Does OWS Have a Future?
By Mike Emery / adbusters.org

Tuesday marks the four-month anniversary of the Occupy movement. Perhaps it’s time to ask the question: Is it working? In four months, has progress been made toward realizing the movement’s goals?

As much as I would like to be able to answer with an emphatic “yes,” reality is much less encouraging for Occupiers, who haven’t been able to maintain a consistent focus.

On July 13, 2011, Adbusters bloggers proposed an occupation of America’s financial center, slated to begin on Sept. 17. “[W]e want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months,” the post read.

So far, so good.

“Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices,” according to the post.

And that “one simple demand” is the problem.

That original proposal was based on the Egyptian uprising and the Arab Spring in general. The organization proposed that OWS should demand “a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”

Such a commission could have had a great and immediate impact on American politics or made proposals to lay a foundation for future reforms, like the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Instead, the idea was abandoned.

On Sept. 29, the 13th day of the Occupation, the General Assembly at Zuccotti Park issued a declaration listing 23 grievances against major corporations. Nowhere did this declaration call for a Presidential Commission, or for any action, except to suggest direct democratic participation and an admonition to “[e]xercise your right to peaceably assemble.”

We have seen peaceable assembly in the months since; we haven’t seen political action.

Compare this to the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt. Protests began on Jan. 25 and on Feb. 11, President Hosni Mubarak resigned. The revolution continued, and democracy is still at risk. Nevertheless, in less than a month, the Tahrir protesters did something that the OWS protesters haven’t yet done: They gave their country an opportunity for real change. They achieved their first major goal and then moved on to continue fighting.

The Occupy movement has tried to keep organization loose – the various local Occupy protests are linked in name and in spirit but have no obligation to support a particular political agenda. This has led to political fragmentation, as each group of protesters agitates for their own particular reforms. Some of these reforms have stayed on the target of reducing corporate influence in American politics, while others branch out unnecessarily.

For example, among the 23 grievances listed by the General Assembly at Zuccotti Park, there were references to corporations blocking renewable energy, mistreating animals and perpetuating colonialism. A flyer for an Occupy UMaine rally in November stated, “The Greedy Government & Corporations should be feeding & clothing the hungry, homeless, & struggling hard working American families.”

While I applaud the various groups of Occupiers for trying to keep these issues in the spotlight as long as the Occupy movement has it, the lack of focus on one singular, powerful reform has allowed Occupy opponents to paint the movement as one of radicals and hippies, letting inattentive members of the public gloss over the fundamental idea of the protests: Corporate influence in government perpetuates unhealthy levels of inequality.

Every other complaint, every proposed reform, stems from this issue.

As we’ve seen in Egypt – where protests and grassroots political action continue almost a year after President Mubarak’s resignation – a political movement doesn’t have to stop when it achieves its first goal.

Social activism is a task that never ends. As it stands now, the Occupy movement is showing us that without focus, a social movement with its heart in the right place and international support can squander its political potential.

Mike Emery is a fourth year sociology student at the University of Maine. His political columns appear every Wednesday in The Maine Campus.

What do you think? Does our movement have a future? Can we brainstorm/network through winter and come out swinging in the Spring?

Mike Emery is a sociology student at the University of Maine. This article first appeared in The Maine Campus.

Load Comments
You Might Be Interested In
2 min · A FIERCE GREEN FIRE: The Battle For a Living Planet is the first big-picture exploration of the environmental movement – grassroots and global activism spanning fifty years from conservation to climate change. From halting dams in the Grand Canyon to battling 20,000 tons of...
2 min · With Lake of Fire, American History X director Tony Kaye climbs inside of the decades-old abortion debate for a 152-minute study of the pro-life and pro-choice positions. In the process, he uncovers not an objective black-and-white issue, but a myriad of circumstances and...
3 min · This video plugging Avaaz.org exposes the myth of a fundamental clash between Islam and the West as a problem of politics—not cultures. It received over 1.4 million views and 37,000 comments on Youtube (right up there with Star Wars Kid), and helped secure Avaaz.org as the...
43 min · Oct 8th 2011, Marina Del Rey California. This program considers the quality of our beliefs, actions and intents within the overarching context of what supports good public health, prosperity and sustainability and what does not. The subjects of Politics, Economics and...
3 min · Three years in the making, this riveting new documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger tells the epic story of one of the largest and most controversial legal cases on the planet. An inside look at the infamous $27 billion Amazon Chernobyl case, Crude is a real-life...
2 min · HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream? is stunning audiences across the globe, as it exposes the real truth behind the worldwide economic collapse, tracing its origins to a 1971 secret memo entitled Attack on American Free Enterprise System. Written over 40 years ago by the...
115 min · As the 2007-08 presidential campaign cycle offered up the usual slate of Washington insiders, Ron Paul, an obscure Congressman from Texas brought an alternative voice that challenged the political establishment. Advocating a philosophy of sound money, a non-interventionist...
5 min · If a key indicator of the health of a democracy is the state of its journalism, the United States is in deep trouble. In Rich Media, Poor Democracy, Robert McChesney lays the blame for this state of affairs squarely at the doors of the corporate boardrooms of big media, which...
12 min · The Kingdom of Survival is an interdisciplanary documentary combining speculative travelogue and investigative journalism in order to trace possible links between survivalism, spirituality, art, radical politics, outlaw culture, alternative media and fringe philosophy...
10 min · Have a look at how photography is actually creating futures. Deep in the beautiful mountain kingdom of Lesotho, Picture Aid travels to meet one of the children that are supported with education through a picture hanging on a wall: A 15 year old girl who dreams of becoming a...
4 min · Learn more at http://earthjustice.org/soot Tom Frantz has lived his whole life in California's Central Valley, where the small farms of his boyhood have given way to modern day mega-farms. The pollution from the farms combines with the area's other industries - oil, waste...
86 min · The future of the Internet is up for grabs. Big corporations are lobbying Washington to turn the gateway to the Web into a toll road. Yet the public knows little about what's happening behind closed doors where the future of democracy's newest forum is being decided.
Roger Boyd · Over the past decade that I have spent trying to get my head around the suicidal trajectory which modern societies seem to be locked into, I have struggled to understand how we turn this thing around. Human decision-making, especially for the really big decisions, is as much...
Films For Action · Lawrence, KS -- After 12 months in development, Films For Action has launched its new website - a head-to-toe redesign that lays the foundation for a vibrant community-powered news site dedicated to inspiring positive social change. At the heart of the new site is a...
Kevin Mathews · In recent years, Facebook has become an unexpectedly crucial tool for activism. The social media platform allows activists to efficiently connect and communicate with one another in order to arrange meetings, protests and boycotts. Unfortunately, activists who once found...
Naomi Wolf · It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which...
Ari Berman · During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama said over and over that he was running to "put an end to the Bush-McCain philosophy." Campaigning in Colorado just days before the election, Obama clearly stated his opposition to Bush-era economic policies and...
Sarah Busse · I have been experiencing a growing sense of frustration lately in light of the public backlash against OWS protesters. It seems that anyone who comes out and rocks the boat in respect to the status-quo will, after a while, be attacked relentlessly by the media and the public...
Asher Miller · Bill McKibben and the folks at350.org have decided to target the pernicious financial influence of the fossil fuel industry and its front groups. On the day following the election, they kicked off a 21-city “Do the Math” tourto “mount an unprecedented campaign to cut off the...
Avaaz · Climate change is accelerating, but there’s a massive ray of hope: clean energy is booming, producing nearly 20% of the world's electricity! Incredibly, the US and EU are threatening to stifle this breakthrough -- but together we can stop them. In the last decade the Chinese...
Like us on Facebook?