In modern financial parlance, this movement must become too big to fail.
As someone who is in over his head in the Occupy Movement in D.C., I have decided to respond to a few questions that have been floating in the air since Occupy Wall St. started on September 17 and ask my own questions (QYSBA = Questions You Should Be Asking). The first set of questions are questions that anyone close to the movement can respond to, but their answers might be somewhat different from mine given my background (I am a white, young, male, unemployed, educated, secular, etc.) and my objective, which is to promote this nascent revolutionary movement. I do not claim to be impartial in my analysis, but I always strive to be fair. The second set of questions are inherently subjective and are designed to challenge those outside the movement who often ask the same dry, condescending questions the mainstream media are asking. Many of these self-appointed critics are of the 99%, and it is that group I especially want to reach.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
1) What is this Occupy thing all about?
In a nutshell: This movement is about the lower 99% of this country taking back power from the elite 1%. The elite 1% are represented by banks (Citigroup, Bank of America, Chase, etc.), hedge fund managers, and large corporations (GE, Exxon, Wal-Mart, etc.). The term “Wall Street” is the most popular shorthand. The 99% are represented by farmers, police, firefighters, service employees, white-collar professionals, students, and the unemployed (to name a few examples). Taking back power means different things to different people within the movement, but what is significant is that the movement is building and implementing its own system of direct democracy in the form of open general assemblies and consensus decision-making.
2) Is it just a passing fad, or should I take it seriously?
Although the movement started less than a month and a half ago (not counting its foreign precedents), it has faced numerous challenges to its continuation including but certainly not limited to police brutality, spies/provocateurs, harsh elements, lack of resources, lack of media attention, and internal divisions. Occupy Oakland was violently shut down this past week by police, resulting in the near-fatal injury of an Iraq War veteran, but has recently come back strong, inspiring solidarity vigils as far as Egypt, forcing an apology from Mayor Jean Quan and retaking the original site of the occupation. The scandal-prone Oakland Police Department could be the biggest loser of all.
There are concerns as to whether wintry weather could succeed where violent police crackdowns have failed, and it is likely that police are counting on this in cities with temperate climates. Nonetheless, Occupiers in cities such as New York and D.C., utilizing donated blankets and tent heaters, have vowed to remain until an American Spring has been realized.
Smaller, non-corporate media outlets such as Democracy Now! have covered the movement generously, and the mainstream media have recently caught on to a large extent. The tone and breadth of the coverage is generally limited to the traditional ideology of the media outlet in question, but even critical or limited coverage is good for the movement in that it attracts further attention to it and forces the movement to maintain its dynamism and appeal to skeptics. It remains to be seen whether this positive trend will continue, however. A blackout is always a possibility given media consolidation and loyalty to the bottom line.
Internal divisions are perhaps the movement’s worst enemy. This is exemplified by the fact that there are two distinct Occupations in the same area of D.C.
3) Why don’t the protesters just get jobs?
According to the Wall St. Journal (not a Marxist newspaper by any accord), as of August there were 4.6 unemployed people for every job in this country. Do the math. Plus this movement is about more than rugged individualism and Horatio Alger crap — some people can’t afford boots let alone bootstraps! — it’s also about more than the unemployed. It’s about economic and political justice for all. There are many employed people in this movement, some of which even sleep out in the park.
4) Why don’t you just trust Obama and the formal structures of governance to solve the problems we face?
Are you kidding me? Are your senses intact?
5) Why doesn’t this movement have a list of coherent demands?
It’s not all about demands. For some, this movement is more about developing an alternative structure of governance. The subgroup of activists in the movement who lean anarchist do not recognize the state as legitimate; therefore, they refuse to demand anything from it. On the other hand, more socialistic elements would like to take the government in that direction if not abolish capitalism entirely. A list of demands would likely alienate anarchists and moderates alike, and despite the impatience expressed by much of the mainstream media toward the demands issue, the movement is still in its early stages and cannot easily narrow down the views of its diverse group of participants due to its lack of centralization. Some see its pluralism and lack of traditional leadership as its key strength rather than its key weakness.
6) Why not have one demand? The Egyptians said, “Mubarak must go!” and he went.
This is not a focus group or a single-issue organization. The elites and their allies in the media would prefer that it had a single demand because politicians could then simply meet the single demand (or agree to negotiate on it) and undermine the movement’s potential to achieve more. Plus it is not as simple as replacing one leader in the context of American-style representative democracy — which is more like plutocracy — but even in the case of Egypt, removing the autocratic president did little to change the political and economic system. The Egyptian people remain disenfranchised and oppressed under military rule.
7) Does the movement have a short, sweet unifying principle at least?
I would say that we all want a system of governance of the people, by the people, and for the people (people = the 99%).
QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD BE ASKING
1) How can I support the Occupy Movement?
Great question! You can either Google “Occupy (your city),” or visit http://www.occupytogether.org/ to search for an occupation near you! Each Occupy website should give directions on how to donate money or supplies even if you can’t make it to the physical space for whatever reason. You can also follow the movement on Twitter and Facebook to see what its needs are and to contribute ideas of your own. You can also write/blog about it and talk about it to everyone you meet. Spreading an accurate portrayal of the movement to those who are misinformed or uninformed is crucial at this stage. There is no need to ask anyone to join: As long as the person is in the 99% (which is highly likely regardless of what the person thinks of his or her own status), he or she is already a member.
2) Is this movement friendly to people of color and other minorities/oppressed communities?
I’m not the best person to answer this question given my birthright membership in the white majority, but I do know that Occupiers throughout the country are forming committees for people of color, women, and other minorities to reach out to their communities as well as to address oppression within the movement that reflects that of the larger society. Occupy The Hood is one such initiative.
3) Is this movement truly transcendent? Is it creative rather than destructive?
A very optimistic view can be found here. This is essentially my view on a good day, but when the pendulum swings back, I worry about the American curse: namely individualism. I wish it only existed among conservatives, but this is not the case. It is an American problem. Eastern philosophers would call it ego. I call it poison because it will slowly (but surely) kill a movement. It will lead some to act in ways that advance themselves at the expense of the movement. A transcendent movement must utilize all the various skills and knowledge of its individual members without being hampered or hijacked by any one member or faction. An individual member’s personal issues, fears, or ambitions should never stand in the way of the collective good. If any member cannot be constructive and complementary to the movement as a whole, he or she should step aside. In modern financial parlance, this movement must become too big to fail.
4) Given that this movement is global in scope and given that we are facing environmental catastrophe, could this be the last, best hope of humankind?
It could very well be. Would you be willing to take the risk that it’s not? Occupy or die! (I write this last part for effect).