'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, October 08, 2011

We've Been Occupied by Wall Street for Years 

UPDATE 2: 19 arrested in Sacramento late Thursday night and 14 more arrested around midnight Sunday.

UPDATE 1: A man participating in Occupy SF relates how he lost his home through foreclosure, and then concludes, if this has happened to you, take to the streets:


@OccupyTheHood, Occupy Wall Street from adele pham on Vimeo.

Please consider watching this video in its entirety. It is a powerful, first hand account of what motivates people to participate in Occupy Wall Street and how they have emotionally bonded with those they have encountered. It also provides a good opportunity to address an important issue in relation to this movement. One can readily find posts at various Internet locations expressing alarm that labor unions, progressive activist groups affiliated with the Democratic Party and individuals known for their support for Obama are urging support for Occupy Wall Street. Amazingly, even DailyKos has urged people to join the occupations.

Of course, the fear is a legitimate one, the fear that they will seek to substitute their institutional politics for the non-hierarchical grassroots effort emerging all over the country. But there are many people who have learned about Occupy Wall Street, and had it legitimized in their eyes as something to embrace precisely because of this support. One can complain that this reveals a residue of deference to delegated authority, which it undoubtedly true, but misses the essential point: if people don't engage Occupy Wall Street, then there is no way for them to participate in the movement, with its potential for personal and collective transformation. To expect people to throw off the shackles of such authority as a precondition for such participation is implausible.

The man in this video, Malik from Occupy the Hood, is a good example of this phenomenon. He initially went to Occupy Wall Street to observe, noted that figures like Cornel West and Russell Simmons supported it, and, then, based upon this integrated experience, enthusiastically joined the effort. Occupy the Hood is now involved in the organizing of occupations in Detroit and New Orleans. Now, I've seen comments on the Internet where people have denigrated Russell Simmons for his support because of his alignment with Obama and mainstream Democratic Party politics, but, in this instance, Simmons helped motivate Malik to actively participate in Occupy Wall Street.

One of the essential strengths of this movement is the refusal of its participants to relate to people monolithically. There are many people in the AFL-CIO, for example, who don't necessarily agree with everything Richard Trumka and the Executive Board does. Hence, the support of labor unions affiliated with it should not be perceived as perilous, but, rather, an opportunity. Accordingly, drawing lines based upon the past political malfeasance of the AFL-CIO merely serves to segregate many people within it who might otherwise participate in Occupy Wall Street. Now, I'm not being Panglossian here. I'm well aware of past historical episodes like May '68 in France and the Hot Autumn in Italy in 1969, episodes where the unions exploited the movement for their own ends and eventually killed it. But, it is, in my view, better to seize the opportunity of bringing their members, and the members of similarly situated organizations, into the movement and persuading them to embrace its non-hierarchical practices towards the end of bringing about truly radical change. There is really no other way.

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