Occupy cannot employ a strategy similar to that of the civil rights movement for a number of reasons. To begin with, the focus of the Occupy movement is corporate power – the economic, political, and social inequality it creates, as well as the destruction of the environment it perpetrates. Supreme Court decisions in recent years increasingly favor corporations over individual citizens. The most egregious of these is the 2010 Citizens United decision asserting first amendment rights for corporations and thereby banning limits on their campaign contributions.
Indeed, the Supreme Court increasingly appears unwilling to uphold even basic civil rights. Witness the recent decision allowing police to strip search citizens arrested for any offense, no matter how minor – a practice banned by international human rights treaties. The Court has also signaled that it may uphold portions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law; in particular, the requirement that police officers check the immigration status of anybody who looks like they might be an illegal immigrant.
With or without favorable court decisions, it’s a pretty safe bet that the Obama administration will not be sending in the 101st Airborne to protect us from corporate malfeasance anytime soon – or even to protect Occupiers against the violence of local police. A more likely scenario is that the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and federal law enforcement worked with local officials and law enforcement, suggesting tactics and offering advice that resulted in a semi-coordinated and brutal crackdown on encampments late last year.
Even if the contemporary political climate was favorable to a legislative agenda enforced by the federal government, it is unlikely that Occupy would pursue that strategy. Appealing for concessions from a higher authority is not consistent with the overlapping values and goals of horizontalism and anarchism that shape the Occupy movement. Horizontalism, as Marina Sitrin explains, involves a concept of power as “something we create together… It’s not about asking, or demanding of a government or an institutional power.” It’s a way of relating to one another, as equals, rather than according to positions in a social hierarchy
Horizontalism, or horizontalidad, emerged in Argentina, after that country’s 2001 economic crisis. People gathered in the streets, at first banging pots and pans and generally registering protest. Eventually, taking their cue from the landless movement in Brazil, which organized around the slogan, Occupy, Resist, Produce, Argentineans “recuperated,” or reclaimed workplaces such as factories, schools, and clinics and collectively managed them. Similarly, anarchism envisions an ideal society organized voluntarily and cooperatively, with no one having power over another. The bottom-up organizing principle of Occupy, then, is inconsistent with appeals to a higher power.
In their classic text, Poor People’s Movements (1977), Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward argue that opportunities for insurgencies to emerge are not available most of the time, and when they are, those insurgencies are shaped by contemporary social conditions. In this view, both the civil rights movement and Occupy were and are shaped by the historical moment in which they appeared. I admire the veterans of the civil rights movement and what they were able to achieve. Contemporary economic and political conditions preclude that strategy for Occupy, but at the same time present different, and in my view, more exciting opportunities, for social change. The possibility of relating to one another in a more egalitarian way, of empowering people rather than seeking relief from a higher power, and of, as Noam Chomsky says, working toward a different way of living “not based on maximizing consumer goods, but on maximizing values that are important for life,” is deeply appealing. Occupy is the movement for our time – and I am deeply grateful to all of those on the front lines.
Read it at FireDogLake
(h/t Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism)
(h/t Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism)
For those wondering where Occupy is going and what it's demands are.