-fashioned way, supporting local workers who might otherwise feel isolated, and breathing oxygen into alternative outlets. The OWS movement has been racking up some really important successes. What's not to like?

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Submitted by Fran on

Don't give the critics much credit. It is young people mostly, because it requires their stamina. And, they are not staying at a nice hotel. They are supposed to look well dressed?! This requires commitment. That is what scares the powers that be.

My son is there now!

Appreciate the reporting!

jest's picture
Submitted by jest on

It's actually one of the great strengths of the movement.

The second a single theme is created, all it would take is one surgical strike at that theme, and it's over.

One of the reasons terror cells are so hard to take down is because there is no leader; the second one develops, all their enemy has to do is take one guy out, and the rest will fall like dominoes.

I think the same applies here.

Besides, when the Tea Party started out, their message was OBAMACAREHITLERDEATHPANELSTAXESKENYANAZIMUSLIMIWANTMYCOUNTRYBACKAAAAAHHHH and for some reason, coherence or a single theme didn't seem to bother them then.

Submitted by lambert on

40 years of rot isn't cauterized by methods or messages taken from the rot. At least, one should be careful and critical.

The "no message!" meme reminds me of the "why don't they dress for success, fer gawdsake?!" Well, because they're sleeping in the park. Could that be it?

Submitted by cg.eye on


They spend their careers taking the real soul-wants of people and twisting, slicing and dicing them to fit what goods they're selling. Aren't we tired of that?

Isn't the slow, steady accretion of consensus that stops to involve all possible stakeholders present, um, *FUCKING DEMOCRACY*?

Isn't that what we say we want -- a stake in the outcome, developed by us, not by representatives that can be bought or bullied off course, because they're just one smaller group with one small demand?

A demand-less collective, for now, scares the hell out of Versailles -- because they can't craft the excuse for those to sell out to explain why they did it. They need lead time, DAMMIT....

And when these whippersnappers that aren't fit to sniff Dr. King's preacher-sweaty undershirts say that they *miss* those clean-cut Negroes who knew how to sit at lunch counters like ladies and gentlemen -- when what those protesters really were were potential victims to lynching, rape and indefinite rendition in Southern jails -- it only shows that those haters only prize optics, not substance.

We've *had* clean-cut doctors get arrested for Medicare for All and against the joke that was the public option; responsible men and women from all walks of life protesting as, bit by bit, we lost our Constitutional rights. (the DNC/RNC roundups, anyone? The millions at the Iraq War protests?) I expect such shallow critique from the divas covering Fashion Week, which is probably what they think it is -- one more meaningless thing they can criticize to show that they *would* have helped.. if only it were cooler. Mean girls could take lessons from them....

Finally, wanting the protest folk to hew to their standard of presentable is like asking for a voter tax -- which I don't see any of those blogger haters paying any time soon.

Submitted by cg.eye on

"Monitoring the behavior of people who were standing up to power so easily took precedence over monitoring the behavior of people in power, as if their actions had equivalent consequences. It's easier to kick down than to punch up, and with our new journalism that equates amoral disinterest with objectivity and passion with bias, the powerless find their mohawks as much of an affront to America as mortgage fraud."

And criticizing protesters for being arrested is just so much more lucrative (nudge-nudge, wink-wink say no more say no more say no more) than criticizing the Administration on rendition, assassination or, oh, prosecuting any bankster from the biggest heist in American history, excluding Native American genocide and land grabs.

And this? Wins the Internet:

"My view on this is pretty simple: The meanest thing a protester could possibly do would be nicer than the nicest thing Dick Cheney has ever done, so until that son of a bitch is in chains in a basement somewhere, you'll pardon me if I can't get too excited about somebody yelling anarchic slogans."

Submitted by gob on

The "message" in what OWS are doing won't fit onto a bumper sticker. That is its strength.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Paul Street warned us about what happened in Madison. The Democrats hijacked a good portion of the movement and moved the energy into the recall election. I am hoping that this movement can stay out of the clutches of the Democrats who are the real threat to this.
This occupation has finally got me out of my depression. I can now jump out of bed again and find out what good stuff is going on instead of dreading the news of the day.