Opinion » Ted Rall

Occupy: What Next?

Things have changed. Time to adapt.



The Occupy National Gathering, held July 1-4 in Philadelphia, perfectly captures the current state of Occupy Wall Street.

First, the cops pushed the Occupiers around, refusing them space in Independence Park. They wound up in Franklin Square.

Second, the Philly confab was wimpy and watered-down. When one of your honored guests is Daryl Hall of the 1980s duo Hall & Oates, militancy is probably off the menu.

Third, the Occupiers weren't really Occupiers. ONG was yet the latest attempt by front groups set up by moveon.org in order to channel the energies of the OWS movement into the Obama re-election campaign.

Some say Occupy is dead. Others disagree. "Occupy Will Be Back," liberal writer Chris Hedges wrote recently. "It is not certain we will win. But it is certain this is not over."

As a person who helped plan the event that initially sparked OWS; as one who was thrilled by its instant popularity, potency and potential; as someone who participated in the branch of OWS in my own community through the winter--and as a longtime student of historical crises and revolutionary movements--I think it's less important to guess whether Occupy has a future than to examine how a movement with widespread public support devolved from nearly 2,000 encampments to its current situation: marginalization.

That said, this summer offers good opportunities for OWSers to make some noise. Occupiers will protest the two major party conventions later this summer. The longer the campaign goes on without either candidate seriously engaging jobs and the economy in a credible way, the more removed from reality the horserace and its media carnival barkers become, the longer the suffering goes on, the more appealing Occupy, or perhaps some more-aggressive successor, will be.

Whether the first major street movement since the 1960s survives, grows or metastasizes, we must learn the lessons of the first year.

Like every political system, every movement contains the seeds of its future demise. OWS began with an unsustainable premise: occupy public space, yet remain nonviolent. What happens when the cops show up? You leave peacefully. Game over. Which, with the exception of Occupy Oakland, is what happened everywhere.

Occupy should have permitted resistance, violent and/or nonviolent. That, or it shouldn't have camped out in parks in the first place. Similar movements, in Spain and Russia for example, operate out of offices and churches and use flash-mob tactics to carry out hit-and-run direct actions against targets.

As I and just about everyone else pointed out at the time, camping out in the cold sucks. It was a dumb tactic for a movement that began in the fall and intended to last indefinitely.

Occupy has been overly inclusive. As a reaction to and rejection of the two big corporate-backed political parties, OWS was inherently radical. Yet week after week, month after month, General Assemblies all over the country have been disrupted and hijacked by liberals, Democrats and other traditional partisans who don't share the OWS ideology of nonpartisanship and non-affiliation and militant resistance to the banksters and other corporate hucksters.

Others have criticized OWS' unwillingness and/or inability to issue a list of demands. Not me. I have seen how the debates within Occupy have empowered the voiceless who used to think politics was for politicians.

Let the oppressors try to guess how we may be mollified, how they might avoid revolution. Demands would define us too narrowly and separate us from one another.

But things have changed. We have been kicked out of our encampments. Occupy groups in numerous cities have split into radical and reformist factions.

There really is no place for the liberals in Occupy. Democratic apologists should go where they belong, to volunteer for Obama.

We real Occupiers, we radicals, should come together around a list of demands that define us, and allows the wait-and-see public what we're about, to understand that we are fighting for them--demands that a somewhat reasonable and responsive government would agree to, but cannot and will not because it would counter their insane, addictive greed, their lust to control and own everything.

There should be demands for justice: prison sentences and fines for the politicos and corporate execs whose behavior was not only reprehensible but illegal, along with the seizure of their companies and their properties for the public good.

There should be demands for redress for victims of crimes, economic and otherwise. Torture victims need counseling and homes, and deserve punitive and compensatory damages. Those who lost their homes to illegal foreclosures need not only their lives back but also interest and cash penalties.

And there should be demands for systemic changes: opening ballots to third parties; making it illegal for elected representatives to talk to businesspeople, much less accept contributions; rigorously enforcing the Constitution, laws and treaty obligations; expanding the Bill of Rights to include such obvious 21st century necessities as a right to a college education, a right to a living wage and a right to be treated for any illness, without charge, just because you're American and you live in the wealthiest society that has ever existed, anywhere.

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