Stop asking #OccupyWallStreet to do things they way you’re used to seeing them done

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

Matt Stoller at Naked Capitalism has a post on #OccupyWallStreet that’s largely about the anti-politics of this movement. This passage is interesting to me:

This dynamic is why it’s so hard for the traditional political operators to understand #OccupyWallStreet. It must be an angry group of hippies. Or slackers. Or it’s a revolution. It’s a left-wing tea party. The ignorance is embedded in the questions. One of the most constant complaints one hears in DC about #OccupyWallStreet is that the group has no demands. Its message isn’t tight. It has no leaders. It has no policy agenda. Just what does “it” want, anyway? On the other side of the aisle, one hears a sort of sneering “get a job” line, an angry reaction to a phenomenon no one in power really understands. The gnashing of teeth veers quickly from condescension to irritation and back. Many liberal groups want to “help” by offering a more mainstream version, by explaining it to the press, by cheering how great the occupation is while carefully ensuring that wiser and more experienced hands eventually take over. These impulses are guiding by the received assumptions about how power works in modern America. Power must flow through narrow media channels, it must be packaged and financed by corporations, unions, or foundations, it must be turned into revenue flows that can then be securitized. It must scale so leaders can channel it efficiently into the preset creek bed of modern capitalism. True public spaces like this one are complete mysteries to these people; left, right, center in America are used to shopping mall politics.

I’ve been extremely frustrated by the push by many liberals – mostly professional organizers, political operatives or bloggers – for there to be specific, enumerated policy demands, accompanied by a clear, concise message. First, the message is pretty damn clear: they’re occupying Wall Street. Only complete ignorance of what Wall Street is the home to and a symbol of could suggest that they don’t have a message in this action, let alone a crystal clear one. The banks are a problem, so they’re objecting.

Beyond that, on September 30th, the New York General Assembly posted their Declaration of the Occupation of New York City. This lays out a clear list of objections that the occupiers have. It’s a wide-ranging list, but a common thread is the complete capture of political power by wealthy elites and corporations and a system that only benefits the top 1%.

The critics say: But #OccupyWallStreet doesn’t have a specific policy solution to their complaints? Where are their white papers? What legislation do they support?

On Twitter this morning, Clay Shirky had a series of tweets that perfectly capture the response to these critics.
Clay Shirky Tweets

People complaining that #OWS don’t have coherent demands haven’t noticed that US response to the crisis isn’t coherent either. (link)

Groups of voters have incompatible goals, so working democracy doesn’t produce coherent policies, but livable compromises. (link)

The message of #OWS is not “Here’s is our 9-point plan.” The message of #OWS is “This is not a livable compromise.” (link)

#OWS doesn’t win by proposing a better compromise. They win by subjecting the current one to disintegrating pressure. (link)

This is exactly right. I don’t know if #OccupyWallStreet will ever put forward a specific prescription that they want to see realized for all the ills documented in the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City. But I would hope that they just keep the occupation going and keep making clear that “this is not a livable compromise.” Stoller’s analysis quoted above exposes the ways in which current professional organizing and political party structures fail to recognize that we aren’t getting a “livable compromise.” While it’s incredibly encouraging that so many labor unions, progressive organizations and community groups have stood with the #OccupyWallStreet movement, there’s still a fundamental, underlying tension here. It may not be a relevant one as long as all groups do is stand alongside #OccupyWallStreet, but it could become a bigger problem down the road.

In the mean time, I strongly encourage people to embrace the logic of Shirky’s argument and stop asking for the #OccupyWallStreet movement to do things they way you are used to seeing them done. Let this movement be and see how much power pure and articulate complaint have as a force for creating the conditions needed for change.

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