Hey all you wild cats, do-gooders and steadfast rebels out there,
Our movement is living through a painful rebirthâ€¦ â€œThere has been a unfortunate consolidation of power in #OWS,â€ writes one founding Zuccotti. â€œThis translates into ideological dominance and recurring lines of thought. We are facing a nauseating poverty of ideas.â€ Burned out, out of money, out of ideasâ€¦ seduced by salaries, comfy offices, book deals, old lefty cash and minor celebrity status, some of the most prominent early heroes of our leaderless uprising are losing the edge that catalyzed last yearâ€™s one thousand encampments. Bit by bit, Occupyâ€™s first generation is succumbing to an insidious institutionalization and ossification that could be fatal to our young spiritual insurrection unless we leap over it right now. Putting our movement back on track will take nothing short of a revolution within Occupy.
The article goes on to say that various groups around the country are engaged in local, community-based actions under the banner of Occupy. So the spirit of Occupy itself is not dead, even though the original Zuccotti Park crew has broken up. Adbusters also is promoting “a global cascade of flash encampments” this summer as the next phase of global Occupy.
I want to go back to the bits about consolidation of power, ideological dominance, lack of ideas, and the corruption of old lefty cash, whatever that is.
The idea that a large, amorphous, leaderless movement that refused to be boxed into an ideological or partisan nook could maintain some kind of uncorrupted state always was a childish fantasy. Human nature doesn’t work that way. Group dynamics don’t work that way. And especially when the group is challenging entrenched money and power and is fueled more by zeal than central planning, it’s going to be put under enormous pressure, and it’s going to be a mess.
But let me address the idea of maintaining purity. We snark at the Right for favoring ideological purity over reality, but you see something similar on the Left as well. There’s an ongoing fantasy that we must be pure of partisan attachments to the parties, or else we are selling out. Or maybe we can find the magic candidate(s) who will be absolutely pure of the corrupting influence of money and power, and will not compromise progressive ideals just to get bills passed, and we can send him/her/them to Washington, and then everything will be fixed.
Anyway — it seems to me you can take one of two roads. You can stay out of the mud and engage in symbolic actions that may affect public opinion, which can be a valuable thing over the long haul. But you will have absolutely no influence over the powerful people in charge of things, so you’re not going to see anything actually change except at pre-global-warming glacial pace. This is assuming your symbolic actions do not involve an armed takeover of government, of course.
If instead you try to push for real change and force the movers and shakers to bend to your will, you’re going to have to get in the mud with them and make deals with people who are a lot less pure than you’d like. One pure person standing alone can’t do beans. That’s the truth of it. The system is what it is, and you can’t change it without dealing with it as it is.
There’s plenty of room for both approaches, of course. But mutual respect is in order. If the purer-than-thou symbolic action-takers disparage the work of inside-the-system activists, and vice versa, then everyone loses.
OWS always was a lot more like the old New Left than they were willing to admit. Back in the 1960s and 1970s the New Left worked outside the system against the New Deal coalition that used to support the Democratic Party, and helped break it up. Labor unions were a huge target, for the understandable reasons that they tended to have racist and sexist policies at the time, not to mention the mob connections.
But now we’re all looking around and saying, geez, isn’t it a shame about unions dying off? And how did the Democratic Party get so dependent on corporate money? And the New Left has to take a lot of the blame for that. And the moral is that if you have a revolution to break up the old system, you’d better have something ready to replace it with. Just being pure of heart isn’t enough.