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“Fight not unless the position is critical.”
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The ”Occupy” movement has apparently receded into the long night. That may not be such a bad thing, as a new Phoenix can arise from different strategies, different emphases and different goals. The structural challenges remain the same, and opposition is still needed. What has been exposed as fruitless, however, is the idea of occupying parks in chaotic sieges that signify nothing.
What were the benefits of occupying parks? There was really only one, and that was publicity. The utility of the tactic lay in attracting the media and achieving penetration into living rooms across the nation. Once that was accomplished, there was no further benefit, and a whole laundry list of downside problems. There is a lesson here.
“No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.”
Your opponents know their strategies and tactics. They’ve been doing it for a lot longer than you have. Centuries. When I listened to the delusional pronouncements of “occupiers” on how they were overthrowing “capitalism” and building a new society from the ground up, already it was obvious that it was over before it had begun. The revolution would not be televised, and this revolution would not even metastasize.
By what chain of cause and effect was camping in the city park going to overthrow anything whatsoever? Clearly, this was a public-relations stunt, and nothing more. It would come and go like any other minor event.
Why the Name “Occupy?”
Websters says, “to take or hold possession or control of,” therefore to occupy is a militant endeavor. Armies occupy. The US military and NATO occupy Afghanistan and other foreign lands.
The “Occupy Movement” – from its inception – intended to take public spaces and hold them. It is in the DNA of the movement. It was born from aggression and a belligerent posture, the mindset of an invading army. What these occupiers intended to do once they seized the spaces is less clear – even today.
Sun Tzu tells of the key components, which determine the success of any campaign. These include:
“The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.”
Sing it now. “One, two, three, what are we fightin’ for?”
The Occupy Movement made some initial assumptions that never did pan out and strike gold. Firstly, that it would be a leaderless movement, with equal time given to every lunatic street vagrant who showed up. Secondly, that the rest of the population, the proverbial “99%,” was automatically on their side, because they said so. It wasn’t. Thirdly, that electoral politics was history and no longer mattered. It does.
How did the general population respond to the movement’s strategy of seizing parks, to the idea of “occupation” itself?
We know that in the case of Zuccotti Park, in New York City, the main legal complaint brought against the encampment was that they had taken the space to the exclusion of everyone else, and for an undefined amount of time. Some citizens were arguably denied use of the public space as a result of this occupation. Frisbee games may have been cancelled. This legal maneuver led to the November 2011 raid and eviction of the encampment.
Was this a violation of the First Amendment? The right to “peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances?” Quite possibly so. Perhaps this section of the Bill of Rights has been erased now, but do self-styled “anarchists” care about concepts like the Constitution in the first place? Do they accept the legitimacy of government in any form? This ties into the third assumption listed above: electoral politics matters. Who is in charge matters. The judges who are appointed to hear these cases also matter.
It was never apparent at occupations that the protesters were petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. So what were they doing? Open question.
The website/magazine “Adbusters” is credited with originally launching their movement, to some degree. From this opaque organization some anonymous person described the downfall of Zuccotti Park:
“We wanted a Tahrir moment, an American Spring, a new vision of the future, and they attacked us in Zuccotti Park on November 15, 2011 in the dead of the night with military precision.”
Ignoring the absolute mess that is Egypt today, how is Zuccotti Park in any way analogous to Tahrir Square? The square was a short march to the presidential palace in the center of Cairo. The marchers had a single consistent demand: to overthrow Mubarak. They disgraced him and overthrew him when the shifting alliances of the military and security apparatus found that they could maintain control without the old corrupt bastard.
There is nothing in the Occupy encampment of Zuccotti Park that could even be close to analogous to the Egyptian situation. They were not even in the capital city, nor even voicing opposition to Barack Obama! The parameters of their protest were so varied and so distant from the Egyptian uprising that the two can scarcely be compared to one another.
Occupy seemed to occupy for the sake of occupying. Some occupiers argued that they were building a new society at the camps, a new way of organizing mankind, without capitalism. They said this with a straight face, so we should believe they meant it. They were certainly not building a viable political party to replace the people in charge.
The Occupy Movement first caught my attention when they promised a new congressional convention in Washington DC, scheduled for July 4th of 2012, if the Wall Street serial rapists weren’t dealt with by then. They were going to challenge the integrity of the federal government with representatives from every congressional district, etc. That seemed like a clear and reasonable enough demand to take them seriously, at the time. Not soon after, this proposal disintegrated and was mostly forgotten about. The trials and tribulations of police incursions took center stage. The camps were swept away by Obama’s black shirts, but by then these tent cities were just hanging on for the sake of hanging on. Nothing was happening, politically, except that the embarrassments needed to be hosed out of sight before election time. When July 4th finally did roll around, it was a barely noticed anti-climax. A few hundred showed up, perhaps a few thousand. It was officially over. The “occupy movement” had failed.
Never Achieved Legitimacy
Claiming you represent 99% of the people is not the same as actually representing the people. This was a fundamental disconnect, born of utopian fantasies. It was easy to remain skeptical of such bold claims that lacked evidence, that lacked gravitas.
How does one gain legitimacy in a democracy? One gets millions of people to vote for them and wins the election. Similarly, in parliamentary systems, one gets votes for one’s party to establish some proportional representation in the government. The entire population is permitted to participate, and vote fraud is discouraged and policed.
While the Occupy Movement claimed to have true democracy as their guiding principle, the notion that their own version of democracy was limited to the people present at the assembly, to the exclusion of the rest of the nation, doesn’t seemed to have registered. By eschewing electoral politics, they in fact disregarded an important democratic principle and ignored the overwhelming majority of the nation. Less than one percent of the American people participated in these occupations, rendering their “true” democracy to just a hollow exercise of their own little 1%.
Love him or hate him, Obama took in nearly 60 million votes in the 2012 race. The Occupy candidate received – zero. There was no Occupy candidate. Not in that race, not in any race. The Occupy Movement rejected the one avenue for achieving power in the United States legitimately, and that is by convincing a majority to elect them into office. There has yet to be a dog catcher elected from the Occupy Party. So why should anyone take them or their politics seriously?
“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”
Occupy, to me, was always devoid of coherence. By rejecting electoral politics, the end result was preordained. They would change nothing. They would be given the big black boot eventually, one way or another. After months of lingering, they wore out their welcomes. Perhaps this movement did more harm than good. Protest is now criminalized, and police departments across the nation have been militarized and emboldened into discarding Constitutional Amendments at will. The incoherence of the Occupiers served to denigrate and even delegitimize real critical opposition to the crimes of the government and its corporate overlords. That’s because Occupy never had anything to offer the general population except camping in parks with signs, a publicity stunt that went on far too long.
Lessons for the future include changing strategy. For starters: reform over revolution. I’ve confronted some anarchists on their grand visions of smashing the state, as if that would be a positive thing and beyond debate. Suffice to say, they don’t have the numbers, and they never will. Most Occupiers were not of the destroy-all-government variety and wanted to maintain a fair system of checks and balances. It is these reformers who need to step up and take it forward into the electoral arena.
The left parties of the United States are fragmented, underfunded and even in pointless competition with one-another. Some of their disputes concern the reform v. revolution question. Reformers need to step up and join forces to combine existing third party structures into one umbrella party. One. The left can at least act in solidarity with itself if it ever hopes to convince middle of the road people that they are serious and offer a viable alternative.
“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
The left can make a difference, and can even achieve power locally, where the real opportunities lie. There have been too many showpiece presidential campaigns destined to score below 1% of the total. Establish legitimacy town by town, state by state. Until the masses have actually come to accept that you exist, you have no business hoping to win their votes. It takes more than ideas. It takes more than words. It takes a lot more to play this game than a Facebook page.
The New Left Party, whatever its name, can employ some of the lessons of the failed Occupy Movement, and show up for a massive jubilee celebration – right back in those parks, to the delight of bored news reporters everywhere. They might even face off against the tear gas cannons. And then go home. The point isn’t to “occupy,” but to make a splash across the world’s news cycles.
Then you do it again, another day, another occasion, another voter registration drive and house canvassing organizing session. Real politics, on the ground, in the communities, and back into those parks to reclaim the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. Then go home. Repeat as needed.
“Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. … With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.”
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War