The Many Successes of Occupy Wall Street

by | 30 Sep 2011

The people who are occupying an enormously symbolic piece of ground are being criticized in some quarters for not doing enough. That may overlook some important accomplishments that have already happened, though.

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is less than two weeks old but has already proved controversial, even though it has only received sporadic attention from traditional outlets. While it should not come as a huge shock for corporate-owned media to bury an explicitly anti-corporate occupation, there is a political component as well. As Yves Smith points out, the left “is actually deeply divided on the things that matter, namely money and the role of the state.” In our post-Citizens United world, Democrats and Republicans in Washington are (or think they are) dependent on those who can move vast sums of cash.

Widespread attention only started when mass arrests and some particularly brutal police behavior last weekend gave the MSM the hook it presumably needed to spill a little ink. Of course, they immediately went for the “kids vs. cops” narrative, and to OWS’ enormous and everlasting credit they refused to play along (Kelly Heresy: “And our position has been this entire time that we are not against the cops. The cops are part of the 99%”).

All of the above was at least somewhat predictable. Not happy, mind you, but expected. What was not expected (at least by me) was the sharp criticism from the left. Some thought they didn’t look nice. I don’t really know how to respond to the Mr. Blackwells on the left so I’ll just link to Athenae.

But some think OWS is a failure because it lacks direction or purpose, and that seems wrong for a number of reasons. The first is that organizers had the whole wide world from which to choose, and they chose Wall Street. That cannot be a coincidence, right? Could one not infer that a movement called Occupy Wall Street might have something to do with Wall Street even if those involved did not say a single word? Shouldn’t that choice of location have communicated a fairly clear purpose?

Second, there does not have to be a set of demands at the outset. This is not The Further Adventures Of Action Item. Organizers are at the “building support” phase, where they get their message out. It seems straightforward to me that by being there day after day they are saying: We object to what has gone on here; we do not agree with it and do not support it; we want it to change. For now, that is message enough. What they need is to get the word out – which, given the informal media blackout, is no small feat. Not everyone is jacked into the Internet, and there is a huge amount of WOMP (word of mouth publicity) required. That is slower, so it will take longer to build up a head of steam.

Concrete demands can wait. As one commenter put it (via):

The FDR liberal impulse is to jump immediately into pre-formed, almost traditional, policies and to prematurely suck off the energy into electoral politics. As process, we (and they) should work the process and hold off on electoral commitments as long as we can. The political environment must be transformed so that people have a voice again before electoral politics can make sense.

The folks there do not need to come out blasting policy prescriptions; they need to get more and more people supporting what they are doing. (And as Angus Johnston wrote from the site, “Folks who say ‘#OccupyWallStreet should have demands’ should be here now. Process is hard. Process is beautiful.”)

So, direction? Check. Purpose? Check. If OWS had done nothing else it would already be a success. But wait, there’s more! The occupation is now being used to support other nearby efforts. They have supported postal workers and (deliciously) workers at Wall Street’s high end auction house. There is at least one union coming out (via) to support OWS in the next few days as well. The site is quickly turning into a general purpose center for area workers.

Still more: The media vacuum has opened up opportunities for voices that otherwise might not have been heard. Sites are popping up with information and pictures from the scene, onsite Twitter users like @Newyorkist, @studentactivism and @fuelnyc have provided invaluable coverage, and anyone following the #occupywallstreet or #ourwallstreet tags has been able to find some great independent sites for news and analysis. See here, here, here and here for example.

Generating attention to an issue that the Beltway wants to go away, building support among disparate groups the old-fashioned way, supporting local workers who might otherwise feel isolated, and breathing oxygen into alternative outlets. The OWS movement has been racking up some really important successes. What’s not to like?

Pruning Shears


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