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Occupying

The times, they are a changin’.  As the weather turns grey and cold an old fashioned protest has taken over Wall Street issuing demands that … well, they don’t have demands yet but the leadership … well, they don’t want leaders, but we do know that the establishment is pushing them to … actually, Mayor Bloomberg backed down from a confrontation.

The times did change.  Protesters now scrub sidewalks and tidy up while speaking very eloquently and kindly about why they are there.  This is nothing like 1968, the year that can be taken as an event in and of itself.  According to a recent poll, a majority of Americans view this protest favorably, a rate ahead of Obama himself and twice the approval of the Tea Party’s hard line.

This is what it takes to start the process of change.  The problem comes when the movement has to focus on specific goals.  That will come with time.

A comparison to the “Arab Spring” shows the difficulty facing this movement directly.  Protesters in Tunisia and Egypt had a very simple message and an obvious enemy – the dictators in charge.  As Saul Alinsky advised, “Pick the target, freeze it, personify it, and polarize it.”  This is essential to all organizing.  For Occupy Wall Street, the target is a more nebulous crew of corporate demons that are hard to pin down.  Where Egyptians had a clear demand – Mubarak must resign – here at home there is no obvious course of action.

What we see now is nothing more than a start.  It’s a great start, but it will have to go to places that very few of those involved are likely to want to be.  The Millenial Generation has a style based consensus that has been hardening into a dogma.  This works well for getting attention and for doing things that can be taken care of easily.  Over the long haul it requires a tremendous amount of energy to sustain the movement – and without some quick victories that energy is going to wear thin in a hurry.

This places Occupy Wall Street at the crossroads of generations.  The movement will have to grow and change or it will die.

What is happening, so far, is very positive and has focused the media on issues that have been ignored for a long time.  The response from Fox News and those who identify themselves on the right-wing of twitter has been hilariously panicked, attempting to paint the movement as thugs who are paid to advance a political agenda.  One even acted as an agent provacateur and then bragged about it openly, a stupid move if ever there was one.  With time this will only marginalize them further than they have been since the Debt Ceiling Debacle showed their hand openly.  This is clearly a threat to the right, especially if it goes well.

How will it play out as similar protests occupy cities across the US?  The answer will come when the movement finds a kind of leadership – and a specific target.  The old rules of organizing will hold no matter what.  Support for the message at hand is strong enough that this movement will not likely die off, so some kind of way forward will be found.

As this fluid situation develops we will all be chatting about it more on twitter.  Please join a small band of Baratarians every Sunday night at 7PM Central time (midnight UTC) for #EconChat where we will discuss the underlying issues and devote at least the last 15 minutes of the hour long discussion to organizing.

I’d also love to know what you think here in longer form – where do you see this movement going?  What about the underlying changes we’ve been tracking in the economy and how they play into this?  What will it take to create a new economy that works for us all?

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26 thoughts on “Occupying

  1. The demands are vague but I think everyone knows what they are. I don’t know about picking a specific target because its a system that is corrupt and rotten. There is no obvious choice for a villan which is why they took on Wall Street. As it spreads across the country I think this is only getting more diverse which makes sense. If you think that will work against the protests in the long run I can see that but right now it is where it has to be. There is no one person and that is the problem.

    • My observations as someone INVOLVED and watching from the BEGINNING….
      It is a movement of 99%. 99% cannot agree on everything. (99% includes Libertarians, Socialists, Green Party, Democrats, Independents, those fed up with politics in general, those in OTHER countries/continents, etc.) So, it is of course technically non-partisan. It is also an organic, grassroots uprising of the PEOPLE (or perhaps I should just say “peasants”). I suppose the Tea Party hasn’t really made an appearance (though they are by default part of the 99%, so those of us involved are fighting for THEIR rights), but SO FAR, by MY observations there are at least THREE BASIC KEY ISSUES the GLOBAL movement of Occupiers DOES agree on…

      – BANKING system is CORRUPT
      – JOBS are NEEDED
      – WARS need ENDING

      Of those THREE KEY ISSUES, the ONLY one that the Tea Party could perhaps DISAGREE with would be WARS. Otherwise, even the Tea Party would likely agree on the OTHER two key issues.

      So, from that perspective, actually, YES, there ARE some CLEAR demands despite whatever “mainstream media” might be saying. Which of course is CORPORATE owned/controlled. And by “corporate”, that DOES include banks. Watch television and you will notice PLENTY of BANK commercials. And by BANKS, I of course mean those entities that got TARP bailout money of OUR collective tax dollars. Yet, said BANKS who got OUR tax dollars have NOT helped the people (done the OPPOSITE if anything), NEVER saved any homes, are now LAYING OFF their workers, AND are charging FEES just to have DEBIT CARDS or accounts BELOW $6000 or so! Yet, when people get mad about this and CLOSE their OWN bank accounts to move them to Credit Unions? People are getting ARRESTED! Yes, ARRESTED for closing THEIR bank accounts to AVOID fees and charges! Crazy, huh?

      So actually, the DEMANDS are pretty clear if you ask me.

  2. Anna: The more we can refine and write down demands the more likely they are to happen. I do worry that it’s too diverse but this is the early stage of coalition building. It’s what comes next that I’m interested in – because I want this to be effective.

  3. Remember that the Tea Party was originally formed as a protest to the government bailing out the Banks and Underwriters. As time passed, the extreme right hijacked the message with unrelated social issues.

    Interesting to see if the same thing happens here with the hard left.

    • A. Shubert, as someone currently involved in the movement? (By the way, I am a “lefty”.) Um, so far? It’s actually VERY diverse. Lots of Libertarians for example. Amongst OTHER groups. If the movement can maintain what it has so far, it’s possible it will be a great movement.

  4. Laurie: Excellent! Give ’em Hell! I’ll be in on it next week after I catch up with a few things, which makes me feel lame but I have to pay the mortgage!

    A. Shubert: Welcome! Yes, we have to watch for that. I was going to write today about my recent conversations with my lefty friends (birds of a feather) and how they have so little support for the leadership, but we’ll see how this plays out in the short term. I do think the protesters are right to be wary of leadership, especially now, but eventually something like leadership will have to bubble up. Let’s hope it stays true to the message!

  5. I think what is happening is great and its about time the so-called “leaders” in politics and business run scared. If that is all that happens it will be good.

  6. Here it is in textual form (the former link was a reading by Keith Olbermann): http://www.care2.com/causes/occupy-wall-street-issues-first-official-declaration.html

    My concern is, though these are all valid concerns, they need to be distilled into demands (as opposed to concerns), and fewer in number. This is too much to be addressed in one movement, I think. I think it is simply a list of everything that the protesters are concerned with/sick of/feel powerless about. They need FOCUS. Is anyone connected with the movement trying to collect donations to hire people to help them with this?

  7. I agree that it will all come in time. Getting the media’s attention was the first and most important step. That was done well.

  8. Molly: Must’ve gone right past each other before! I agree comepletely, thanks for the links. We’ll get there.

    Dale: Good point. Had to start where it did to work!

  9. If this movement is an expression of 99%, they have extreme voting power. The current 2-party system severely limits choices, but greater involvement in the political system by the 99% (voting, running, learning, teaching) could certainly change that.
    Being the 99%, they’d also have the power to influence corporations. This, too, would take involvement and education, and the voting in this case is done with wallets. If a corporation is corrupt, don’t give them your money. Nov.5th’s planned bank switch day is the first practical plan to emerge from this movement.
    99% of a population undoubtedly has the power to create change. There are some big mobs getting together, but it’s still only individuals. These large changes require personal changes. Switch your own bank. Stop buying Koch-owned products. Buy local. Don’t buy so much. If your needs are met, pursue happiness outside of wealth and material goods. The desire to accumulate wealth is a spiritual and psychological affliction. The rich are wasting their lives on growing their bank accounts and purchasing more things – for this they should be pitied.
    This nation is spiritually bankrupt (unless you consider capitalism to be a religion). Until that is dealt with – until the rampant personal addiction to constant and over-consumption is dealt with, there will be no change.

  10. GB: With you on all this, except I don’t think we can ever get 99%. But 54% would definitely change everything about as thoroughly. I like how you say this isn’t just a political statement – but about basic values that infuse corporations, consumerism, and so on. That is what we are talking about here. And I agree that we should pity people who think that having the most toys is a path to happiness because they will never be happy.

    What’s at stake here are values, nothing more nor less. The world is changing whether we like it or not. Will we master that change and make it work for us or not? We have to know who we are first. That seems to be comign along pretty well.

  11. The US has had two recent revolutions. One was the 1960s; the other was the Reagan revolution. Left and Right have been battling it ever since Nixon was elected. I back a return to Clintonomics as a conceptual approach. I want smaller government in normal times but I want a big Keyensian stimulus in a housing-led great recession. But most leftties don’t want any smaller government, just a smaller military. Conservatives want to maintain a strong military and want the end to entitlements. Consider Robert Reich. In good times and bad times he always wants more spending on infrastructue and education. That doesn’t make sense to me. We don’t lack ideas on what to do. We’ve been arguing about what direction to go in since Nixon was elected in 1968. Take the bank bailout. Elements of the right and left don’t like it. But it was the right thing to do in terms of macroeconomic policy. I don’t know how to get rid of periodic bankng crises. No one does. What I do know is that Americans in every corner consume too much housing. But who doesn’t want a nice house when they get married? The expectations have been too high for a long time. Clintonomics said we should raise taxes. I back that, but we should only implement it after the economy recovers. If taxes are raised in the future then Americans would be more disciplined not to consume too much housing and vacations in Europe and Hawaii.

    I like occupy Wall Street–up to a point. As I said criticism of the bank bailout is misplaced. The protesters should protest in the day and go home at night. Sleeping and eating outside for weeks is silly. Your mama wouldn’t like it.

  12. Smithson: You and I both keep going back to 1968 and 1980. I’m never totally sure what to make of either of those years but I know they had long shadows.

    1968 was the year things got so out of control that even Nixon started to look like a good idea. “We’re all Keyneisans now”, he told us, but it wasn’t until 1980 that we understood that Keynesianism could be dressed up in a suit and called Friedmanism. It’s a much-needed stimulus in bad times and an attempt at a free lunch in good times.

    I think that the Left has an obligation to take on Supply-Side and bury it once and for all. I sense that today’s Republicans don’t have the guts to defend Reagan any longer so that makes him vulnerable. That’s my politician side talking – seize the middle ground and make Reagan the one you blame for everything. I think it will stick.

    The economist in me is really an engineer with an elaborate hobby, so it’s a bit more confusing. I want a lot more stimulus now, but it seems to me that investments that either transform the economy along lines we know it’s going or true investments in infrastructure are going to have far more payback than any kind of make-work or attempt to goose job creation directly. Been reading about job creation dynamics and I just feel that there is no magic formula other than a firm hand at the tiller and a good sense of which way the wind is blowing.

    So maybe Robert Reich, like a stopped watch, is right twice a day. Why not? I’d also love to free up headspace by throttling back the military’s $700B plus budget, but I know that could cause other problems down the road. Mostly, I don’t know what a Keynsian stimulus looks like after decades of large deficits – knowing full well that FDR never ran a deficit of more than about 5% of GDP.

    Back to those two pivotal years. 1968 I say we live with as we erected a stone monument to MLK 30 feet tall. 1980 I say we cut down and see who steps up to defend it. Mostly, I want that firm hand and dogma is never a substitute for leadership.

  13. Ha! Um, have been following since BEFORE it happened in New York City near Wall Street (AKA: Twitter).

    All I can say is, to anyone reading this? If you’re NOT part of this movement (and you ARE part of the 99%, which chances are you ARE unless Erik happens to be friends with some of the wealthiest people in the planet…doubtful…), wake up already! It’s a GLOBAL revolution. Um, WHEN in world history EVER has there been a global revolution (grassroots uprising) of the PEOPLE? GLOBALLY? EVER?

    FACTS:

    – ALL 50 States have Occupies; within EACH start, MORE Occupies are popping up (including small towns/rural areas, etc.)
    – SIX of our SEVEN continents have Occupies
    – Actually, in a way? Make that ALL seven if you count the following photograph as sort of an Occupy: http://imgur.com/r/pics/t10qf
    – Trust me, what happened in the 1960s? A pivotal, AMAZING part of our history. (United States history that is.) TOTALLY necessary. And as someone who did not get to live through that? I THANK all of you older than me who were a part of THAT! You changed history for the better.
    – Now? A GLOBAL Revolution, and it IS NOT going away. Oh, the police can show up all they want in riot gear, arrest people, rip up tents, throw food on the ground, pepper spray young women, drive over the legs of men, arrest 13 year old kids on the Brooklyn Bridge, arrest people for closing down their TARP bailed out bank accounts to transfer their own money to Credit Unions….but guess what 1%? We 99% will NOT be stopped! Oh, and HENNEPIN COUNTY COMMISSIONERS will NOT stop us in Minnesota EITHER! (By the way, this MORNING…that would be 10/17/2011…people on the internet from around the WORLD were asking how THEY could contact OUR Hennepin County Commissioners AND where to send sub-zero temperature sleeping bags and other donations! So, the WHOLE WORLD is watching! I wonder how Teabagger County Commissioner JEFF JOHNSON will react when his email and voicemail are FLOODED with contacts from around the GLOBE of people who are feeling so bad for cold Minnesotans simply asking for permits for TENTS!)
    – We’re not necessarily “kids” (and anyone over the age of 18 who is old enough to be drafted and killed in a war…NOT a “kid”, very rude and condescending), nor are we all “hippies” (and who cares if some of us were or are).
    – We’re not necessarily all “homeless” nor are all of us “unemployed”.
    – We’re not all white.
    – Heck, we’re not all HOMO SAPIENS! I’ve seen DOGS (including my own of course) attend an OCCUPY movement!

    I will conclude with a couple of SONG links in honor of the whole thing…

    FIRST, if only JOHN LENNON were still alive to sing this one more time for us:

    ALSO, here’s another song by yours truly, Pete Seeger.:

    And for anyone confused about some of the details of it, here is an interesting explanation that came out of NYC (Occupy Wall Street):
    nycga.cc/2011/09/30/declaration-of-the-occupation-of-new-york-city/

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