Mind the Gap


Between the sentiment at the Occupy encampments and the liberal wing of the Democratic establishment lies a moat unbridgeable even by the tallest trees. Between Occupy and the Republicans lies a universe.

What seems reasonable to the Democratic leadership in Washington and to their far-flung minions in the districts is a tepid negotiation with finance capital. The corridors of the White House might as well be renamed Wall Street: apart from the Banks’ errand-boy Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, there is the Chief of Staff, Bill Daley (previously on J. P. Morgan Chase’s Executive Committee where he was in charge of Corporate Responsibility) and there is newly hired Senior Campaign Advisor Broderick Johnson (recently lobbyist for Bank of America, Fannie Mae, J. P. Morgan Chase, and Keystone XL). These are the scum of Wall Street and Washington, emblems of the pay-to-play system and of Financial Power. To them, the Occupy movement is an irritant, and a potential liability come election time.

President Obama came into office on the shoulders of a robust liberalism that took him as its delegate and hoped that he would enact its agenda. But much of that program was just dirt off Obama’s shoulders. If there were one political gesture that might have held fast to those commitments and helped build the confidence of the people it would have been the Employee Free Choice Act. Currently only 6.9 percent of workers in the private sectors are in unions. If more workers were unionized, and if unions continued to be touched by the social movements that gather around them for a wide range of social issues along the fault lines of gender, sexuality, and race, then the continent of the Left would be infinitely stronger. But Obama’s support for even this modest gesture was not to be. The President walked away from the Act and has put no political capital behind it.

The Occupy movement is quite right to prevent incorporation by the Democratic establishment on terms that would be odious. It wants for something much grander, which is a complete overhaul of the system. The feel at the encampments is similar to that in France’s 1968: réforme mon cul, reform, my ass. The ensemble of the present has to be thrust into the air, spun around, expunged of its toxins and then reassembled in practice as justice incarnate. It is exhilarating to be around such sentiments that are totally fed up with reality, and have already grasped the future in jolts in the general assemblies and in the joy of social interaction.

Mind the gap. Avoid the corruptions of Reality.

But then one has to walk the plank into the present. There is a way to do that without being mesmerized into Ordinary Politics. I recommend the following tonic:

  • Down With the Three Capitalist Ministers. It is right for the Occupy movement to call for the unconditional surrender of the delegates of the Bankers from the White House. Geither must go, but so too Daley and Johnson. That’s a start. It is a minimum demand. If we think of others among them, let’s list them. They must all go.
  • Up with the Delegates of the People. It is right for the Occupy movement to call for the election of those among us who have demonstrated their commitment to the broad ideals of the 99%ers. I have in mind people like Cheri Honkala, running for the Sheriff of Philadelphia, Amaad Rivera, running for City-Councilor-at-large in Springfield (MA), Luis Cotto, running for City Council in Hartford, Bill Dwight, running for City-Councilor-at-large in Northampton (MA) – fearless people who we need to stuff into the bureaucracy so that they can put forward the kind of creative endeavors to further the people’s approach. For example, Amaad Rivera is the legislative arm of the No One Leaves Coalition, which has created mayhem for the banks as they try to maintain Springfield’s place as the city with the highest number of foreclosures in New England. We need to have such delegates in positions of authority to carve out space for the political movements such as Occupy and No One Leaves, and to throw the contradictions of the system (its values against its reality) in the face of the 1%. The movement must harness electoral politics as its adjutant, to use when necessary and in homeopathic doses.
  • Celebrate the Multiplying Social Body. One of the great occasions of the Occupy movement has been its lack of narrow demands. This has allowed the million grievances of the various fragments of our social reality to be aired and to make them present. Nothing has been purposely left outside the movement. The door is open. There are some who under cover of what Jo Freeman called the “tyranny of structurelessness” try to hijack the movement; but they will be unmasked for their arrogance. There is too much popular expectation to allow things to go backstage. If we demand that sexual violence and police brutality be at the forefront, as important demands as bankers’ compensation, then it should be so. It is because there are a million grievances that the millions feel that this is our movement.

The debate around demands bewilders. As Ruth Jennison and Jordana Rosenberg put it at Lenin’s Tomb, “What, after all, is a demand? That we liberate New York, or Oakland, or Cleveland from the grips of financiers? That we must have returned what was stolen from us and given to the banks and to the 1%? That we deserve to live a life free of police repression and violence?  That we want an end to imperialist projects and wars, and the restoration of social services and education? If any of our hesitation to demand comes from a fear of losing, let’s look around us and see how strong we are. For the first time in a lifetime.” After the remarkable General Strike in Oakland, that strength is now before us. It is true that struggles like these do not follow a text-book, and that it is in the fight that we learn how to fight, as Rosa Luxemburg put it a century ago. And it is also the true that in the heat of these struggles, slogans emerge that germinate programs and agendas. It is time for us to agglomerate these and throw them in the face of Order.

To move from celebration of our strength to the creation of a sharp political instrument is tricky and it must be done with care, and with patience. Of course we shall need concrete demands, and of course we will need to build a political carapace around the energy of the Occupy movement. These things shall come.

The Future only contains what we put into it now.

VIJAY PRASHAD is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He can be reached at: vijay.prashad@trincoll.edu

Exclusively in the New Print Issue of CounterPunch

THE SLOW DEATH OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH – Nancy Scheper-Hughes on Clerical Sex Abuse and the Vatican. PLUS Fred Gardner on Obama’s Policy on Marijuana and the Reform Leaders’ Misleading Spin.  SUBSCRIBE NOW

Order your subscription today and get
CounterPunch by email for only $35 per year.

November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation