Maybe you’ve read your fair share of Occupy Wall Street articles in the last seven weeks; strap in for another.
Since its inception on September 17th in New York’s Zucotti Park, branches of the Occupy protests have sprung-up across the world in solidarity, many of which are ongoing (this includes Occupy Winnipeg). The movement has attracted its fair share of criticism — namely, that there doesn’t seem to be any clearly expressed goals; that the protestors themselves are just a bunch of loosely associated, disorganized post-adolescent shits and neohippies looking for a free lunch and some sex in a tent. Or so my grandfather tells me.
On Occupy’s incoherence
In the mainstream media coverage (once they decided to cover Occupy) we are privy to the talking heads, polishing the same old turd of a disengaged observation, maybe with a note of levity twinkling in the reporter’s eye. It is unfortunate though unsurprising to see this flippant dismissal still being perpetuated; viewers passively nodding in compliance with what they’re lead to believe is the great invalidation of Occupy.
Not to belabour the point; there are more eloquently worded takes on this line of argument. “[the Occupy movements] are similar in their lack of focus, in their inchoate nature and above all in their refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions,” writes Anne Applebaum, Opinion writer for the Washington Post.
Luckily, it doesn’t take the most astute political science graduate to test the value of these claims, or to come up with some kind of explanation for why the Occupiers are occupying. Although, if you’re like me and originally felt a tad unequipped to face down critiques like these on your own, perhaps you sought out the lucidity of someone like Chris Hedges.
I feel he describes, with such brevity and concision, something that would receive cheers at any Occupy rally. Here is a quote of his, in full, outlining one of the biggest motives for Occupy:
“Unfettered capitalism, as Karl Marx understood, is a revolutionary force, it commodifies everything — human beings, the natural world — which it exploits for profit until exhaustion or collapse . . . those who are protesting the rise of the corporate state are in fact, on the political spectrum, the true conservatives, because they’re calling for the restoration of the rule of law.”
This is in reference to the various forces that lead to America’s recession, as well the subsequent failure to correct these abusive practices that got them where they are today. This is fundamentally what Occupy is about.
And so the points have been made elsewhere and I invite anyone still unconvinced to take a second look. What appears evident now, to me, is that critics still mounting this perfunctory review show no signs of having grappled with its nuances; or they’re guilty of a failure of reasoning; or they are willfully ignoring the accessible, common lists of factors motivating Occupiers found in no short supply online. It seems increasingly clear that the critique of occupiers not having a cohesive purpose stems from the critics’ own unwillingness to recognize Occupy’s socialist political agendas as valid. And if Occupy’s values aren’t valid than what else is there to say?
On the futility of protest
The idea that participating in protests is inherently idiotic and unhelpful for the democratic process should raise flags. Let’s remember that on May 25th, 1919, we had in Winnipeg one of the most important general strikes in Canadian history. And comparisons can still be made between that lot of Winnipeggers and the Occupiers the world over.
The Winnipeg General Strike began as a response to abysmal post WWI wages and poor labour conditions. Although it took an additional 30 years for Canadian workers to secure collective bargaining agreements and union status, some 30,000 workers walked out into the streets that day in May. Although protestors in Winnipeg inevitably bore the brunt of police brutality, they were eventually joined by empathetic strikes from Victoria, B.C to Amherst, N.S. These protests lasted for over a month.
There are now many Occupy Wall Street videos that have gone viral. Many of which document several incidences of the unwarranted use of force on peaceful protestors by NYPD officers.
A little over a week ago we saw more disturbing footage of police brutality circulating online from the Occupy contingent in Oakland. Occupiers in Oakland responded by initiating a general strike — the first general strike in America in 65 years.
What might this mean for the movement as a whole?
That depends. If Oakland succeeds at essentially shutting the city’s businesses and ports down for a period of time, it could propel Occupy movements in other cities into organizing strikes in similar kind. Admittedly, I am no visionary; I don’t have the most vivid idea in mind of where things could or should go from there on.
But things have changed; history will remember Occupy for what it was. Occupy is, in every sense of the word, a “grassroots” movement — it lacks the political capital and top-down structure of most political movements — and it has still managed to influence as many people as it has.
Occupy is getting endorsements from some politicians, pundits (notably Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann), famous stars, and it even hosts renowned public speakers — none of whom are paid for their time or called-upon or obliged to do so for any other reason than because they genuinely support the movement.
Take by counter-example the Tea Party movement. When all the insignificant details have been brushed aside through time, historians will have this much to say about the beginnings of the Tea Party: it originated in protest to corporate bailouts in the U.S. and was quickly subsumed into the structures of the republican party, rendering any distinction between the two fairly unnecessary.
Occupy is to grassroots, as The Tea Party is to Astroturf.
The beauty of Occupy is that it is happening everywhere, and anyone can just walk up and experience it for themselves as I did for the first time recently. I was met with a profound sense of community amongst a group of strangers. That feeling so foreign to most of us that I could barely recognize it for what it was.
This may sound like a bunch of trite hippie nonsense, but even if there is no fundamental change noticed in our system of politics, if the participants of Occupy can at least carry that sense of community with them and live that out through the rest of their lives, than what a consolation that would be.