Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Occupy Zombie

I recently came across a blog post entitled, "Why I'm Not on the Occupy Band Wagon." The writer - who appears to be a Boomer - has a very unfavorable impression of the Occupy movement. Basically, that occupiers are young folks who have "gambled" on education and now, having lost the bet, want somebody else to foot the bill for their wreckless accumulation of debt. This is familiar. Since the beginning of the Occupy movement, we have been smeared as spoiled, entitled young people who are protesting because they want a free lunch. "Why don't these kids get jobs and stop complaining so much?"

I have no patience for this. The idea that the Occupy movement is fueled primarily by adolescent angst and middle-class entitlement is unfair, even if there is some hint of truth in the charge. The assertion that occupiers should "just get a job" and "take responsibility" is absurd. Most of the original occupiers (myself included) have jobs. The Occupy movement was launched by many of the best and brightest of our generation - erudite and highly motivated individuals who under normal circumstances would be leaders in both for-profit and non-profit sectors.

But there is not room for us. Because the economy is severely constricted and the Boomers have made poor choices and are now unable to retire, we Millenials face a job market that presents many of us with only three options: Working jobs that we are over-qualified for and which do not pay a living wage; going back to school, accumlating more debt while we ride out the recession; or living with our parents and working unpaid internships, in the hope that this might lead to something better. The very idea of Boomers scolding us on our entitlement, on our bad choices, when they are the ones who have tanked our economy and mortgaged our future for their short-sighted addiction to luxury, is sickening. After decades of frivilous materialism comes the final insult: many Boomers are projecting their own sins onto their children.

The idea that the Occupy movement represents adolescent posturing and entitlement is ludicrous. Though there is plenty of adolescence and posturing on display in this, as in any grassroots movement, the foundation of Occupy is our heartfelt desire to see the restoration of American democracy. Rather than hand over all our power to multinational corporations and the wealthiest .01%, we long to see ordinary people empowered to make decisions for our local communities, cities and regions. Rather than see our political system reflect a cynical "Pepsi versus Coke" fundraising campaign, we desire a renewed political landscape where the common good trumps the perogative of the super-rich, where ordinary people have as much say as Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffett or the Koch brothers.

Which brings me to the matter that really concerns me. Rather than buying into the hedonism and selfishness of which we are commonly accused, I fear that we are being seduced in the opposite direction. In our desire to make a positive impact in the national discourse, I percieve that Occupy is being absorbed into a partisan agenda that is more concerned about Democrat Party victory in the Red vs. Blue culture wars than it is about challenging corporate power and the politics of raw greed.

In the early days of the Occupy movement, we clearly rejected the unholy matrimony of state and corporate power. We called out both Democrats and Republicans, exposing the ways in which both parties were corrupted by the unbridled influence of the big banks, big oil, multinationals and a small elite of super-rich individuals. The Occupy movement was fiercely non-partisan. Sure, we were against the Republican Party - but we had no love for Obama or the Democrats. We wanted fundamental change - truly grassroots democracy - not to be ruled by a slightly more benevolent wing of the wealthy elite.

Yet, today I perceive that we are at risk of losing the guileless integrity and fierce independence that made us such a terror to the status quo. With every day that passes, Occupy becomes ever more wedded to the institutional Left - the Democrat Party and their "progressive" allies. With organizations like MoveOn sponsoring the 99% Spring, the Occupy movement is poised to become a tool for Obama's reelection campaign. Six months ago, there was real hope that occupiers might find common cause with the grassroots, human base of the Tea Party (as opposed to the corporate-funded front organizations that now pass themselves off as a grassroots movement). Today, that seems unlikely, as Occupy becomes increasingly wedded to the failed dogma of the institutional Left, complete with uncritical support for the Democrat Party and its electoral aims.

All this leaves me wondering: Is it too late for Occupy? Is the movement, in fact, dead? Just as the Tea Party has long been a coopted pawn of the anarcho-capitalist Koch brothers, is the Occupy movement inevitably falling into the orbit of the corporate paternalism of the Democrat Party? Worse than simply being dead, is Occupy becoming a zombie, play-acting at life, but in reality only serving as a puppet for another set of elite interests?


glassdimly said...

If the Occupy movement can't actually respectfully reach out to the community and engage it in it's processes, then why not the 99% spring nonprofits? They're spreading our meme about corporate power.

People will become wise to the fact that they're not doing grassroots democracy at 99% spring trainings and we can reap the harvest.

Occupy failed to grow because of its intense sectarianism and failure to create a safe space.

Always the purist, my friend. But in this case the pure Occupy movement was a strong liquor: potent and invigorating for a time, but leading to a hangover.

Occupy 2.0: die and be reborn.

Mackenzie said...

I refuse to vote for "the lesser of two evils." For this, I am told by Democrat supporters, I am really just giving the election away to the Republicans. They're very afraid of what the Republicans will do if they get the presidency, but Congress is as much to blame (or more, they put the legislation on his desk!) for what happens.

When budgets come up, the far-right puts up a budget proposal that fits their ideology. The rest of the Republicans vote for it to get suck-up points. The Democrats vote against it, and they all know it'll lose anyway. It's the stalemate they use to play the political game. Last year or the year before, the Democrats didn't vote against it. They abstained, forcing the Republicans to answer: do you really believe in this budget, or is it just good politics? Well, they answered. They voted against it. They voted that they don't actually want the things their party loudmouths push for to go through. So I don't think we really need to be so scared of them. It's all talk.

And so I have no problem staying a third party voter.

Dale said...

Amen, Micah, but when I came to the part about The 99% Spring, I realized it was something being touted by a guy I just saw on a BIll Moyers and friends episode from a couple weeks back (George Goehl), and I had been impressed when he highlighted the spiritual/communal underpinnings. I tweeted the link to it just after I watched it a couple of hours ago.

But I do resonate with your exasperation with the Democratic party co-opting (or attempted co-opting) of the movement. Obama has been a huge disappointment to me.

I do wish I could have met you this past weekend. It was grerat to visit with Jeremy and Brian. I'm working on the video of the Lauren Pond exhibit and panel at this very moment.

Max said...

Is 99% spring a cooptation by the Democratic party, or by the labor movement? I saw no evidence of the former at the training I attended (with Jeremy and James) but plenty of the latter.

The real question, to me, seems to be: should Occupy build or join a labor movement coalition? I have no idea what the answer is, though.

Scott said...

Micah, It was dead from the start...the misguided envy and lack of realization that it is NOT a 1% who is the problem...the problem is 100% humankind...greed, envy, neglect, evil, and all ugly things are problems that the rich have a corner on....the solution lies only in the Kingdom of God...and this is not to relinquish our need to participate as we feel right in politics at a local level where we can make a difference...but to realize that no one party has all the answers nor has been right about all things....that being said...you must abandon humanistic desire to change things when the human heart is to blame...my own sense is that God can't reach the 1% (the sheep that is lost) if you are already condemning him/her....some of them have indeed given away millions to help people...the 99% also need to look at changing our hearts and not blame others for our hardships....and don't blame us boomers alone either.

Scott said...

Above meant to say " the rich do NOT have a corner on evil"....sorry about that