Progressives Must Move Beyond Occupy

September 15th, 2012

Published on Worker’s Action, by Cynthia Alvarez, September 13, 2012.

… Occupy provides a valuable function by voicing a public NO to economic injustice and inequality in our society and distributing information about nefarious elite activities. But because of its opposition to leadership and written rules, Occupy can’t move beyond this basic level to become a viable fighting force capable of the positive, complex, constructive action required to re-form society.  

Occupiers generally subscribe to the flawed argument that less organization leads to more equality and democracy. So most Occupy groups have avoided creating written rules because they feel this would reduce democracy. But our insistence on using oral traditions to store and communicate our rules hobbles us in competition with adversaries, who all use written codes. Occupy will have no more success with this approach than previous non-literate groups who competed with literates.

We approach every new meeting and item of business with an open, make-it-up-as-you-go, spontaneous oral process, recapitulating at each step all previous steps taken. This process, created by small groups on the street, is ill suited to organizing large groups for the complex tasks necessary for societal re-form: publishing creative works, negotiating with unions, putting laws on the ballot, countering corporate privatization schemes, conducting election campaigns, etc.

Because process is not codified in writing, Occupy can’t build on previous decisions at subsequent meetings to get to the next level of complexity. Without written documents we can only refer to fallible human memory. We lose continuity from meeting to meeting. And without written codes to prevent subversion, we remain more vulnerable to it than our adversaries. Of course, we should not simply imitate authoritarian methods of organization to compete. The challenge facing Progressives is how to create a competitive, highly complex organization while retaining the democracy and equality we value.

The second flawed argument inhibiting Occupy is an inappropriate extension of the idea of equality. Our rightful focus on equal opportunity and representation has led us to erroneously organize ourselves as if all people are equally capable. This entrenched Occupy dogma cannot be challenged within the group and is voluntarily avoided, even though many Occupiers understand that it’s bogus. Asserting that people are unique, non-interchangeable individuals makes you vulnerable to the false charge of being undemocratic and elitist … //

… The most important human resource allocation for any organization is in leadership. Leadership is everywhere in human history, indicating we have probably evolved to prefer it. Occupy tries to ignore this fundamental aspect of human nature with its determinedly “leaderless” dogma. But every human group, including Occupy, has leaders whether they admit to it or not. At a minimum, leaders are the more dedicated people: those who do major parts of the work and show up regularly. The best leaders go beyond these basics by contributing brilliant, unique ideas that capture the public imagination and amplify the public mood … //

… Corporate apologists in every area of society regularly present coherent written arguments in favor of privatization. But we offer no alternative, except to say we reject privatization. They have a spear and we do not. A coherent Progressive plan/platform could become the focus of the debate, putting our adversaries on the defensive and forcing them to discuss our vision of society. We would win that debate because our plan would be more congruent with American values of equality, democracy, freedom and individuality. But instead, we play into their hands by constantly reacting to their privatization initiatives. Creating a party platform is hard work requiring structure and organization that Occupy simply cannot provide.

Occupy strategically defaults to defense instead of taking the initiative with direct actions. Most of our time is spent reacting, trying to “defend” something. But we can’t manage to defend anything against highly organized attacks coming from all sides. Ironically, the most effective Occupy events so far in Northern California have been the scattered “direct actions” that took the initiative – the two Port of Oakland closures and the March 5th Occupation of the Capitol Building in Sacramento. Progressives need a system of leadership and rules that can create a coordinated, continuous series of direct actions to build momentum and disrupt our adversaries. We need a creative plan of non-violent attack that captures the public’s imagination.

Progressives must break the cycle of self-sabotage. We know how to effectively organize but seem reluctant to do it, perhaps because we are sub-consciously afraid we might win. Maybe we subconsciously want to stay in the more psychologically comfortable position of outsider underdog where it’s easy to criticize what the evil powers-that-be are doing. We can always be right if we don’t create our own plan or actually do anything. Winning requires a different mindset. We must stop embracing our powerlessness and the elite’s designated role for us as “losers.” A consistent defensive posture is the hallmark of losers. We must take the initiative and attack.

The fallacious, impractical, unrealistic elements of Occupy philosophy ensure it will never become a viable Progressive fighting force. Only by rejecting these constraints in favor of organization that facilitates winning will Progressives be able to build a serious engine of societal reform. Serious Occupiers who want to re-form society should move to better-organized Progressive groups like the Greens. I will subscribe to Occupy networks and might attend Occupy direct actions. But most of my future political energy will go to the Greens, who have inspiring leaders and a constructive plan for a “Green New Deal.” Perhaps it’s time to (finally) create a national Progressive Party – an umbrella party for all Progressives that articulates a general Progressive platform and provides the leverage to move national policy.
(full long text).

Links:

Union preparing to accept sellout contract and end Chicago teachers strike, on WSWS, by Joseph Kishore, September 14, 2012;

Letter to the Editor, from CTU President Karen Lewis, on Occupied Chicago Tribune, by OCTRIB_ADMIN, September 13, 2012.

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