FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Imagining a Post-Occupy Social Movement

by SHAMUS COOKE

If one were to honestly assess Occupy’s current strengths and weaknesses as a movement, confusion must be the inevitable result. This is because Occupy is not one movement, but an umbrella term that encompasses several different groups that have varied aims, organizational structures, and gaping theoretical differences.
Occupy may not be dead, but its power as a powerful social movement has surely been splintered into a dozen or so mini-movements.  For example, a good, broad definition of a social movement is a large group of people who collectively try to achieve certain agreed on goals.

A social movement without common goals does not move in one direction, but many; an organization without a common set of principles or agreed upon demands is not a “group,” but “groups.”

Consequently, Occupy’s various mini-movements move in different directions, towards different ends, using different means, while rarely coordinating with the other groups that are focused on their respective organization, growth, habits, and campaigns.
The result is that collective mass action large enough to change social policy – another key definition of a social movement – is rendered impossible.

Sadly, this was the state of the left prior to Occupy: different groups organized on an “issue based activism” basis, focusing on their own projects, disconnected from any common vision or collective action. Occupy was different precisely because it was massive, and that these various groups found connection under a single banner. But the banner has since been pulled in hundreds of directions until it tore.

Occupy came close to becoming a real social movement but didn’t cross the threshold. Although Occupy failed to evolve into a social movement, it has laid a foundation for one, through its successful mass education around highlighting the 1% vs. the 99% and experiments with organizing and its creation of a new layer of revolutionary activists. Occupy’s inability to grow into a mass social movement may have been inevitable, since the left’s disunity runs especially deep in the United States.

Occupy did, however, create additional barriers for itself to become a social power. Occupy was organizationally wedded to a lack of organization, preventing the enormous energy from being funneled into a social force, and thus spilling in every possible direction.

Enough Occupiers were against goal setting that no goals could be collectively pursued. The well meaning attempts to create direct democracy and inclusion – through general assemblies, consensus, spokescouncil structures, etc. – resulted in gridlock, inefficiency, and exclusion instead, since most working people found it impossible to attend the initial lengthy, daily meetings that seemed unable to push the movement forward.

Some will argue that Occupy is doing fine, and that working towards a multitude of goals will inevitably bring victory, since all paths lead toward the same end, though few Occupiers agree on what this end should be. Working class people, however, are only powerful when they are united in mass numbers and acting collectively on an ongoing basis – no social movement has achieved social change without this preliminary factor. Whereas Egypt and Tunisia steadily gained momentum, Occupy eventually lost it.

It is still possible that a faction within Occupy – and there are several – could regenerate Occupy as a whole by working towards goals with a mass appeal that unite Occupy in a campaign capable of re-inspiring and mobilizing the broader population. But lessons must be learned from Occupy’s experience. The key lesson – in this writer’s opinion – is that social movements are created when they base themselves on concrete issues/goals that the majority of the population is concerned with.

For example, in the Arab Spring the movement’s goal was specifically anti-dictator/pro-democracy; in Europe it is anti-austerity/pro social services; South America’s ongoing social movements were born fighting foreign economic domination, in the form of the austerity policies implemented by the IMF and World Bank.

In all these cases the majority of working people in these countries could relate or sympathize with the goals of the movement, which helped multiply the initial protests into what later became powerful social movements.
In the United States, the number one concern of most people today – says numerous polls – is jobs. Occupy could demand that the federal government create millions of jobs, as was done in the 1930s, and pay for the program by taxing Wall Street as many in the Labor Movement have advocated.

Accessible, affordable quality public education and government social services are other major concerns. Occupy could focus its energies on demanding that the rich and corporations are taxed so that teachers could be rehired and tuition at colleges and universities could be reduced.

In other words, Occupy could aim at increasing taxes on the 1 percent in order to meet the needs of the 99 percent. This would also reduce the growing inequality in wealth. But these issues were lost in a whole laundry list of other goals that, although important, only concerned a periphery of the population.

The movement that Occupy gives birth to will be born at a higher level, with unity of purpose and collective action. It will not simply protest corporate power but directly challenge this power and the political system tied to it by the combined power of working people.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail