Occupy Wall Street: It’s all about staying power

I’d been holding off writing something about the Occupy Wall Street protests, partly because I don’t like to write about politics very often, and partly because, like too many people, I never dreamed that the movement would take off the way it has.

I’m tremendously pleasantly surprised at the latter, and I’m finally starting to feel some genuine hope that a definite corner has been turned, that people all across the globe, from Egypt and Libya and Syria to Wisconsin, Washington D.C., and New York are exhibiting a kind of Hundredth Monkey effect, having somewhat simultaneously remembered that the freedom to revolt against oppression is an inalienable right.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think too kindly of the criminal economic inequality in the world, feeling strongly that corporate greed and influence on governments is out of control.

At the same time, I’ve lamented how, despite the momentum the counterculture of the 1960s through mid-1970s had, it still got its ass kicked and lefties remain easily marginalized and dismissed by the right simply by calling us liberals.

Born in 1964, I was too young to experience the crushing of the last great anti-establishment uprising with any kind of real awareness, but I was old enough to have absorbed the influences of my older sister, 5 years my senior, cousins of mine who were very liberal, and perhaps most powerfully, through the music of the late 60s and early 70s that spoke to me with messages of love, freedom, and revolution.

So, in many ways, I’ve been craving this moment my whole life. But, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is about the Occupy Wall Street movement that seems so pivotal, and I found some answers in a piece by Betsy Reed at The Nation.

Reed starts off referencing a commonly-known shortcoming of liberal/progressive political movements. Namely, that they tend to rely too heavily on well-meaning policy language and lack the ability to speak to the hearts of the American people.

Then, she explains:

Of course, we need policy ideas. And the progressive groups that have staged previous rallies—like the ones that are sponsoring the “American Dream Movement” spearheaded by Van Jones, convening in Washington, DC, at this moment—are the crucial building blocks of the coalitions necessary to make long-term campaigns around real policy proposals work.

But sometimes, you also need a spark. “Occupy Wall Street,” as an idea and an action, is a stroke of brilliance. It’s not poll-tested or focus-grouped, but it expresses perfectly the outrage that is the appropriate response to the maddening political situation we find ourselves in today. It succeeds as symbolic politics: taking back the square is just what we need to do. And it’s wonderful that unions and community groups that have been working in the trenches will be linking arms with the denizens of OWS this Wednesday.

I would add something that Reed alludes to, when she quotes Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

The truth is there is a lot of focus on the march itself, but a march without a plan of action … is simply a one-day event.

And this action that Henderson talks about, I think it has less to do with the specifics of the message and how many people volunteer to be arrested in non-violent civil disobedience, such as at the recent, thoroughly admirable No Keystone XL Pipeline protests, and more to do with the action of long-term commitment.

After all, the primary galvanizing aspect of the Egyptian revolution in January and February of this year wasn’t so much the charisma of some leader, for there was no single leader, nor the role social media played in the events. Rather, it was the fact that ordinary Egyptian citizens occupied the square in large numbers and…stayed there, refusing to leave until Mubarak resigned.

The Keystone XL Pipeline protests were, in that light, a step in the right direction, as they were organized from the very beginning to last two weeks rather than the typical one-day D.C. affair, and it involved acts of non-violent civil disobedience, in the form of sit-ins in front of the White House, where participants refused to leave until they were handcuffed and take off to jail.

Still, two weeks — a time period decided upon, no doubt, based on the assumption that a more prolonged effort would be unsustainable, as people have jobs and families to support — was obviously not enough. President Obama was vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard half that time, media coverage was minimal, despite the fact that thousands of American citizens were arrested over the course of two weeks, and there’s no indication that the President will block the project.

Which brings us back to Occupy Wall Street.

As important as the pipeline protests were and still are, the proposed pipeline is just one example of the kind of corporate domination that is the focal point of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The people who have occupied Liberty Square — the underinsured, underemployed or overworked and underpaid — are the victims here, not the more abstract though critically important “environment” in the case of the pipeline. They are victims, and they have decided that they don’t really have all that much to lose, that the powers that be are entrenched and that it will take more than a couple of weeks of marching to win some justice.

Finally, as encouraging as the Wall Street demonstrations are, the other characteristic of this movement that inspires hope is that it is spreading, not just all over the country, but all over the world.

I’m personally unable to drop out and join in, but if Occupy Bellingham happens (there’s only a Facebook page as of now), I will pledge my support and participate in any way I can.

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