Next Steps

A consensus is growing in many quarters that Mayor Bloomberg et al. may have done OWS a favor, in the long run, by evicting OWSers from camps. But of course, a lot depends on what the OWSers choose to do next. A few reflections.

I know many of them wouldn’t agree with this, but at first OWS got remarkably positive media coverage from the centrist press, far better than what I would have thought possible. Fox News and the New York Post were crusading against it from the get-go, of course, but many voices speaking from other media, including the New York Times and even the Washington Post, were mostly casting it in a favorable light.

Of course, the Right got nastier and more hysterical and eventually overcame the favorable voices, and in the past few days polls have showed a sharp decline in public approval of OWS. Again, I’m not sure how many of the OWSers realize this, but public support is their only possible power source. Broad approval brings with it broad leverage. If they’ve lost that, then it’s time to do something else, anyway.

Steve M writes that OWSers seem to suffer the same media tone-deafness of many Democrats —

Yes, there are differences: Insider Democrats think the centrist press is far more influential than it actually is. These Democrats also believe that, in terms of influence, MSNBC cancels out Fox and talk radio. The average OWSer, by contrast, seems to believe that the media is reprehensible across the board, in a uniform way, but that vivid, in-your-face protests can go over the heads of the media and speak directly to the people.

The reality is that the media still decides what we think, and the far-right media works much, much harder at driving that consensus than the centrist press does. The centrist press keeps the coverage bland, and then the Murdoch/talk radio axis declares its fatwas, and those decide what we think.

The Occupy movement, like the Democratic Party, doesn’t grasp that it needs to do everything it can to minimize the damage from right-wing-media demonization. Both groups think they can just be heard above the noise from the right-wing noise machine — neither group realizes the utter necessity of throwing sand in the gears of that machine.

Come on, Occupy. You have to do better than Democrats, dammit.

Steve M has numbers from Public Policy Polling showing that OWS has lost significant support, especially among independents. It is now less popular than the Tea Party. The controversies and hysterical news coverage have completely swamped the message.

And yes, it was all very unfair. If the country were “fair,” we wouldn’t need OWS, would we?

And I take no pleasure in saying this, but … toldja so. Listen to me next time.

So, what’s next? Todd Gitlin advises that “Liberty Park can be anywhere,” and says that the activist functions of the OWS movement do not have to depend on urban tent cities. He suggests maintaining some token encampment somewhere in lower Manhattan, but says the real problems OWS is trying to address will not be solved by occupying turf. Indeed, it appeared that the day-to-day problems of maintaining the tent communities were eating a lot of time and energy and becoming something of a fetish.

And, you know, there’s that Internet thing that wasn’t around when Gitlin was organizing protests against the Vietnam War. You could do a lot with that, I bet.

Naomi Wolf suggests that OWS get more involved in electoral politics.

I have argued that the organizers need to become a major electoral block and make the case that they will get out the vote for leaders who support citizens’ rights to First Amendment expression (especially during those critical congressional elections) and will call for the defeat of city leaders who brutalize and suppress citizens. They could even lead a recall drive for abusive mayors. Dozens of city and state leaders, like California’s Gray Davis, have been successfully recalled by voters since 1911. New York State does not have a legislative recall mechanism, but Occupy can put it on the ballot through a referendum. And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo can recall Bloomberg by presenting charges. So Occupy Wall Street has to put pressure on Cuomo by showing that it will organize to get out the vote for or against him based on thousands of registered voters.

Occupy has an ill-advised resistance in some quarters to engaging with the voter-registration process, but that may be changing. They are terribly vulnerable now without electoral organization and can expect only further violence and aggression. But if they register voters in recall drives and start to field their own candidates, they will send a powerful message to cities’ leaders across the country that suppressing constitutional rights is a political death knell. The next place to Occupy? The voting booth.

Hmm, I disagree. Right now OWS doesn’t have the popular support to swing elections. They’d just be another Green Party, some political fringe everyone ignores. I’d say they’d be more effective by focusing like a laser beam on economic injustice issues, trying to bring these issues to public attention to change the public dialogue. They’ve made a good start on this.

But they also absolutely have to learn how to finesse the media. The media are not “reprehensible across the board, in a uniform way.” Some parts of it will be an intractable enemy, but other parts of it can be worked with to get a message out. The OWSers must get more sophisticated about this. I should hope some of them have, already.

Update: See Angry Black Lady about the rumors that the DHS coordinated the clean-outs of OWS encampments. She traced all the sourcing for this back to one article in the Examiner. It looks like there is more sourcing because people all over the Web are citing each other, but if you trace all the links and all the citations back to the beginning, she says, that’s it. One article in the Examiner.

15 thoughts on “Next Steps

  1. Do see Chris Hedges’ This is What Revolution Looks Like. Maybe it’s me – I’m far removed from OWS – or maybe it’s Chris – he’s way too close to it, but IMO, I see truth in his writings along with a fair dose of unreality too. No doubt he sees much farther ahead than I do, which is probably why I read him.

    I have seen my share of revolts, insurgencies and revolutions, from the guerrilla conflicts in the 1980s in Central America to the civil wars in Algeria, the Sudan and Yemen, to the Palestinian uprising to the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania as well as the wars in the former Yugoslavia. George Orwell wrote that all tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but that once the fraud is exposed they must rely exclusively on force. We have now entered the era of naked force. The vast million-person bureaucracy of the internal security and surveillance state will not be used to stop terrorism but to try and stop us.

    Force is definitely being used, but I’d say that fraud (thru media deception) is working pretty well, given the turn of the polls. The authorities are doing their best – and succeeding – at putting the lid back on this boiling pot.

    Agree with you that electoral politics – except in very local situations like the city of Oakland – is not a fruitful approach. Until the OWSers can convince the average person, and masses of them, without the media swaying them, it’s going to burn out like the SDSers did in the 1960s.

  2. “George Orwell wrote that all tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but that once the fraud is exposed they must rely exclusively on force. We have now entered the era of naked force. The vast million-person bureaucracy of the internal security and surveillance state will not be used to stop terrorism but to try and stop us.”
    A bit over the top don’t you think? The bottom line is we are not ruled by tyrants, we are a democracy, we have laws. If the cops have not obeyed the law (some of the force sure seemed illegal to me) then they should be prosecuted in court. If the OWS folks break the law then the same. The message of the 99% is just and true and if pursued in a rational manner it can and will change our direction. But all this talk of tranny is complete bullshit, we are not Central America ,Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania and to compare our situation to those is laughable.

    • “George Orwell wrote that all tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but that once the fraud is exposed they must rely exclusively on force. We have now entered the era of naked force. The vast million-person bureaucracy of the internal security and surveillance state will not be used to stop terrorism but to try and stop us.”

      In the U.S. the establishment always has had a pretty free hand to use force against people who were considered out of the mainstream, one way or another. Native Americans, African Americans, labor unionists, suffragettes, the Bonus Army, etc. etc., at various times have faced naked brutality, both perpetrated by the state or at least sanctioned by the state. What OWS has gone through is gentle compared to much of what has been done in the past.

      So I don’t necessarily share Hedges’s idea that we’ve entered a “new” era. It’s more like the same old era that never really went away. And I agree with moonbat that the fraud is still working pretty well on most of the population.

      The thing is, if any dissenting group can somehow be singled out as “freaks” or not really “one of us,” it’s not that hard for the establishment to crack down on them. That’s pretty much what’s been done over the past few weeks; the steady hammer of bad publicity prepared the ground, so to speak, for a crackdown. The public will support it if they believe the OWSers really are a bunch of freaks and a public nuisance. Sometime down the road a judge might rule that the OWSers civil rights were violated, but by the time that happens the public’s attention will have moved on to something else, probably.

      This is not “new.” In various ways this same basic scenario has played out many times in U.S. history.

  3. “The authorities are doing their best – and succeeding – at putting the lid back on this boiling pot.”

    The problem here is that you can put the lid back on a boiling pot at any time, but, when neither the level of the flames, nor the volume of what’s boiling is decreasing, what is the result?
    When that happens, things either spill over, or there can be an explosion (s).

    OWS was a largely harmless and fairly constructive way for youth, and other disenchanted people to ‘blow off some steam,’ and feel like they were being heard.
    Now that Mayors around the country bought into the very typical right wing meme about DFH’s smoking dope, screwing, pissing, and shitting heedlessly, that’s gone.
    The authorities stupidly didn’t let this run its course here in the NE, where camping out in December, January, and February would take the zeal of a true revolutionary – and so the movement would have dwindled, without the bad PR. And with Wall Street less occupied, some of the impetus for the movement across the nation would have dwindled. But, there’s only 8 more days until Black Friday and Christmas shopping season, so the powers that be panicked.
    Now what?
    Someone has to come up with something fairly smart and peaceful quickly for these people, because the roots of the problems still run deep, and are endemic in our society, and they have already shown a level of commitment that was unexpected.
    There are 99% of us in the back of, and driving, the damn bus, but 1% up front. We need a ‘Rosa Parks’ moment.
    Because like I said earlier, if you found you’ve lost your voice, you may remember you’ve still got your fists and your legs. And that’s not anything but a prescription for disaster. And that may be coming – sooner, rather than later.

  4. It’s a very interesting situation. I spent a little time googling for occupiers in as many different places as I could think of–Occupy Boise, Occupy Ogden, Occupy Talahassee, Occupy Wilkes-Barre, etc.–and I’ve yet to find a city or town that’s big enough for me to have heard of it that doesn’t have something. They’ve even got Occupy Wasilla.

    And it’s all happened so fast that nothing is settled yet. After being initially skeptical, I’ve adopted the approach of doing what I can to move this thing in the right direction. If there’s a danger that the movement will drift into being perceived as a bunch of freaks, one thing I can think of to do about that is to go down there and be a part of it and not be a freak.

    And yes, there is a lot of cluelessness in the movement, such as not seeming to recognize fully enough that if you’re going to claim to speak for the 99%, you’d damn well better wave the flag. I don’t know how far this applies to the Occupy movement, but people on the left do have a tendency to shy away from overtly patriotic imagery–largely due to the right’s constant appropriation of that imagery for their own twisted purposes. But it can be powerful propaganda to reclaim that imagery and make it mean what it’s supposed to mean.

    What this movement really needs, in other words, is Woody Guthrie. He was as patriotic as he was feisty and socialistic, and of all iconic dead Americans I can’t think of a better patron saint for this movement than him. I read that Tom Morello sang This Land is Your Land in Zucotti Park (including, of course, the radical verses that we didn’t sing in grade school), and I can’t figure out why this hasn’t caught on.

  5. Moonbat said:

    Force is definitely being used, but I’d say that fraud (thru media deception) is working pretty well, given the turn of the polls. The authorities are doing their best – and succeeding – at putting the lid back on this boiling pot.

    Sadly, I agree with you. The sheeple won’t join a political movement, they’re happy watching Monday night football and American Idol (is that idiot show still on the air?). When it comes time to vote, they’ll push the button on the Diebold voting machine for the candidate that Fox News and Rush tells them to support. Of course, a few more years of this fraud, and those good folks won’t have a TV to watch, or a pot to piss in, or a window to throw it out of. Perhaps they can find a place to pitch a tent in Zucotti Park?

    Tom B said:
    They need to be more skillful. Voter registration and, later, canvassing.

    You made me spray coffee all over my computer monitor.

  6. Candide: if you think people in the streets can succeed without allies IN THE SYSTEM, you are delusional and Maha is right– OWS will come to nothing. Jane Soccer Mom is not going drop everything and come to live the Woodstock II tent village forever and ever. Nor are you going to force a Constitutional Convention. If you did that, you would lose, as the Right is heavily armed and controls most of the money. You need to kick the TP out of Congress and get Obama back in office in 2012. Maybe by 2016, you’ll have some kind of progressive messiah with enough broad appeal to make America stand tall again– that would be wonderful after all the small minded fascists (Bush, Reagan) I’ve suffered through.

  7. Good post, Barbara. It stimulated some thoughtful responses. Yes, OWS will continue in a different form. Tents are not the issue. The message is the issue. Wall Street could not have written a better message than the 99% against the 1%. NPR this evening had an interview with a writer from Rolling Stone talking in depth about income & tax inequality and how the GOP has changed its message and methods since Reagan. (I think a lot of NPR interviews are available online – this one is worth listening to.)

    The ‘hook’ that NPR and the author hung the story on was OWS – but the facts are not new. OWS has provided the justification for discussions that the 1% don’t want the average voter to hear. The opposition to OWS wants the discussion to be about mice, lice, sex, drugs & hippies. So its time to morph from a tent format to something different. BUT STAY ON MESSAGE. If the right was getting traction by opposing the tents, we don’t need the tents.

    The Arab spring harnessed a weekly cycle that’s integral in Muslim cultures. Friday prayers. After Friday prayers, the opposition would demonstrate en masse. Despite hundreds of murders, the demonstrations grew each week. I favor the idea of weekly events – I heard a clip from Robert Reich speaking, I think, to an OWS group in Berkley. Celebrity guests speakers are not a bad idea. There’s a bunch of us who can’t camp out anyway, but would show up if we knew when and where it would make a difference.

  8. Candide: It really won’t do to show such unbridled contempt for the 99% this movement is supposed to be about.

  9. What this movement really needs, in other words, is Woody Guthrie.

    Dear indefatigable 92-year-old Pete Seeger,
    Next time you attend an Occupy protest, please bring Bruce Springsteen with you. And Lady Gaga, if she can find something to wear. I think between the three of you, all generations are covered.
    Much love,

  10. I heard the same NPR events that Doug mentioned. When I heard that Robert Reich had addressed OWS in Berkeley I thought the DFH image may melt away. As we all know, they have had other prominent speakers, e.g. Joseph Steiglitz.

    NPR’s coverage has generally been fair. They seem to press OWS members a bit harder than they did TP’ers. There was a libertarian, if I remember correctly, a professor, who got away with a few questionable assumptions. For example that it was axiomatic that larger government meant more corruption, as if only government can be corrupt and not corporations, etc. I thought he must have Rip Van Winkled for the past few decades, when deregulation and lack of oversight produced less that the optimal Libertarian paradise.

    I would like to hear other’s opinions about this. It was Diane Rehm as I recall.

  11. Do the young folks know who Woody Guthrie is?

    Not yet. The other day at a meeting at my local camp (Occupy Davis), I mentioned that July 14 2012 will be Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday. And got more or less a collective shrug in response. Which surprised me a bit, because this group wasn’t just young folks either.

    But that’s OK. These people just need to realize what a gigantic stockpile of propaganda they’re sitting on here, and I’m going to do what I can to help them see. It can be a kind of a litmus test for the movement. If they can see the power in knowing that the man who wrote This Land is Your Land had THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS written on his guitar, then there’s hope.

    And you know Woody would have believed in them.

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