[Marxism] Counterpunch finally gets it right on OWS

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Sep 18 12:06:06 MDT 2012

Counterpunch September 18, 2012

Yes, Martha, There is an Alternative
Occupy, Year One

I’d like to start with a confession. When I first descended upon the 
Bowling Green statue in Lower Manhattan on the morning of Saturday 
September 17, 2011 to discover a handful of people doing yoga, I was not 
impressed. While my spirits were raised when a larger, but still small 
group of people marched from Bowling Green to Zuccotti Park I did not 
believe that we were on the cusp of a historic moment. I had been 
involved in activism since I was a high school sophomore and as a result 
have participated in more protests than I care to admit publicly. At the 
time the events of that day didn’t seem particularly special or memorable.

Looking back a year later, never in my life have I been so glad to have 
been so wrong. Far from being just another protest, Occupy Wall Street 
is unquestionably among the most important social movements of the past 
decade (which truly is an accomplishment, because in spite of the media 
narrative of passivity the last decade saw sizable protests against the 
IMF and World Bank, the war in Iraq, racism, and for women’s and 
immigrants’ rights). Occupy has captured the public imagination like no 
other protests since the 1960s.

As the one year anniversary approaches, the media narrative will most 
likely focus on what Occupy has accomplished. Perhaps the media will 
fixate on the fact that many of the encampments are gone (whether or not 
they will mention that these encampments were violently broken up by the 
police is another story). Of course, while no single individual speaks 
for Occupy, it doesn’t take much to realize that Occupy’s victories lie 
not only in the encampments. They lie in the newly mobilized activist 
networks that have waged (and even won) battles in their own 
communities–whether it be the many homes defended against foreclosure or 
Occupy Baltimore’s campaign against a proposed new youth jail.

Just as important as these victories is the impact Occupy Wall Street 
has had in shifting the dialogue concerning economic issues. For 
decades, the spectrum of acceptable discourse has been rapidly closing. 
At the beginning of the 20th century there was a vigorous debate about 
how humans might organize their society. Socialists, anarchists, 
syndicalists, and radicals of every stripe attracted sizable audiences. 
Even relatively mainstream intellectuals like John Dewey expressed 
dissatisfaction with the wage economy and proposed that true democracy 
meant not just popular participation at the ballot box, but in the 
workplace as well. In short, capitalism and democracy were not one in 
the same, but were instead deeply antithetical to each other.

Yet only eighty-some years later Margret Thatcher, one of the architects 
of the current neoliberal economic order, would chastise the people that 
there was “no alternative” to her particular brand of capitalist 
economics. What happened?  First, we were told that there was no 
alternative to capitalism. Then, not only did we have to accept 
capitalism as the only viable economic system, but we could only choose 
a particular brand of capitalism: A deregulated, cutthroat brand of 
capitalism that mixes unchecked corporate power with a disempowered 
working class, free markets with accelerated rates of incarceration and 
police repression, tyrannical technocrats with diminished formal 
representative institutions, corporate welfare with gutted social 
services, and in times of crisis, bank bailouts with austerity.

There was no alternative. And every politician accepted it. If you lived 
in the United States it didn’t matter if you elected Democrats or 
Republicans, the policies were essentially the same (as were the 
corporate donors). Western Europe, where social democratic and socialist 
parties still existed in name, faced a similar closing of discourse.

Anthropologist David Graeber got it right when he said that Occupy was 
about the rediscovery of “the radical imagination.” While Occupy’s 
coalition of supporters include everyone from left-leaning Keynesians to 
anarchists, Occupy’s power and appeal rests in its fundamental core 
assertion than there is indeed an alternative. It is the rejection that 
private profit is the only valid raison d’etre for anything, whether it 
be education and healthcare or prisons and the military. Instead, Occupy 
proposes the radical alternative that the lives, well-being, and futures 
of flesh and blood humans are too precious to be traded along with slips 
of paper on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Chip Gibbons is an activist who has been involved in various activist 
causes from labor rights to death penalty abolition to anti-war 
activities. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Political Studies and History 
from Bard College. His undergraduate thesis was on the Central American 
Solidarity Movement. He maintains the blog Exiting Emerald: Observations 
on Democracy and Empire.

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