Some questions for the reformist Occupiers

Published online 22 November 2011.

Let me first start out with an update — by saying that I don’t have a lot to say about my visit Sunday to Occupy LA.  It was raining off and on the evening I was there, and because the solar panels at Occupy weren’t collecting a lot, Media didn’t have power to turn on the WiFi connection, so I had to go to Starbucks to access the net.  The Resources Committee’s problem with thieves and looters appears to have been temporarily held at bay through an informal security force that is with Occupy in spirit, and by the fact that the thieves and looters did not show up at Sunday’s Resources Committee meeting.  The Resources Committee still has to figure out how to solve the problem of formal organization.

Russell Simmons showed up briefly before the general assembly; I guess he wanted us to distinguish between that portion of the 1% who are the problem and between that portion that is sympathetic.  I never found out what he was doing to help.

At any rate, I could not stay for the whole of the general assembly on Sunday — it seemed pretty orderly, even if only some of the residents of Occupy LA were actually in attendance.  I wanted to visit a store in San Gabriel before closing time and get my Mom some chocolates, for which she thanked me profusely.  Sorry Occupy LA.  Mom is important too.

I’m also not going to say a lot about Saturday’s meeting of Occupy Pomona, except that there will be a march and rally in downtown Pomona on December 3rd.  More details will be forthcoming, but please mark it on your calendars.

What I want to say is that the problem of security at Occupy LA brings up, for me, the problem of how Occupy Together is to be a “game-changer.”   I keep wandering into people, at Occupy LA or on the Internet, who seem to think the purpose of Occupy is to enact some series of minor reforms — a Tobin Tax, for instance, or the restoration of Glass-Steagall, or maybe the DOJ will prosecute a few banksters.  Or maybe Holder will lay off on the marijuana prosecutions a bit or maybe they’ll stop fighting in Afghanistan.  I remember, distinctly, a confrontation with a know-it-all kid who told me we would only be building a “temporary” community garden in the land adjacent to Occupy LA, because in a year Occupy would be over and we would have “reform” to validate what we’d done.

Now, for the record, I would be pleased to see any of these reforms actually enacted.  Yet a few questions linger, because I don’t really see how Occupy is going to accomplish anything without a game-changer.  Please see below:

1.  Do you really expect the current government to do anything on your wish list?

The current government of the United States, as a tool of the 1%, appears to be impervious to redirection.  Congress is composed of millionaires; policy is largely dictated now by austerity planning.  In fact, the system as it stands, driven largely by Goldman Sachs, is about to make all of Europe suffer because it can’t make Greece suffer enough to satisfy the banksters.  Do you all seriously think that a group of people whose lives are now tied up in legal games about urban camping are going to be able to reverse the trend in austerity while keeping the same people in office?

2.  Do you seriously expect the existing power structure to “right the ship”?

Let’s take a few examples of where the ship is headed now so as to flesh out this question.  Schooling sucks these days.  The K-12 variety is dominated by an obsession with testing largely cultivated through the No Child Left Behind Act, a product of George W.’s friendship with the McGraw family.  The college variety has become a financial gamble, offering increased employability in an economy with no jobs as against student loan debts to pay for college expenses which have vastly outpaced inflation over the past thirty years.  Occupy is going to fill the legislators with a newfound love of progressive education?

The prisons are overflowing, because recidivism is big and the laws are punitive.  Our current crop of politicians, inspired by Occupy, is going to risk being “soft on crime” in order to do something proactive about it?

Our government spends its money on useless wars because the Pentagon represents defense corporations who can use the money to fatten the portfolios paraded by investment bankers in front of their clients. They define “national defense” in DC; nobody elects them.  Occupy protesters are going to end their wars and redirect their money trough toward peaceful purposes?

Our current government has no policy on global warming at all, and never mind that the policies it has promoted so far are all useless cap-and-trade schemes intended to fatten the accounts of the financial class while doing nothing serious about the problem.  This is all going to turn around with Occupy?

3.  How would a transition back to electoral strategies for “gaining political power” accomplish anything at all?

I’ve seen some of these strategies promoted on the Internet.  Oh, we’re going to run a bunch of candidates — maybe there will be an “Occupy Party” or something like that.  They will magically somehow be immune from financial bribery, or maybe there will be public financing of campaigns at that point — assuming beforehand, of course, that the current crop of legislators would agree to such a thing.  How are these plans going to be anything more than plans for co-optation?


ConclusionNow, maybe you all have an answer for each of these questions.  Honestly, though, I think that the idea that Occupy is going to spill out into some sort of mildly reformist agenda to be enacted within the orbit of the current system is based upon a misidentification of what the Occupy movement really is.  People occupy public space and redirect it toward protest purposes in order to publicize what’s wrong with the current system, yes, but this doesn’t mean that small-time, incremental reforms are going to end the protests and solve the problems.  Solutions come out of the effort to keep the Occupiers going — if there are to be protests, there has to be a protest infrastructure.  So the Occupiers are inevitably going to turn to “green” solutions to infrastructure problems.  If the food runs out, they will grow food.  If they can’t afford traditional sanitation, there will be compost toilets.  “Green” solutions to infrastructure problems open up the possibility that Occupy will replace the current, dysfunctional society with a new society based upon hope and open to love.

Thus I see the real strength of the Occupy movement is in its moves to replace the current society with a new one.  It behooves me to wonder why we should end Occupy’s emphasis upon consensus process and go back to rigged voting schemes that place all emphasis upon “swing votes” in “swing states” while ignoring real, serious blocking concerns.  The electoral process is a matter of who can raise the most money because the people who run it are its product.  And how is our doomed capitalist system going to provide for us all?

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