How to Kill the Occupy Wall Street Movement

There has been an underlying current of disenfranchisement in the country. Economic and political institutions (and the people running them) have failed us miserably. They have robbed us of our freedom and our self-determination on almost every level. With an abundance of consumerism and materialism, coupled with the lack of capacity to affect the quality of one’s own existence in a meaningful way, our society has systematically suppressed itself from what it really means to be human. People want their voices heard! This is why the Occupy Wall Street protests have exploded across the American landscape, popping up in over one-hundred cities within the first month. 

It was no surprise when the corporate media and politicians tried to ignore us. They were hoping we would go away. However, in any smart leadership, holding power means hoping for the best, but planning for the worst. While the mainstream media ignored us, you can bet Wall Street was doing anything but ignoring. On the contrary, they have teams of risk management experts watching our every move. They are preparing and planning how they can kill our movement and mitigate the impact as much as possible.

 

Social Movement theory suggests five ways a movement declines: Success, Organizational failure, Co-optation, Repression, or Establishment within mainstream society.[1] The lines between reasons for decline are blurry and usually more than one will apply. They can be impacted by internal or external forces.

Based on combining these scenarios (excluding repression because it appears to strengthen not weaken us), I will argue that there are two ways that corporations, banks, and people that own our politicians and our economy can strategically kill our movement. And you can bet they are gearing up for both. The first one is co-opting the movement. And the second one is appeasing the movement. This does not suggest a conspiracy theory model; it is really more of a system analysis. Politicians typically care about one thing over all else—their job. Therefore, Democrats, who are less open about their pro-business stance than Republicans , see this movement as an opportunity to gain some approval. Bankers, corporate heads, and lobbyists will be more than happy to take steps to help Dems cash-in on this movement rather than leave it to chance. One thing we can say about Wall Street, they love them some certainty. As far as with the appeasement route, it is not crazy to think Wall Street planners are seeing the potential risk this movement presents. With that, why wouldn’t they plan to cut their losses? In other words, why wouldn’t they figure out, if they had to make some compromises, what the strategy should be to minimize losses?

Let’s briefly explore these options.

Co-opting the Movement

Be honest. Wall Street does not care if Republicans or Democrats staff Congress and the White House; they own both. According to one survey, 70 percent of protesters do not identify with either the Republican or Democrat parties. However, 27 percent do align with the Democrats.[2] With this knowledge (and the inaccurate perception that this is predominately a left-wing movement), there will most likely be a continuous, strategic attempt by the Democrats to co-opt the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the same way the Republicans did the Tea Party Movement. In an open letter from an alleged former tea partier, the author warns of such a co-opt. “We were anarchists and ultra-libertarians, but above all we were peaceful. So, the media tried painting us as racists. But when that didn’t work they tried to goad us into violence. When that failed, they killed our movement with money and false kindness from the theocratic arm of the Republican Party. That killed our popular support.”[3] The author goes on to warn that corporate and government employees from the liberal side will infiltrate the movement with support, the media will portray the movement as opposing the right, and a Democratic sympathizer will befriend the movement (gaining support from many in the protests) to hijack and neutralize it.[4] The early signs of this attempt are already happening with high-ranking Dems like Nancy Pelosi and even President Obama supporting the message. [5]

In the classic version, co-optation “occurs when movement lead­ers come to associate with authorities or movement targets more than with the social movement constituents”.[6] Because we have a leaderless movement, I combine the idea of co-optation with establishment with the mainstream, which is when “goals or ideologies are adopted by the mainstream and there is no longer any need for a movement.”[7] Of course, this outcome could be defined as a success or failure depending on how you define mainstream. In this example, the mainstream is the current political system. If the Democrats adopt our ideologies in the current, narrow, bi-partisan American political system, we will not achieve a massive cultural shift and the movement declines in failure. However, if our goals of horizontal democracy, everyone’s voice being heard, fair economy, etc. are adopted by mainstream American people (meaning almost everyone) then our movement will decline in success.

 

Appeasing Enough to Get By

If the Democrats can’t hijack our movement and embolden Obama to raise some taxes on the rich to show support for the people, the next step will be appeasement. All the leadership has to do is figure out the bare minimum concessions it would have to make, to satisfy enough of the movement to the point that people would stop fighting and go home, thereby deflating the movement. In this scenario, many would view the decline as resulting from success and many as resulting from failure. This is why a list of demands like the one released on the Occupy America Facebook page are so dangerous at this early juncture.

Let politicians and businesses run through a list of demands and negotiate an outcome and we could be left with the usual bare minimum that ultimately changes nothing. This will create a fractionalization within the movement where high percentages of the 99 percent, whose individual needs were met, think, “we won!” and go home (even if those folks preparing demands would prefer an all-demands–met-in-full or nothing scenario). Factions of the movement that aligned with one demand or another would be established within the mainstream without fundamentally changing the culture.

The movement is happening so fast that no one knows what to make of it. Liberty Square serves as the ground-zero of the Occupy Wall Street/99 percent movement. People are looking to Liberty Square because it is essentially where the movement began, because of its proximity to Wall Street, and because of the overall size of the Occupation, events, and marches. People everywhere are wondering how they can be involved and help the cause. The media is flooded with analysts trying to deconstruct the movement and its demands. What’s terrible about this is that people are responding. For example, a “demands group” has emerged at Occupy Wall Street. Someone responded on thecoccupywallst.org saying “a group claiming to be on the verge of issuing demands for #OWS has gotten the attention of a story hungry media. We are our demands. #OWS is conversation, organization, and action focused on ending the tyranny of the 1%”.[8]

*Just to be clear, at OWS everyone has a voice and is entitled to use it as they chose. I have not worked with the demands group, so I do not know what they are working on. However, any I would disagree with any demands that attempt speak for people who do not endorse the statement i.e. the rest of the movement and future of the movement. I think “demands” are better stated as goals and are fluid and directed to the people involved, not the government and corporate powers.

A movement that represents the 99 percent based on horizontal democracy should be extremely cautious about releasing demands. First, it is far too early to claim we know what the 99 percent want. We feel great when twenty thousand people flood Times Square and Occupies in over one hundred cities throughout the country. We talk about how the police are escalating the violence because we are winning. (And winning we are!) We have so much momentum and the movement grows exponentially every week. It’s truly amazing. But hubris could be our downfall. There are almost 313 million[9] people in this country. 99 percent of 313 million? 309.87 million people. We cannot speak for them before we have spoken to them. Second, demanding anything from the one percent is essentially telling them what to give us, instead of being the society we want to be. A better option would be to gather the people and allow them to create alternatives—no demands required. This takes patience.

 

Focusing on Goals

While we probably have to make certain transitions at the federal level, like ending the FED and getting the money out of politics, people are discovering that they can find solutions and alternatives by talking to other human beings. Maybe we don’t have to demand these things or, if we do, they don’t have to be a focus of the movement. At Liberty Square, people can have a voice that is heard. Right now they can be the politics of the square through horizontal, participatory democracy. They can affect the policies that govern the park and the Occupy Wall Street protests. As this model spreads, people could bring it back to their communities, make the necessary adjustments, and affect policies that govern their own communities.

In the meantime, we could focus on goals. The difference is that we are not asking (demanding) anything of anybody. Goals are for US to achieve. I do not see anything wrong with setting goals for ourselves. Let’s set the bar high and see how much the power of the people can really do. These goals should be broad enough to include a diversity of opinions and people across the American (possibly Global) landscape. Gathering the 99 percent seems like a reasonable goal in line with the movement – possibly create general assemblies all across the nation. “We want freedom for all, without regards for identity, because we are all people, and because no other reason should be needed”.[10] We can achieve this by spreading a massive cultural shift that targets the way people interact with each other on social, political, and economic terms—human relationships—the formation of “a society of cooperation and community.”[11] That can be our goal.



[1] Jonathan Christiansen. ‘Four Stages of Social Movements’. http://www.ebscohost.com/uploads/imported/thisTopic-dbTopic-1248.pdf. 2.

[2] Carl Franzen. ‘Occupy Wall Street Demographic Survey Results Will Surprise You’. < http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo. com/2011/10/ occupy-wall-street-demographic-survey-results-will-surprise-you.php >(10/19/2011)

[3] ‘An open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement’.http://www.reddit.com/r/occupywallstreet/comments/kyjo/an_open_letter_and_warning_from_a_former_tea/ (10/20/2011).

[4] ‘An open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement’. http://www.reddit.com/r/occupywallstreet/comments/kyjo2/an_open_letter_and_warning_from_a_former_tea/ (10/20/2011).

[5]  Rick Klein ‘Democrats Seek to Own “Occupy Wall Street” Movement’. Oct. 10, 2011.<http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/democrats-seek-occupy-wall-street-movement/story?id=14701337&gt;. (10/19/2011)

6 Jonathan Christiansen. ‘Four Stages of Social Movements’. http://www.ebscohost.com/uploads/imported/thisTopic-dbTopic-1248.pdf. 4.

[7] Jonathan Christiansen. ‘Four Stages of Social Movements’. http://www.ebscohost.com/uploads/imported/thisTopic-dbTopic-1248.pdf. 4.

[10] ‘A Modest Call to Action on this September 17th ‘. Sept. 17, 2011, 9:46 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt. <http://occupywallst.org /article/September_Revolution/> (10/3/2011).

[11] ‘A Modest Call to Action on this September 17th ‘. Sept. 17, 2011, 9:46 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt. <http://occupywallst.org /article/September_Revolution/> (10/3/2011).

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