Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Occupation

I got my NPR on today. They had a whole segment on the Occupy movement. It's a movement now. And their big question was, “where to next?”

Well, that's a damn good question. For those not really following the Occupy movement, the cops have cracked down. Winter is coming and it's hard to keep the drum circles going when getting pepper-sprayed in the face. Which hurts like hell by the way. Like thing vomitting blood and going into convulsions.

It's painful stuff.

Anyways, the question remains, where to next? Are we in the midst of some revolutionary movement? Are worlds going to collapse are we going to close this chapter of human history and either end up in a Mad Max or Star Trek future?

No. Don't be presumptuous. Things don't change like that. This is the beginning of a movement and real change comes from constant and steady pressure. The Occupy movement has notably failed to make huge legislative gains and as election season is ramping up, its wider political power has yet to be measured. And for that matter, its longevity. Occupy could die like the Tea Party movement subsumed by a tumultuous and already institutionalized political party. The difficulty of being a congressman or a lobbyist or a big political actor is that there are many forces constantly pushing against oneself. Occupy has utilized one outlet of expression, the right of the people to gather and speak. Now it needs to institutionalize. It needs to become “the man” so to speak.

Is that bad? Well, maybe. The sixties were a similarly uncertain time. The specter of nuclear war, a failed engagement in Vietnam, the rise of Nixonian dogma. All of these things sent shockwaves through the young and disenfranchised. Protests, clashes with police, musical movements, and promises of a better tomorrow. Those promises seemed to always come with a caveat though, “when I'm in charge, this won't happen.”

Well, they got in charge and they became “the man.” The sixties morphed into the seventies where the free love revolution came at the cost of economic entrapment. Cowed into a world where gas prices would rise into the sky, Iran would steal our citizens, and the digital age threatened to kill the American way, the flower children settled for a comfortable but declining middle class lifestyle where a bi-annual get out the vote campaign was enough to quell the encroaching special interests that aimed to take away abortions and burn all the condoms.

In the background, economic policy was steadily taking opportunity away from the masses. The preoccupation with certain specific issues hid the elephant in the room, “it's the economy stupid.” Even the great communist mind of Marx was honed to social change through the very tangible economy. Change happens through the political game of exchange.

And that is where the strength and endurance of the Occupy movement may lie. It is an economic and social movement. Something distinct from other movements. It does not make endorsements or donate to politicians. It hangs its banner with the 99%, effectively crowd-sourcing everything. It has the potential to blossom into something if it somehow taps into that resonance and keeps amplifying it. The Occupy movement has already successfully shifted the economic debate from cuts to job creation and taxes. It has already belittled and exposed the irrationality of Grover Norquist's “no new taxes” mantra. The Occupiers have to continue that pressure, and not forget that the most important things happen between election cycles, when the rules of the game are changed.