Thursday, 17 November 2011

Occupy = Vote (Not)

Our Mayor One-Percent’s crackdown on Zucotti Park may boomerang as soon as today. The Occupy movement could never thrive as an experiment in Utopian community while mobilizing against the greedy, ruling elite, and now there is a chance its attention will sharpen on the latter while issues of sleeping arrangements and where to find a potty become secondary. No doubt there was a certain creative spirit generated by maintaining a headquarters in the tiny plaza, but it was always temporary. I’ll be curious to see what ideas percolate up next about how to proceed, such as the suggestion that people in the neighborhood start to take in Occupiers so that they can sleep offsite and still stick around. Today’s demonstration should also give us an idea of the strength of the forces sympathetic to OWS and what they/we all have in mind.

A lot is being written about the nationwide coordination of the evictions and the role of Homeland Security, the FBI and probably the Obama Administration. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone not in a coma. The Occupy movement is a gigantic headache for the entire political class, and occasional pious bleatings of sympathy aside, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are eager to see it grow and coalesce further.

It’s a bit surprising to see even sophisticated observers like Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker miss the point in this regard as they gently urge OWSers to get back into the ‘political’ game and grasp—poor, innocent lambs that they are—that sooner or later it’s all about who wins elections. The Tea Party, these commentators point out, had a major success by channeling its energies into the 2010 elections and thereby imposing the current crew of lunatics on the entire country, despite their relatively low numbers. Or as Hertzberg wrote on Nov. 7, ‘Ultimately, inevitably, the route to real change has to run through politics—the politics of America’s broken, god-awful, immutably two-party electoral system, the only one we have.’

But OWS and its larger constituency have better instincts than that. They know that the electoral game is rigged and that the promises made in November are easily shredded by Christmas. What better demonstration of that fact than the ongoing disgrace of the Obama Administration itself, which systematically marginalized the popular forces that got it into office and folded the uprising against the Bush-era crimes into an electoral machine that it promptly dismantled once the job was done. The right wing, especially the Christian conservative movement, refused to play along with the GOP in that way and kept its potency.

No, OWS is much more a cousin to the rebellions of the 60s and 70s, which is why its propaganda doesn’t even address who’s running for what nor declare itself either for or against any of those guys as candidates per se. Its denizens don’t denounce Obama; they just ignore him. Obvious enemies of the 99% like Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker get mic-checked and harassed, but that doesn’t reduce Occupy Chicago to a voter canvassing operation for his Democratic counterpart. The core of Occupy is direct action, disruption, denunciation, confrontation, and the like, not letter-writing campaigns nor patient tolerance of proxies, even the well-meaning ones, in city councils or state legislatures. That hasn’t worked, and there’s even less reason to believe in it now that corporations can buy that entire system out of their petty cash boxes. As for the ‘route to real change,’ we’ll see about that. I don’t think the civil rights, antiwar, or women’s movements suffered from Hertzberg’s poverty of vision.

Yes, Hendrik, people haven’t forgotten that electoral democracy is better than dictatorship, and no doubt many millions will head out to vote in primaries next year. But as elected European leaders are sidelined in one country after another in favor of ‘technocrats’ willing to do the bidding of the French and German bankers, why should anyone delude himself that the worthy custom of suffrage will save us from subversion at the top?

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