Thursday, February 02, 2012

Occupational Therapy

I'm obviously sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street's general ambitions, such as they are. I think income inequality is a very important thing. I think we have to have a serious conversation about insuring a true participatory democracy and a serious conversation about corporate influence over politics. I think we have a political and economic system that is overly concerned with the needs of the well-off and nowhere near enough with those of ordinary Americans (much less poor Americans).

But Occupy Wall Street also can be infuriating. I gestured at it in this post, when I talked about how OWS seemed afraid to flex its own muscle because that implied the chance of true failure. Instead, they portentously declared that things like "making demands" would be just giving into the very system they were trying to challenge, that it would be in essence selling out to the man, and then launched into some sanctimonious sermons about changing paradigms and shifting mindsets and other rejected high school debate counter-plans.

And so, about half a year later, where is OWS? Effectively nowhere. And what has it accomplished? Effectively nothing. It managed the impressive feet of mobilizing a massive number of progressive-minded citizens, and then managed the even more impressive feet of walking away without having gained anything. Okay, yes, it put income inequality "on the table". But does anyone see any concrete changes going anywhere? I don't. And so, I suspect, pretty soon we'll see it slide right back off the table.


PG said...

"It managed the impressive feet of mobilizing a massive number of progressive-minded citizens, and then managed the even more impressive feet of walking away without having gained anything."

These feet are made for walking.

Christopher Meyer said...

I say OWS's success has been staggering.

They completely altered the agenda. The focus had previously targeted on subjects concerning the preservation of existing wealth: deficit hysteria, austerity measures. Focused on keeping inflation low (preserving value of existing dollars) taxes low, and preserving the value of loans made to the government.

Now it is far more focused on inequality and corporate power.

Agenda control is extraordinarily important. Political power isn't so much about "do this" as it is about "Hey, look over here."

Normally the agenda is set by elites in media, business, and politics. It's remarkable that a genuine grassroots campaign was able to take over. Initiated by anarchists, no less. When was the last time radicals had any national agenda-setting power whatsoever? (They've had a share of influence on things like the Iraq War and the Wisconsin union fights, but those were reactionary; the Republicans were the ones that picked the fights.)

They've now been a substantial part of the agenda for months. Even if their success went no further than that, it would be substantial in its own right, because they have pushed the preservation of wealth items to the side during that period.

But of course it goes much further than that. They've done a tremendous amount to raise class consciousness. As you surely know from studying the women's and gay rights movements, raising group consciousness is half the battle right there.

This is no small feat for the U.S. McCarthyism has been ruinously successful at tying class consciousness efforts to treason. We are finally beginning to thaw out from the Cold War. Breaking out of that ice is a prerequisite for the emergence of a genuine left.

The language is now infused with OWS terminology. Even Republican presidential candidates are using it. Linguistic control, too, is critical. Words themselves shape people's perceptions, and OWS has successfully promoted terms that are heavily in their favor, e.g. "the 1%".

They've substantially damaged the reputation of corporations in general and large banks in particular. They are the impetus behind the "Move Your Money" campaign, which has had substantial results already and will compound over time.

If you insist on limiting the examination to only short-term political gains, there are still plenty of things one could point to. Buffett Rule, payroll tax cut extension, Congressional insider trading ban--all are helped out substantially by OWS.

Romney is now substantially more vulnerable to attacks against his ill-gained wealth. Obama probably won't need that--I expect he'd win anyway--but it will help downticket.

But yeah, the long-term effects have been way, way more substantial here. Those long-term effects would not have been nearly as strong if they had focused just on a limited set of incremental, pragmatic agenda items.

siryoz0 said...
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