Wednesday, November 2, 2011

So, You Say You Want A Revolution?

Caption: No. No. The other Lenin!

Image credit: Found it here

A couple of interesting comments on the Occupy movements made themselves evident to me yesterday. The first is from Ian Welsh, from his blog:
I have said little about OWS, because there is little to say. OWS is necessary. People needed to try for peaceful redress, to make an attempt to convince elites to do the right thing, and see the response of the elites. The response was foreordained, but you can’t tell anyone anything, so they have to learn at the end of a nightstick, or while suffering from tear gas or pepper spray, or while being forced away from helping a critically injured man.

This will continue to play out, as it must. It is necessary and insufficient, but it will produce the cadre of radicals who will go on to the next steps.

Education and retaliation in OWS
I added that emphasis, because it's the point I want to address. I've already mentioned my reasons for wanting to avoid violence, but to save time, I'll just say that I don't want to hurt people, particularly innocents. But even if I were secretly plotting violent revolution right now, I'd recognize something like the Occupy movements as being a necessary first step. The reason why is illustrated by the next quote, which was written by Robert Reich at his blog:
[T]he movement has already changed the public debate in America.

Consider, for example, last week’s Congressional Budget Office report on widening disparities of income in America. It was hardly news – it’s already well known that the top 1 percent now gets 20 percent of the nation’s income, up from 9 percent in the late 1970s.

But it’s the first time such news made the front page of the nation’s major newspapers.

Why? Because for the first time in more than half a century, a broad cross-section of the American public is talking about the concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the top.

Score a big one for the Occupiers.

The Occupiers’ Responsive Chord
Once again, I added that emphasis. We're just starting to have a conversation that's been long overdue. America has been in denial about what has been going on for decades. Just correcting that oversight is going to take a long time, and a lot of very stark examples of the sort Ian was referring to.

As a country, we're just not there yet.

Look at it this way - when Winston Churchill said "We'll fight them on the beaches", etc., he must have had a reasonable expectation that the rest of his country was behind him. If they weren't, the reasonable response would have been "With what, the artillery and tanks our army left behind in France?", and then staking him out on the cliffs of Dover. No one willingly faces trials like that unless they think it's necessary. England's opinion was that they'd been overrun by Germans once, and that was plenty. Thus, Churchill survived the war.

Caption: A poster for the general strike in Oakland, California. Let's see how this act of denying profit to the one percent goes.

Image credit: Found it here

We, on the other hand, don't seem to be willing to face such trials. There are still too many people who write articles about what's gone on these last few years that simply blame Republicans for this state of affairs. They conveniently forget that it's been Democrats who have been in charge of Congress the last five years, and the White House for the last three. The sum total of the Democrats' accomplishments in that time, beyond passing the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell that the Pentagon had been begging for for years, was to make us serfs of the insurance companies so that a few more of us can get health care, and to pass a single stimulus that was pitifully small relative to the need. One might even say "pathetically small", given that they then went on to lose the 2010 election because they didn't care enough to strengthen the economy and pass useful health care reform when they had the chance.

Yet these same people use phrases like "burn it all down" to describe letting The Other Guys (tm) go back to pretending to run things for a while.

Until the realization dawns among progressives that they actually have to demand what we want and need, not just ask politely as we're passing more money to the same people who have been at turns screwing us and telling us to screw ourselves, there isn't much use in doing any more than waving signs and demonstrating over and over again how corrupt, useless, and downright brutal Democrats will be as long as we let them. Tactically as well as philosophically, it's the best choice. There are very few people "occupying" anywhere, even in New York City. Even if they were all heavily armed Spetsnaz commandos (or choose your own brand of fearsome foreign commando types), the local security forces still would be able to remove them. Until they are so numerous, and so well supported by the rest of the population, that they can't be practically prevented from doing what they're doing, the Occupiers have little choice but to remain inoffensive.

Caption: Seen today in Oakland.

Image credit: Occupy Wall Street via

When the population at large either doesn't support you or doesn't know anything about you, using aggressive techniques of any sort is just going to make you more unpopular. The population at large doesn't recognize the need yet, and yes, they probably aren't listening.

But that's a long way from saying that either the Occupiers or folks like me who sympathize with them aren't listening. The whole reason these movements exist is because we realize that the system is refusing to work for us. Getting it to do that is a long process, but it starts with making sure that the population at large is on board, and ready to weather the storm that's coming.

Sadly, we have a long way to go.

UPDATE: Joyce Arnold has a post on this theme and the ongoing general strike in Oakland at


James Ala said...

Joyce's excellent article fired off all manner of synapses in my brain as well. For a mass movement, lead by general consensus OWS is turning out wicked smart. Even when betrayed by supposed allies, OWS finds a way to perform astounding acts of political jujitsu. This a political movement the puches way above its wight class.

There is real fear in the response of the anti-OWS, a panicked, almost hysterical reaction. The attempt to smear the movement with accusations of sexual and criminal excess reek of flop sweat. The right wing went to straight to the dirty-rotten-copulating and defecting in the streets hippy meme and did not pass go. That means they have got nothing Cujo359, just the same old tired cultural warfare talking points they have been using since Nixxon. That old, tired, senile, arthritic dog won't hunt.

This is the real deal Cujo359, the first true mass movement since the civil rights struggles of the post WWII era. It is early days, the beginning of the beginning. Still unlike the false Hope packaged and sold to us in 2008, this is actual hope, a possible way out of the political and economic hole we all had a hand in digging.

Cujo359 said...

It feels more hopeful, that's for sure. What people bought in 2008 was the idea that they could just choose the right guy to run things and everything would be fine. That they chose someone who really had no intention of doing them any good is only now becoming clear to some, but it's probably no accident that they put all their hopes in someone who was a liar.

OTOH, the Occupy movements are doing it themselves, and they have avoided the mistake of being co-opted by someone like Obama. That shows gumption and smarts.