Opinion » Ted Rall

OWS Must Grow

We can change everything with more participation


As I saw at Stop The Machine/OccupyDC, there is an split between revolutionaries and reformists. Typical of the reformists: This week, OWSers urged sympathizers to close their accounts with big banks like Citibank and Bank of America and move their savings to credit unions and local savings and loans. If revolutionaries get their way, there will be no banks. Or one, owned by the people.

There is no immediate rush, nor should there be, to issue demands. The horizontal democracy format of the Occupy movement's general assemblies is less about getting things done than giving voices to the voiceless. At some point down the road, however, the movement will come to a big ideological fork: Do they try to fix the system or tear it down?

The OWSers don't have to choose between reform and revolution right away--but they can't wait too long. You can't make coherent demands until you can frame them into a consistent narrative. What you ultimately want determines what you ask for in the time being--and how you ask for it.

If the Occupiers choose the bold path of revolution, they'll alienate moderates and liberals. The state will become more repressive.

On the other hand, reformism is naive. The system is plainly broken beyond repair. Trying to push for legislation and working with establishment progressives will inevitably lead to co-option, absorption by big-money Democrats and their liberal allies and irrelevance. Revolution means violence in the streets. Reform means failure and the continued, slow-grinding violence by the corporate state: poverty, repression, injustice.

At this point, job one for the movement is to grow. I don't mean more Facebook pages or adding more cities. The day-to-day occupations on the ground need to get bigger, fast. The bigger the occupations, the harder they will be for the police to dislodge.

More than 42 percent of Americans do not work. Not even part-time. Tens of millions of people, with free time and nothing better to do, are watching the news about the Occupy movement. The Occupiers must convince many of these people to join them.

Why aren't more unemployed, underemployed, uninsured and generally screwed-over Americans joining the Occupy movement? Protesters should make it clear that they are fighting for everyone in "the 99 percent" who aren't represented by the two major parties and their compliant media.

OWSers must broaden their appeal.

Many of the Occupiers are in their 20s. The media often quotes them complaining about their student loans. They're right to be angry. But it's not about them. It's about us.

The Occupy movement will expand when it appeals to tens of millions of ordinary people sitting in homes for which they can't pay the rent or the mortgage. People with no jobs. Occupy needs those men and women to look at the Occupiers on TV and think to themselves: "They're fighting for me. Unless I join them, they might fail."

For the first time in 40 years, we have the chance to change everything. To end gangster capitalism. To jail the corporate and political criminals who have ruined our lives. To save what's left of our planet. The movement must grow. Nothing matters more.