Whither the Occupy Movement?

Image by Michael Kappel via Flickr

By Arun Gupta

With the forcible closure of major occupations across the country through a combination of police repression and official disinformation, the movement is at a crossroads.

One response beyond the 24-hour encampments in public spaces is occupying foreclosed homes. The appeal is obvious. Squatting an empty home owned by a bank, or defending a family about to lose its home, shines a spotlight on the banking industry’s shady and often illegal practices that inflated the housing bubble in the first place. Plus it exposes a key contradiction of our capitalist economy: that even as 10 million “non-seasonal” properties lie vacant – many because of foreclosure – millions of families have been forced to double up or even become homeless since the economic depression began in 2007.

Another tactic is to target giant commercial banks by encouraging people to “move your money” to a credit union or locally owned institution. A more direct approach is to “occupy the banks,” which has occurred in a few cities with scores of arrests.

The Occupy movement is also flexing its muscles through port blockades. The first time was in Oakland on Nov. 2, followed by an attempted shutdown of West Coast ports from Long Beach in Southern California to Vancouver, Canada, on Dec. 12. The second attempt was opposed by leaders of the International Longshore Workers Union, revealing fractures in organizing strategy.

Going into 2012, the Democratic Party, led by Van Jones and “Rebuild The Dream,” will plot to co-opt the movement. It’s worth considering that the attacks on occupations by big-city mayors, most Democrats, occurred after Obama and “the Democratic establishment” were initially unsuccessful in using the movement “to align disenchanted Americans with their party,” according to the New York Times.

Yet these schemes will continue because the Occupy movement has more support than Obama in poll after poll (among respondents with an opinion) because, rhetoric aside, the White House has been Wall Street’s best friend for the last three years.

Some dangers facing this movement are burnout and diffusion of energy. Many national calls for actions have been issued or will be, such as Occupy Congress; a May Day general strike; both a U.S. and international assembly; Occupy Chicago for the NATO and G-8 meetings there next May; occupy both the Democratic and Republican conventions next summer.

There is simply no way to sustain this level of activity. It shows that a strength of the movement is also a weakness – the lack of leadership. Without an effective decision-making structure at the national level any group can call an action without accountability to other occupations. One activist in the Bay Area confided that the Dec. 12 port shutdown lacked the on-the-ground work to get broader labor support.

Even in the post-occupation phase, the movement needs to replicate its fundamental success: creating democratic public spaces that by their existence reveal the utter lack of democracy in this country. It was the occupations that brought the 99% into being and brought legions of the previously non-political into the public sphere. Hundreds of thousands joined a society where basic human needs – shelter, food, medical care, education – were addressed without the need for money (at least internally). People experienced a different subjectivity. Instead of being mindless consumers, they were fully formed social beings with equal say and agency. Democratic, non-hierarchical decision-making fostered genuine community, which showed that corporations, the wealthy, the political class, the police state, and a for-profit media are not just unnecessary, they are the problem.

This movement blossomed fantastically and daringly in just three months by occupying the center of politics and imagination. When radical democracy is fused with nurturing different, better societies than the one we are trapped in now, the Occupy movement will potentially evolve into a true human society.



Filed under Occupy Movement

3 responses to “Whither the Occupy Movement?

  1. Hena

    What do you think about the plans to re-occupy on December 17th?

  2. It has potential, but it has to be well planned. It appears we may be in a phase of “activist-ism” where actions are being planned more out of the sense that something must be done, the momentum must continue, than strategic thinking and planning.

  3. umesh bhagwat

    If the ows movement is to succeed it cannot afford to be confined to the us. A global awareness about the machinations of the vested interests will have to be created. A concerted bid to expose the nexus between the multinationals-defence establishments-politicians-religious leaders-media will have to be made. More than resources what is required is a small group of totally focussed and committed individuals.

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