I am not going to go into my entire history of thinking about the Occupy Wall street movement (OWS). It’s too painful and annoying, but I want to get this out. It’s late, I am tired, and this will probably be filled with really bad typos and worse grammar. It’s going to go out anyway. I’ll have the cat edit it in the morning.
After first being contemptuous of what I saw as an ill-conceived vanity protest movement, about ten days ago, I sensed a tipping point in public and global attitude toward the OWS “movement,” and feared it would sweep all of our hard work to rebuild the President’s stature away.
Uncertain of its origins, questioning of its founders, and entirely doubtful of its fundamentals, I was nonetheless disturbed by how dismissive the Progressive community was being toward an expression of anger at what has become, unquestionably, a dysfunctional society that is on the verge of total meltdown. Sure, the kids banging drums and holding up dog-earred signs were disheveled and disorganized, but… they were also quite right. The system our ancestors built for us has devolved into a vicious plutocratic fireswamp that is consuming almost everything and everyone, and they are damned right to be scared and angry about it. We should ALL be scared and angry about it. And at least they were doing what mainstream progressives should have done years ago: taken this fight to the streets.
But I was also conflicted. I know the value of organization and planning. I know the value of messaging. I know the value of inclusiveness and pluralism, and I also know that anarchist societal modeling is fun theory to talk about over coffee, but as a practical matter, its track record at governance is exactly nothing. After poking around for 10 days, I came to the realization that the structural deficiencies of this “organization” were enormous. Not the logistics of the protesting; that was actually being handled fairly well. But rather, they had no real collaborative scheme to craft any kind of substantive policy goals or legislative missions. There was just no there there. It was, in the words of @JAMeyerson, “all about creating the crisis” and “letting *them* solve the problem.” (Them, I assumed, being the very people who had destroyed our country in the first place. Just not my first choice of fixers.)
Whether it had any real chance of success or not, I felt there would be three primary outcomes. It would either peter out and die quickly, or reach a take-off point where it would be in a position to hurt of help Obama’s re-election effort. The latter was something that I feel must happen, or such protests may never be likely to happen again. Call that hyperbole if you wish, but I believe it. This right wing has virtually no respect for people or precedent, and they won’t give total voter suppression a second thought from here on out. A second-term Obama veto is the ONLY chance we have of mitigating what is almost certainly going to be a Republican Senate. We may not have solutions to anything yet, but losing control of that body to these quite insane Republicans would be like trying to fix a hole in the hull of a sinking boat by first widening the hole.
And yes, while it was helping the President’s re-election, it might also popularize some really good policy ideas which I’ve advocated for a long time, including campaign reform, financial reform, a short term capital gains tax, a stock share sales tax, and a return to a far more progressive income tax
Until Van Jones and Natalie Foster revealed the amount of planning that had gone into the Rebuild The Dream movement, I really had little faith in our fragmented Left doing much of anything by November of 2012, that could save the White House or the Senate. Ironically, just a few days before they did reveal it at the Takeback11 conference, I decided to get involved with #ows and see if this “movement” was really as open and pluralistic as they were suggesting it was, and whether we could channel all that anger and energy in a productive way toward re-electing the President and enough progressives to actually reboot the nation.
Since I quickly learned that they needed server capacity at Occupywallst.org, I was able to get my friends at @alternet to underwrite it. Doing this, and other good deeds for them, let me see some of the inner workings a bit closer up, and try to approach things as any good faith supporter might.
And I did see some good things. I saw an interesting process of formless, leaderless organizing, that, as with the Open Source Software community from whence it came, achieve some pretty interesting results in some cases. But I also so endless layers of disorganization and fail, and a Pollyanna vision of the world that seemed to suggest that revolution would be as simple as a first session of Angry Birds on an Ipad. I knew better.
Then came the John Lewis video. I had made many apologies thus far, but how in the fuck could anyone with any capacity to forge solutions or coalitions, not get that John Lewis wasn’t just another politician they could mute with their “no top down hierarchical leadership icons ever” dictum. He was the closet thing to a role model living today when it comes to organizing and protesting for change. What the hell were they thinking?
And the disrespect of Lewis wasn’t even as hard to take as the uncomfortable squirminess I felt at the chanting and pop-psychobabble cum empowerment training seminar gooblygook I was hearing in this “General assembly.” While watching it, I was struck by just how unscalable the model really was. I mean, if it took six minutes to decide if one man should speak, what if there had been 50? And what if all of Atlanta wanted to be at this assembly? That couldn’t work, right? So they’d need “representatives.” And that would be like… like… a legislature! OMG! A “Congress.”
While all this is going on, my trusted “liberal friends” were abandoning me, because they felt I betrayed them by “cheerleading” for an angst-ridden, pro-left-pimped fantasy revolution without a chance in hell of doing anything but firing up the Paulites, the Fedbusters, and the general cadre of anti-government types who might completely undermine Obama and the chances of saving a Democratic senate with their amorphous concepts of a sleep-over rebellion.
Perhaps my friends were right all along. But I don’t do group think, and I could not know more unless I looked further. That’s just the way I approach everything. I am loathe to condemn things which I don’t understand. So I did look, and what I saw was not completely weak, but that is not the same as being very strong. Most disturbing? While quite cordial and pleasant, the people were not particularly open, nor eager to explore alternative ideas for approaching our problems. They were mostly… well.. anarchists. And they do what most anarchists do: they aspire, while sounding as if all human problems can be solved with enough seminars, high-minded theories which are not open to debate, a lot of personal self-actualization, and far too much economic hooey.
Long story short? I am now of the opinion that while I sympathize with the anger and frustration of the protesters, their chances of success are so spotty, that I am just going to wish them luck, and move on to what I feel are more productive interests, such as trying to get the President’s Jobs Act past, pushing to interest progressive billionaires in rebuilding our infrastructure, and preventing these insane Republicans form gobbling up what is left of my country.
I will focus my energies on the political process I still have some faith in. I will continue to support the 99%, as I always have, but do it by helping Van Jones and the more conventional players who are working tirelessly to change the system from within the system.
I have spent my life feeling that such change is possible without first completely burning down the house. I am not going to sell out that conviction, nor lose all my friends, over an intriguing, but ultimately romantic effort that seems to only capture anger in a bottle, but does not yet, and may never have a message to cap it with. I will not oppose them, but nor will I endorse them. I will simply watch them, cheer for my country, and defend anyone’s right to be heard in what remains of this fetid Democracy.
I am sorry this journey has been so unpleasant for my friends who may not always understand my process, and whom I may have been less than diplomatic with, as my views and insights fluctuated with my experience. I hope we can all get past it and be friends again.
If things change, I will do what I have done all of my life: change my mind once again to fit the practical or moral dictates of the moment, as it happens, or as my conscience insists.
Thank you all for the support so many have shown me. I can only hope to repay you half as much in time.
As I said, I wrote this quite late. I imply above that the lack of clear policy goals and messaging were big issues for me. They never were. In fact, I defended OWS quite strongly in that regard. I do believe their primary role is to make a lot of noise, serving as that proverbial alarm clock to wake the 99%, and progressive America which aspires to serve them from their slumbers. But that doesn’t mean they can just leave all the policy making sausage to someone else and walk away. Because in fact, that’s simply telling the status quo “you made a fucking mess. Now please fix it with a bigger fucking mess.”
It’s politically immature to assume a serious movement can only be about the problem, and abdicate the solutions to some unseen force in the universe. So while they don’t need specific prescriptions for remedy, they should absolutely have clear ideas about what form the discussion to find them might take.Tweet