What's Next for Occupy?
Friday, March 30, 2012
The world is as it is. If we arrive at a shared vision for a better future, that too will be what it is. But strategy and tactics are different. To get poetic about it, this one time, they aren't what they are. One place, one strategy or tactic makes sense. Another place, a different strategy or tactic makes sense. One time, do this. Another time, do the opposite.
Anyone saying what a movement should do in all places and at all times is confused. There is no single correct path for Occupy. Oakland is not New York. Madrid is not Athens. What makes local sense differs from place to place and from time to time.
There is something about strategy and tactics, however, that does stay pretty much constant. It is the criteria we ought to have in mind when we choose among paths to take.
Yes, of course, even those criteria depend on things like the resources at the disposal of a movement, the size of a movement, the character of opponents of the movement, and the state of mind of the population surrounding a movement. Still, for the question "what's next for Occupy?," while there is no one right path, perhaps we can at least specify concerns that Occupy should account for in choosing among all possible paths. For myself, here are a few such concerns.
Occupy doesn't have 99% of the population supporting it, or, far more importantly, 99% participating in its endeavors. Instead, Occupy has some significant support, though not very deep, and still has quite low participation in its endeavors. To win anything, and especially to win a new world, it needs much more support and involvement.
A wise path forward, a wise set of things to do, is therefore going to be a path which is traversable given the present reality of Occupy's numbers and resources, and which increases the levels of support in society for Occupy and, even more so, increases the numbers of participants in Occupy activities, including the number who are actively conceiving and self managing Occupy.
To favor some acts or actions because one would enjoy doing them, or because they have the appearance of being radical or audacious, or conversely because they appear sober and calm, or because one exaggerates that if they were to be done well all would be wonderful - makes no sense. First, what is undertaken must be within the range of things Occupy can do well, given where it is at, so that there is a very good prospect they would be carried out well. Second, what is undertaken, if it is carried out well, must along with whatever other more proximate aims it may have, enlarge support for Occupy and involvement in Occupy, as well as strengthen Occupy's commitment and its means of future engagem! ent.
What might qualify as having those implications in different countries and cites, or at different times, will differ, perhaps greatly. But to fall short on these concerns, no matter where or when, is to follow paths that will not lead to steadily growing influence and success.
Can we consider some specific possibilities? If we are cautious, and if we realize that we are doing so only hypothetically and that different parts of Occupy would have to do it for themselves, in light of their own situations, to decide what makes sense and what doesn't make sense for them - then, yes, we can offer some tentative observations.
A demand seeks some end. It is typically made to powers that can enact that end, often a government or employer. Such a demand focuses energy on some gains and tells the powers that be what they have to agree to if they wish to reduce the costs the movement is imposing on them. Examples are demands for higher wages or for shorter hours, demands for cultural rights or for day care, or school reform, demands for an end to a war, and so on.
Suppose Occupy wanted to have some demands. What might it sensibly opt for?
Given what we said above, the answer is going to be that it could opt for demands which, in fighting for them, and in eventually winning them - and that possibility should be real - will enlarge support for Occupy, increase the numbers of Occupy participants, increase the commitment of Occupy participants, elevate their consciousness and desires, and, if possible, even enlarge their material means of future struggle.
What are some demands that might qualify, pending thinking them through in specific settings?
As a first example, Occupy relates to how people live, and attacks on them. Occupy in some place, or places, or even around the world, might demand cessation of foreclosures and rehousing those who have lost homes. Could Occupy fight for this in ways that have the desired effects on its members, on others viewing the struggles, and on winning? Sure. Banks and mortgage companies could be targets for rallies, pickets, and perhaps, when support is sufficient, occupations. Families in houses to be foreclosed could be collectively protected from eviction. One could also imagine picketing the houses of bank owners that are holding mortgages that are being foreclosed. One could imagine empty buildings ! being taken over as housing. And one could even imagine, demands made of hotel and motel chains, to allot some rooms to the homeless. And here is a big one. One could imagine demanding reallocation of some military bases to building low income housing, first for the GI's at the bases who would be released from the military if they sign on to work in the new project, and then for people in the area. Doing any or all these things, no doubt among many other possibilities, could, if there was sufficient support, have the desired effects. Doing these things in many places, as an overarching campaign, could make each instance much stronger, much more inspired, and much more likely to win gains.
Or take a second example. Occupy relates to the economic crisis which in turn has at least two obvious dimensions: budget and employment. So what could Occupy demand for budgets - local and national - and for employment, that would benefit people who are suffering when won, that in the fighting would raise consciousness and support and increase movement power, as spelled out earlier?
How about demanding for budgets, a reallocation of resources from war and programs overwhelmingly on behalf of the wealthy, to social programs redressing injustices? And how about to enlarge budgets, demanding serious tax reform that, benefits the poor by reducing their payments, and that dramatically reduces the advantages of the rich by very aggressively diminishing their wealth? Yes, it is redistributive, of course.
And for employment, how about demanding that everyone who wants to work has a place to do so - full employment? How can we have full employment in an economy that isn't consuming what it now produces, even with harsh unemployment? How about the above mentioned redistribution, plus a change in employment practices. Not only is there work for all, but minimum wages are raised and a cap is put on maximum income, as well as curtailing overtime. Indeed, how about demanding a shorter work week, thus more jobs available, but with no reduction in total pay (despite working fewer hours) for those earning under society's average? very redistributive.
This set of demands would appeal, quite obviously, very widely. One could fight for it talking not only about the immediate benefits, but about how it is a route toward real equity and justice. It is not the end, but is instead a big step along a path. Indeed, winning less work time would also yield a constituency for change that had more time to give the movement. All kinds of actions would be possible, ranging from rallies and teach-ins, to educate, to marches and occupations to raise social costs on behalf of the demands. And, as with the housing program, we can imagine what it would be like if Occupy movements all over the world took up demands for a shorter work week, redistribution of inco! me, and full employment, all worldwide, and all acting to an extent together, with mutual aid.
War - demand peace. Rally at, picket, or even occupy - this last, only when there is tremendous support - recruitment stations, and even military bases and government offices.
Media - demand new sections under the auspices of oppressed communities and movements, an end to willful manipulation, public support and no ads, and so on. Then, press the press. Rally at, picket, or even occupy - this last, only when there is tremendous support - media institutions.
The trick isn't coming up with something worth demanding because it would be desirable to win. Think health, education, daycare, food, income, race relations, gender relations, ecology, there are an infinite number of desirable gains to be had. The trick is thinking up demands that are not only worth winning, but that would galvanize support and continually grow it, that can be fought for in ways that educate beyond the moment, and that inspire and organize beyond the moment.
Rallies, Marches, and Occupations
What about more general actions, like rallying, marching, or occupying town centers - sometimes without any specific demands? What shared logic can that adopt, even if it rejects having demands as limiting?
For rallies and marches, even without demands, there can be spirit, desire, and education - expressed via the signs, talks, and face to face gatherings - and there can be the strength and solidarity of the gatherings.
For occupations, however, something more is possible. Why not be explicit about what seems to me, and I hope to others, already implicit. Why not say, loud and over and over, that Wall Street is occupied, or whatever town or square, or workplace, or media institution, or other target, as a harbinger of things to come - which is self management by the population and not domination by overlords? And then why not see Occupy's assemblies as schools of self management as well as sources of decision making for events and projects? There are problems here. What does self management really look like? Is it thousands upon thousands at very long sessions that lack prior focus, and in which consensus is al! ways employed. Or does it have different contours if it is to deliver to those involved a say proportionate to the effect of decisions on them? These clarifications must be worked out - and doing so is thinking through, carefully and patiently, part of what we want for a better future. And that too is good.
And what about more "militance"? What about fighting back against cops, breaking windows, and so on. The logic is no different. Do these acts enhance the support of those beyond Occupy for Occupy? Do these acts increase the number of participants and their mutual aid and solidarity? Do these acts yield a stronger movement and a weaker opposition? If, in some context, the answer is yes to all the above, then these type acts may well make very good sense - in that context. But, if in some context, as is the case now in almost any context anyone can imagine for Occupy engagements, these acts have exactly the opposite effects, then they make no sense. Finally, there can be disagreement. But the idea that small minorities should be respected in causing larger groups to not do what they would otherwise want to (not always, but sometimes) is very different than the idea that small minorities should be permitted to impose their will on everyone else, dramatically changing the conditions of all, against the will of nearly all. That is not something to permit, much less extoll.
Consider Internal Organization and Culture
All the above is simple. There are simple broad aims. Grow. Deepen. Enrich. One evaluates one's options largely in light of them, and of proximate aims, in specific settings. One thing that is often not considered, though, is that the internal organization and culture of a movement like Occupy is a part of its strategy and involves tactics. The same thinking works.
Should a movement have means for new people to be mentored into participation? Should a movement share certain assets among its members? Should a movement have provision for participation of people of all sorts - those with families and without, those with jobs and without, those young and mobile and older and not so mobile? Should a movement have mechanisms to elevate minorities and women and guarantee them space and influence? Should a movement provide for its members needs, as one part of what it does - not debilitating them with boredom, or badgering them with holier than though rhetoric - but inspiring, educating, and enriching their lives? Is a movement having libraries and even schools go! od? Is a movement having areas to play, organized sports, and perhaps dances, good? Does a movement need ways to address disputes and to resolve them?
One could continue. The point is, all these matters and more, are obviously strategic and tactical once one raises the issue. They all can impact the likelihood of people outside the movement supporting it and even admiring it and they can impact the spirt and effectivity of the movement's members, their likelihood of staying, and so on.
So, Which Way Occupy?
The answer to which way Occupy - or which way any movement - is always the same. Follow a path - and there is no one right path - but a path (and ideally leave open and explore other options at the same time) that by its out-facing actions and statements, and by its in-facing structures and relations, leaves itself steadily larger, stronger, and more appealing - as well as better able to win gains.
It is when movements leave aside these norms, simple as they are, and instead ask only - is this choice what some tract or leader says to do, and then I will, or I won't - or does this choice correspond to my personal preferences for pleasuring myself, and then I will or I won't, or will we look sufficiently radical if we do this, or will we like what so and so says about us if we do this, and then I will or I won't - that movements get off track and devolve from activist sense to factional nonsense. That is what we should avoid.