[Marxism] Occupy Movement Regroups, Preparing for Its Next Phase

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Feb 12 07:53:28 MST 2012


NY Times February 11, 2012
Occupy Movement Regroups, Preparing for Its Next Phase
By ERIK ECKHOLM

The ragtag Occupy Wall Street encampments that sprang up in scores of 
cities last fall, thrusting “We are the 99 percent” into the vernacular, 
have largely been dismantled, with a new wave of crackdowns and 
evictions in the past week. Since the violent clashes last month in 
Oakland, Calif., headlines about Occupy have dwindled, too.

Far from dissipating, groups around the country say they are preparing 
for a new phase of larger marches and strikes this spring that they hope 
will rebuild momentum and cast an even brighter glare on inequality and 
corporate greed. But this transition is filled with potential pitfalls 
and uncertainties: without the visible camps or clear goals, can Occupy 
become a lasting force for change? Will disruptive protests do more to 
galvanize or alienate the public?

Though still loosely organized, the movement is putting down roots in 
many cities. Activists in Chicago and Des Moines have rented offices, a 
significant change for groups accustomed to holding open-air assemblies 
or huddling in tents in bad weather.

On any night in New York City, which remains a hub of the movement, a 
dozen working groups on issues like “food justice” and “arts and 
culture” meet in a Wall Street atrium, and “general assemblies” have 
formed in 14 neighborhoods. Around the country, small demonstrations — 
often focused on banks and ending foreclosure evictions — take place 
almost daily.

If the movement has not produced public leaders, some visible faces have 
emerged.

“I’m finally going to make it to the dentist next week,” said Dorli 
Rainey, a Seattle activist. “I’ve had to cancel so many times. It’s 
overwhelming.”

Ms. Rainey, who is 85 and was pepper-sprayed by the police in November, 
has been fully booked for months. On a recent Thursday, she joined 10 
people in Olympia, Wash., who were supporting a State Senate resolution 
to remove American soldiers from Afghanistan. She led a rally near Pike 
Place Market against steam incinerators, which the protesters complain 
release pollution in the downtown area. In March, she plans to join 
Occupy leaders in Washington for events that are still being planned.

“People have different goals,” Ms. Rainey said. “Mine is, we’ve got to 
build a movement that will replace the type of government we have now.”

Jumping on a proposal from Portland, Ore., groups in 34 cities have 
agreed to “a day of nonviolent direct action” on Feb. 29 against 
corporations accused of working against the public interest. Then on May 
1, they will try to persuade thousands of Americans who share their 
belief that the system is rigged against the poor and the middle class 
to skip work and school, in what they are calling “a general strike” — 
or “a day without the 99 percent.”

“Inspiring more people to get angry and involved is the top priority,” 
said Bill Dobbs, a member of the press committee of Occupy Wall Street 
and a veteran of the Act Up campaign for people with H.I.V. and AIDS. He 
added that people could “take action on whatever issue is important to 
them, whether economic justice, the environment or peace.”

But some experts who credit Occupy’s achievements to date wonder if the 
earnest activists will overplay their hand. Some question how many 
people will heed a call to stay home from work on May 1, especially 
since labor unions, which have generally supported Occupy’s message, say 
they will not strike for the day. And beyond that, Occupy’s utopian 
calls for democracy and justice may be drowned out by the presidential 
campaign.

“They’ve gotten the people’s attention, and now they have to say 
something more specific,” said William A. Galston, a senior fellow and 
an expert on political strategy at the Brookings Institution in 
Washington. “Average Americans want solutions, not demonstrations, and 
their patience for the latter won’t last indefinitely.”

Some of Occupy’s dilemmas are those of any emerging movement. “Some of 
the stuff you do to get attention often puts off your audience,” said 
David S. Meyer, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who 
studies social movements. “It’s a delicate balance, being provocative 
enough to get attention and still draw sympathy.”

The issue has been posed most starkly in Oakland, where a militant 
faction is openly courting conflict with a hostile police department, 
undermining public support and leading to sharp ideological divides. 
Some activists have formed separate groups dedicated to nonviolent 
methods, though tensions are not as acute elsewhere. Crimes reported in 
some of the camps in the fall also discredited the movement in the eyes 
of its critics.

But without question, the unfurling of sleeping bags by a few dozen 
people near Wall Street on Sept. 17 struck a national chord. “In three 
months, this movement succeeded in shifting political discourse more 
than labor had been able to accomplish with years of lobbying and 
electoral campaigns,” said Robert Master, the Northeast political 
director for the Communications Workers of America, which represents 
more than half a million telecommunications workers.

“I think there are going to be tremendous opportunities for labor and 
the Occupy movement to work together,” Mr. Master said. “We have 
different roles— as labor we are much more embedded in mainstream 
politics. But we understand that without the pressure of more radical 
direct-action tactics, the debate in this country won’t change 
substantially.”

Though President Obama has not publicly embraced the Occupy movement, 
its fingerprints are evident in his increased focus on economic fairness.

Mr. Galston, the political expert in Washington, said the movement’s 
success in making inequality more visible “could have an impact down the 
road on campaigns and elections and agendas.” But he also said that “to 
this day, the movement has never crystallized its ideas into an agenda.”

So far, home foreclosures are the most consistent target. Groups in 
Minneapolis are currently camped in homes facing foreclosure. In 
Atlanta, they take credit for using this method to save the house of an 
Iraq war veteran, pressing the bank to offer her refinancing after it 
had already set a date for eviction.

In Providence, R.I., protesters made a deal with the city, agreeing to 
abandon their camp peacefully this month in return for the city’s 
opening of a new day center for the homeless.

But many in the movement appear to be pinning their biggest hopes on the 
nationwide protests planned for the spring and summer. To foster 
personal ties, Occupy Wall Street veterans, mainly from New York, 
embarked on a five-week bus tour of a dozen Northeast cities to exchange 
ideas on protest goals and methods and to hold training sessions with 
other Occupy groups.

“Without the camps, we’re in a bit of a lull,” Austin Guest, 31, said in 
New York. He is one of the many younger men and women who have given 
over their lives to Occupy, often sleeping on sofas and scraping by with 
donated food or part-time jobs. The actions planned for the spring “will 
be more substantial and a much greater threat,” he said.

On a recent Saturday evening, some 50 volunteers met in a Greenwich 
Village church to discuss May Day activities for the city. The group 
included a mix of ages and races, with graduate students, teachers, 
older labor veterans and some full-time activists.

In the style of the Occupy movement, it operated with a requirement of 
consensus. A person designated as the “stack taker” directed the order 
of speakers and people wiggled or “twinkled” their fingers in the air to 
show agreement. They discussed a possible schedule of protests for May 
Day: disrupting commerce that morning, perhaps, and then joining an 
immigrant rights demonstration at midday and staging a march in the evening.

“Is this O.K.?” the designated facilitator politely asked every few 
minutes as he moved along the agenda. “Does anyone object?”

A danger for a movement like this, driven by a committed core group with 
strong views, is political marginalization, said Todd Gitlin, an expert 
on social movements at Columbia University. Mr. Gitlin, whose book 
“Occupy Nation” will be published electronically by HarperCollins in 
April, said, “You can be big but still isolated,” which he said was what 
happened to the radical antiwar movement he joined in the 1960s.

Another challenge will be sustaining public anger if the economy 
continues to show signs of recovery and unemployment falls. Jessica 
Reznicek, 30, a protester from Des Moines, said the economy in Iowa “is 
much stronger” than in other places, adding, “there’s not the level of 
escalation here.” After five demonstration-related arrests in recent 
weeks, she is taking a step back and refocusing on specific efforts, 
like challenging companies that make genetically modified crops.

But deeper concerns about inequality are not likely to disappear, said 
Damon A. Silvers, policy director for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., nor is the 
widely shared desire “for the economy to be run for the interests of the 
majority, not a tiny wealthy minority.”

“Whether the individuals in Occupy Wall Street and their organization 
turn out to be the center of this sentiment in the next year, I don’t 
know,” Mr. Silvers said. “But that sentiment will be a powerful force in 
our country, and the Occupy movement deserves credit for that.”

Reporting was contributed by Jess Bidgood from Boston, Robbie Brown from 
Atlanta, Dan Frosch from Denver, Ian Lovett from Los Angeles, Carol 
Pogash from Oakland, Steven Yaccino from Chicago and William Yardley 
from Seattle. Kitty Bennett contributed research.




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