The Occupy Together Movement, starting with Occupy Wall Street, has been, in the words of an old television commercial, ‘simply marvelous’. This is an exciting, energizing repudiation of the politics of economic injustice. For this reason alone the movement needs the support of those of us on the left-side of the aisle. Yes, there are concerns, limitations, etc., but that must be put in the context that this is an excellent moment of resistance to the neo-liberal economics that have driven this world into a deep, dark hole.
As a supporter of this effort, i want to respectfully offer five points or observations for the consideration of the movement.
(1) Movements rise and decline, no matter how good and exciting they are: This may seem self-evident, but when there is any sort of energized motion one can forget that there will come a point when the movement or initiative will decline. That is inevitable. The question, then, is not whether it will decline, but when and how. The decline may be a pause before a new swing upwards, or it can be a longer decline as we saw in the late 1970s. Therefore, it is critical that a movement claims the REAL victories that it has won; polices those victories; and tells its own story. The movement, in other words, needs to be able to identify for all to hear and see what was won, the changes that have been brought about and the lessons learned. Telling and retelling that story is critical since if the movement does not do that, someone else will, usually with less noble objectives. And, when we have won victories, we need to defend them and not assume that someone else will.
(2) Demands are important for sustaining a social movement: Yes, i am in the minority who believes that the Occupied Together movement needs demands. I am an old Frederick Douglass man in believing that power concedes nothing without a demand. That said, i think that some people are confusing demands with legislation. Movements need demands to unite them and to give them a trajectory to which supporters can align themselves. As the saying goes, if you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there. But demands are not the details of national healthcare reform or the specific time-table for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. It is what the social movement believes to be critical at this moment. Others will come up with the legislation.
(3) Beware of right-wing populism: At the edges of the OT movement are right-wing populist elements, such as those who support Ron Paul. All too often right-wing populism plays the role of the mocking bird within our ranks, making familiar sounds that make it appear to be something other than it is, only to advance nefarious objectives. Right-wing populism plays on conspiracy theories, racial and ethnic prejudices and fears, and misogynism. There is nothing progressive about it. And if we are not aware, it can confuse a movement to the point that it moves in a radically different direction. Therefore, we must all be clear as to the nature and danger of right-wing populism.
(4) Organization is key, but don’t expect only one organization: Social movements, and heightened activity, are sustained through organization. Organization advances strategies and develops education for the movement. Organization links the activists and is especially critical when there is a decline in activity. As we see in the Arab democratic uprising, none of the movements appeared out of nowhere, and those that were best able to advance as a result of these movements were those who were the best organized. Spontaneity has its place, but if there is no on-going organization, it can all dissipate or be captured by someone who is better organized but has vastly different objectives. That said, a movement as broad as OT cannot expect or assume that it will produce one overarching organization. There will be many, and that is fine, as long as those organizations do not fall into sectarian battles.
(5) Energize the electoral arena: There has been a tendency by some to counterpose electoral activism and the mass activism of the OT movement. That is a mistake. The OT movement can energize and encourage progressives to enter the electoral realm, advance demands that flow from the OT movement, and fight for people power. We cannot remain at the level of protest. Those on the left need to identify an alternative to the neo-liberal madness and fight for that in the streets and at the ballot box.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time racial justice, labor and international activist and writer. He is on the editorial board of BlackCommentator.com, a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He is the co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and A New Path Toward Social Justice (check out the Youtube interview about the book). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.