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How theory met practice …and drove it absolutely crazy
January 9, 2013 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Thomas Frank (of What's the Matter with Kansas? and Pity the Billionaire fame) reviews Occupy's burgeoning research program in "To the Precinct Station."
"Dear god why, after only a few months of occupying Zuccotti Park, did Occupiers feel they needed to launch their own journal of academic theory? A journal that then proceeded to fill its pages with impenetrable essays seemingly written to demonstrate, one more time, the Arctic futility of theory-speak? Is this how you build a mass movement? By persistently choosing the opposite of plain speech?"
He also approvingly cites Slavoj Žižek's essay on the dangers and opportunities of the carnival here.
posted by anotherpanacea (49 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Is this how you build a mass movement? By persistently choosing the opposite of plain speech?"

"He also approvingly cites Slavoj Slavoj Žižek's essay"

Wait, what?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:50 PM on January 9, 2013 [26 favorites]


Oh, you noticed that, eh?
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:51 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: As soon as I heard this long, desperate stream of pseudointellectual gibberish, I knew instantly that this thing was doomed.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:55 PM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


I did notice that, but clearly I didn't notice that Slavoj Žižek has only one Slavoj in his name.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:01 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


After all, the Tea Party had already proven that the most politically effective movements must be totally free of intellectual thought.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:03 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Is this how you build a mass movement? By persistently choosing the opposite of plain speech?"

"He also approvingly cites Slavoj Žižek's essay"

Wait, what?


The citation of Žižek actually makes Frank's point. If your political movement has less clarity than Slavoj Frickin' Žižek, then something's wrong with your movement.
posted by jonp72 at 2:10 PM on January 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


Zizek's speech at Zuccotti park was completely on the money and hardly impenetrable.
There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember, carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.” Remember that our basic message is “We are allowed to think about alternatives.” If the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world. But there is a long road ahead. There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?
source
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:18 PM on January 9, 2013 [26 favorites]


I read and agreed with this essay. The Left needs more fiery, Woody Guthrie/Springsteen style rabble-rousing populism, not college students playing at activism. Getting people to hate the rich should be easy! Abandon politeness and go for full on Alex Jones/fire and brimstone emotional preaching and we might get somewhere.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:19 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Zizek hate is a little odd. He's one of the only left theorists today who consistently publishes readable political commentary outside of the academy. If you get into his deep theory he can be as difficult as anyone, but his pieces in the Guardian or the LRB, while often contrary, are totally grokkable.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:21 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does anyone know if there is a way to get the article from the Baffler to show up as one page BESIDES the print view (which, annoyingly, prompts you to print)?
posted by dhens at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2013


Previously.

Frank's Baffler piece should be required reading for anyone sympathetic to OWS.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:28 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Zizek hate is a little odd.

I don't think there's any Zizek hate in the article; he quotes Zizek as warning against exactly the sort of intellectual navel-gazing that, in his view, fatally weakened Occupy.

The hate is reserved for "high-powered academic disputation as a model for social protest," and there are examples on the third page of the article. Most of it seems pretty sophomoric.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:29 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I meant Zizek hate in this thread. The Frank article I find very even-handed on the topic.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:32 PM on January 9, 2013


dhem, if you close out the print dialog you can still view the article on one page. Not ideal but gets the job done.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:33 PM on January 9, 2013


Frank and his cohort at the Baffler certainly produced better analysis than anything out of OWS.

But who gets more credit for Obama being reelected?

Whog ets more credit for Elizabeth Warren?
posted by ocschwar at 2:34 PM on January 9, 2013


wemayfreeze, thanks, but I wanted to see if there was a way to share it with people on one page without them confronting the print dialog first.
posted by dhens at 2:37 PM on January 9, 2013


This is a great essay. I especially liked this part near the end:
The reason Occupy and the Tea Party were such uncanny replicas of one another is because they both drew on the lazy, reflexive libertarianism that suffuses our idea of protest these days, all the way from Disney Channel teens longing to be themselves to punk rock teens vandalizing a Starbucks. From Chris Hedges to Paul Ryan, every dissenter imagines that they are rising up against “the state.” It’s in the cultural DNA of our times, it seems; our rock ‘n’ roll rebels, our Hollywood heroes, even our FBI agents. They all hate the state—protesters in Zuccotti Park as well as the Zegna-wearing traders those protesters think they’re frightening. But here’s the rub: only the Right manages to profit from it.

As things developed, the Tea Party didn’t really mean any of its horizontalist talk; that was just there to make the movement attractive to potential joiners. The Tea Party had no poststructuralist thinkers contributing to theory magazines, but it did have money, organization, and a TV network at its back. It quickly developed leaders, and demands, and an alignment with a political party. Its main organizations eventually mutated into Super PACs, their antihierarchical populism apotheosized into money—which is, for free-market believers, the purest expression of the General Will available. And perhaps that was the plan of the movement’s masters all along. The vagueness and the leaderlessness were merely for show, it seems—gimmicks designed to give the product the widest possible appeal in the early days.

Occupy Wall Street never made that turn. It took its horizontality seriously. It grew explosively in the early days, as just about everyone with a beef rallied to its nonspecific standard. But after the crackdown came, there was almost nothing to show for it.

What I find interesting is that the Obama team is so great at infrastructure and logistics, while it seems like the broader left isn’t very good at it. It wasn't that long ago that many people in the media and elsewhere were recommending that Obama not even run for re-election. During his time in office, he’s already accomplished a lot by working slowly and deliberately. After his second term ends, I hope Obama devotes his time to help build a broad, liberal, and deep infrastructure.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 2:38 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I read and agreed with this essay. The Left needs more fiery, Woody Guthrie/Springsteen style rabble-rousing populism, not college students playing at activism. Getting people to hate the rich should be easy! Abandon politeness and go for full on Alex Jones/fire and brimstone emotional preaching and we might get somewhere.

I agree. But the thing is, it's not easy to get people to hate the rich. This is an area that Frank has actually covered quite well. The brainwashing and polarization has taken hold wide and deep. Broach any subject in this area, and half the country (most of whom actually fucking work for someone else) will launch into a knee-jerk attack on unions, or wholeheartedly defend the "free-market" as the only acceptable way to run anything. They, for whatever idiotic and twisted reason, believe that every rich person is rich because they earned it.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:50 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I read and agreed with this essay. The Left needs more fiery, Woody Guthrie/Springsteen style rabble-rousing populism, not college students playing at activism. Getting people to hate the rich should be easy! Abandon politeness and go for full on Alex Jones/fire and brimstone emotional preaching and we might get somewhere.

Watch and see how the head of the Chicago public teachers' union fares after she recently had the temerity to bring up how violent labour protests used to be. Even though she immediately tempered her statement in the very next sentence she is still getting pilloried on the local newscasts. Of course she was the leader during a recent labour standoff where she did pretty well so the powers that be would like her gone.

Calls for Braveheart style posturing tend to forget what happened after the speech.
posted by srboisvert at 2:53 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nor does it require poststructuralism-leading-through-anarchism to understand how to reverse these developments. You do it by rebuilding a powerful and competent regulatory state. You do it by rebuilding the labor movement. You do it with bureaucracy.
Occupiers often seemed aware of this. Recall what you heard so frequently from protesters’ lips back in the days of September 2011: Restore the old Glass-Steagall divide between investment and commercial banks, they insisted. Bring back big government! Bring back safety! Bring back boredom!

But that’s no way to fire the imagination of the world. So, how do you maintain the carnival while secretly lusting for the CPAs? By indefinitely suspending the obvious next step. By having no demands. Demands would have signaled that humorless, doctrinaire adults were back in charge and that the fun was over.
Frank's politics seem to be a version of: if only the sensible people made some sensible decisions then everything would be better. As far as I can tell, Frank's critique seems to be "OWS should have had demands" and some sort of reflexive self-loathing of the "urban" sophisticated intellectual:
It would help if the movement wasn’t centered in New York City. And it is utterly essential that it not be called into existence out of a desire to reenact an activist’s fantasy about Paris ’68.

Try Mississippi in the fifties instead. Reenact Flint, Michigan, circa 1937 and you could get somewhere. Look to Omaha, 1892, and things could work out differently.
It's a pretty weak set of criticisms and in particular, he seems to believe in some sort of natural leftist "majoritarianism" without any better sense than OWS of what the majority looks like.
What made it such powerful testimony, I thought, was the way it embodied the 99 percent slogan; one heard unmistakably here the voices of average people from every walk of life, each one of them done in by the same bank-industry urge to screw the world, one customer at a time. You couldn’t ask for a better expression of Depression-style majoritarianism.

The rhetoric in Zuccotti Park was also, of course, loudly majoritarian. But in practice, to judge by these books, OWS tasted overwhelmingly of one monotonous flavor: academia, with a subtle bouquet of career activism.
The 99% handwritten cards were instantly mockable because they betrayed the middle class "boho" ethos of the just those New York city grad students Frank is making fun of. Except, there is no solemn working class majority in the US because there isn't any work. Everyone is temping. He is posturing just as badly as he imagines OWS was without any engagement with any politics. At least OWS was something... Frank is just an entertainer for the Left.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:58 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Whog ets more credit for Elizabeth Warren?

Um, not OWS or Baffler or anything talked about in this thread? That's like thanking Abraham Lincoln for the Abolition movement.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:02 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The author is simply wrong. His last couple paragraphs claims that a "successful" movement is contingent on effecting outreach and gaining a critical mass. He doesn't see the circularity of his terminology and framing.

He would understand better if for example he read that blog post about the Civil Rights Movement a couple years back, and then watched Cloud Atlas.
posted by polymodus at 3:05 PM on January 9, 2013


I think this quote is spot on:
And if you want to know how the people in Zuccotti intended to block the banks’ agenda—how they intended to stop predatory lending, for example—you have truly come to the wrong place. Not because it’s hard to figure out how to stop predatory lending, but because the way the Occupy campaign is depicted in these books, it seems to have had no intention of doing anything except building “communities” in public spaces and inspiring mankind with its noble refusal to have leaders.
posted by notme at 3:06 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Who gets more credit for Elizabeth Warren?

Sen. Warren has just gotten elected to the most august do-nothing political assembly in the world after a campaign about which candidate had a better personality. The politics of her election were driven by her need to gain acceptance by the Democratic establishment. In short, Obama and the establishment Dems get credit for Warren.

Now, there is a nomination of a treasury secretary coming up: Will Sen. Warren ask any inconvenient questions? Will anyone, after her personality driven campaign, even be paying attention?
posted by ennui.bz at 3:07 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rustic Etruscan: ""He also approvingly cites Slavoj Slavoj Žižek's essay"

Wait, what?
"

Compared to most philosophical works I've read, Zizek's writing is the epitome of clear speech. It's a breath of fresh air and funny to boot.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:10 PM on January 9, 2013


But who gets more credit for Obama being reelected?

I actually give the Tea Party more credit for Obama being reelected than I do Occupy, but then, they are a functioning political movement even if astroturfed, whereas Occupy is not.

Also: anotherpanacea you bastard.
posted by OmieWise at 3:10 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I will admit to not having read Frank before, but I was under the impression he had done pretty good research on What's the Matter with Kansas. So...how does he not know that this messiness, foot-shooting, overly academic infighting type of thing was characteristic of every major progressive movement?

There were constant schisms and shit fits and failed initiatives in the great movements of labor and feminism and abolition, too. Feminism got sidetracked/weighed down by the anti-booze types, which turned out to be a mistake. It also made the mistake of choosing not to push for black women's rights, and the bitterness over that and other injustices still lingers so much that many black women prefer the term "womanist" to separate themselves from a white establishment feminism that excluded them.

Occupy is one little salvo. So were coalminer strikes that resulted in prison and vicious violence, and women attempting to run for President before they could vote and getting ridiculed and arrested, and slaves running away and getting caught and horribly punished and running away again anyway. Abolitionists had rocks thrown at them and their meeting places burned down, and yet at the same time they were fighting bitterly over whether it was propoer for a woman to speak to an audience of mixed men and women.

None of this is new.
Political struggles are messy and are never won by one decisive blow. It wasn't the Stonewall riots that led to more rights for gays but what happened after; the organizations, the fundraising, the push to change the culture. The galvinization.

Occupy did not bring down Wall Street, but it helped to rip off the mask and to a lot of people, what lay underneath was a revelation. Change is hard and most people feel helpless and are encouraged to feel helpless. But I have seen the stirrings of new ideas in some of my family and friends; outrage over yet more foreclosures, over govt shutdown, over a system where your kids can't get anywhere because there's no jobs without college and there's no college without crippling debt, and even then, there may not be any jobs.

We haven't seen the end of what Occupy tapped into, whatever happens to the movement that uses that name. Things are too bad for there not to be more ahead.
posted by emjaybee at 3:30 PM on January 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


Great article. This does a fine job of articulating what I've always deeply disliked about OWS, even though I would probably agree with the movement's politics if they ever got around to articulating them: it was much more about playacting a protest, rather than actually doing the real work of a protest. (What kind of protest revels in explicitly having no agenda?) Ironically, the 99% -- who actually have jobs and real-world obligations -- are poorly represented by a group of emptily theorizing squatters who neglected real-world responsibilities in favor of pointless theorizing.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 3:43 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


At some level, doesn't his criticism boil down to, "academic Occupy organizers chronicling Occupy only care about what academic Occupy organizers care about"? I totally agree with the criticism of the theory-speak, and the Left's tendency to celebrate protests for their own sake, but these are also easy targets, aren't they?

There are hints of many worthwhile discussion topics, though: would it have been better for something to have co-opted the Occupy brand to accomplish something legislatively? Would it have gotten as much attention if it hadn't drawn on that "lazy, reflexive libertarianism"? Where, between the people pushing the consensus processes and Communization discussions and the people calling for the return of Glass-Steagall, was the Occupy that could've, or should've, achieved more concrete success as a mass movement?
posted by intendedeffect at 3:57 PM on January 9, 2013


So...how does he not know that this messiness, foot-shooting, overly academic infighting type of thing was characteristic of every major progressive movement?

I would say that the part in bold is one of the things that is 1.) more recent than not and 2.) more prevalent on the left than on the right. That there has always been infighting, is, to me, obvious. However, the endless discussions of "liberatory hermeneutics of place" "othering the disembodied subject's gaze" and so on and so forth seems to be a sad innovation of the latter half of the 20th Century. Alas, as an academic myself, I am forced to read such cruft on a near-daily basis for my sins.
posted by dhens at 3:59 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


PS: This seems as good a time as any to link to one of my favorite pieces by George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language."
posted by dhens at 4:04 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is a mistake [...] to focus obsessively on the verbiage of Occupy’s theorists, to the exclusion of the inchoate sentiments of its rank and file. Frank briefly expresses his respect for the “We are the 99 Percent” Tumblr feed, before quickly turning back to his preoccupation with academia. His essay is, in fact, mostly not about Occupy at all, but about books about Occupy, some of them by aging academics who had little to do with it.
Peter Frase responds in Jacobin with "Modify Your Dissent", an essay on what he calls Frank and the Baffler's "creeping irrelevance."
posted by RogerB at 4:28 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


How building such “communities” helps us to tackle the power of high finance is left unexplained, as is Chomsky’s implication that a city of eight million people, engaged in all the complexities of modern life, should learn how humans are supposed to live together by studying an encampment of college students.

I don't know, I'm not an expert or anything but I think this sells short spinoffs like Occupy Sandy - the aim was certainly somewhat different but my sense is that it drew on lessons learned during Occupy to accomplish the aim of providing aid, and that it was quite successful in doing so.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:33 PM on January 9, 2013


The Left needs more fiery, Woody Guthrie/Springsteen style rabble-rousing populism

Not if it wants to be taken more seriously than OWS. Or the Tea Party.

Getting people to hate the rich should be easy!

It might be if the 98% didn't aspire to being rich.

Abandon politeness and go for full on Alex Jones/fire and brimstone emotional preaching and we might get somewhere.

Yeah. That'll learn 'em.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:40 PM on January 9, 2013


The author conveniently glosses over the community outreach and organizing in other cities, some of which are still going. Occupy our homes is still running eviction defenses across the country, and Occupy Sandy did a kickass job. He also ignored the port shutdown, which definitely deserves a mention.

If it walks like a trot, and sounds like a trot...
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 4:41 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Frank's politics seem to be a version of: if only the sensible people made some sensible decisions then everything would be better.

That would have been a nice start.

As far as I can tell, Frank's critique seems to be "OWS should have had demands" and some sort of reflexive self-loathing of the "urban" sophisticated intellectual

In the end, OWS couldn't bring itself to commit to much. It turns out that the protest was the end unto itself. Where, after the initial outbursts of public anger over the state of things were expressed, much navel gazing was to be had, but not much else, as satisfying as it may have been to those who participated.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:51 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Baffler website doesn't have a dateline, but this essay definitely predates Occupy Sandy (though, IIRC, by only a day or two). I'm not sure that the hurricane relief by itself would change Frank's mind but it's too clear a counterpoint simply to ignore.

I think some of the Occupy-sympathetic left has taken to just knee-jerk excoriating Frank for being out of touch in this essay (e.g. I've been seeing a lot of quips about his "cultural conservatism") when it ought to be listening to some of his points a little better, especially about the uselessness of the academic posturing that surrounded and poached on the real movement-building. I love Deleuze as much as the next guy, probably more, but the theory-mongering on the panel discussion he describes was every bit as doom-announcing a moment as he thinks — and given that that event was organized by Jacobin it's entirely possible to take Frase's retort as a bit too informed by personal defensiveness.
posted by RogerB at 4:53 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


And maybe you have to be a little bit more intimate with the opportunism and hypocrisy of the academic "left," on its side(-show) at the carnival, than most of the actual Occupiers are in order to really appreciate Frank's denunciation — but I certainly did. I recall attending a perfectly ordinary academic lecture in the winter of 2011, just after OWS's actual peak as a mass movement, at which the visiting speaker — one of those very well-paid tenured professors at rich institutions who publishes mass-market books about something he calls "communism" — was breathlessly introduced as having "come to us straight from Zuccotti Park," as though this made him a real street fightin' man. Once you've seen how fast the movement can be turned into a pseudoradical career credential it's a little hard to take some of the more grandiose claims at face value. And if there's one thing that Tom Frank demonstrably understands, it's how radical poses get coopted into meaningless cultural-affiliation gestures like this.
posted by RogerB at 5:19 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


From my perspective, as someone who was heavily involved with the occupy movement in Maine, with close contacts with Boston and New York, I saw a lot of people in public squares, working hard and spending all their time doing local politics, drafting legal complaints and feeding the hungry, and a lot of people on the internet writing about complicated theory.

I don't think Occupy failed. I think Occupy was crushed, as we knew we would be, by the government, and the media. I think essays like Frank's miss the point. Did Occupy get people talking about income inequality? Did we feed popular rage against the finance industry? I think we did. As much as that is thin gruel, its thicker gruel than any other american social movement in the past twenty years, as far I can tell.

Don't get me wrong, Occupy wasn't perfect, we didn't do everything right. From my perspective, a lot of smart, hard-working people suddenly found themselves succeeding beyond our wildest dreams, and by November, we were overwhelmed by our own successes. People underestimated the amount of work of all kinds required to successfully camp out in the winter, in public, while defying local governments. The Occupy encampments were where theory and practice met. On the internet, theory won.

We can't know how the 2012 elections would have gone without the Occupy movement. Would they have gone differently if Occupy had been willing and ready to become another PAC? I don't see how the democratic party could have had a better 2012 election. Would a couple more centrist democratic house seats in margin districts advance a more egalitarian society?
posted by bzbb at 5:31 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


People underestimated the amount of work of all kinds required to successfully camp out in the winter, in public, while defying local governments.

Then why do that? Wasn't that just a distraction from "getting people talking about income inequality"? I mean, I'm nobody important, so this ain't worth much, but that's where the movement lost me, when the whole point became making enemies of relatively progressive mayors in liberal enclaves in order to maintain homeless camps.
posted by chrchr at 5:40 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


From my perspective, we were paralyzed by our own success by the end of October, and we didn't have the capacity to make and carry out effective plans on that scale. No matter the structure and theory, that is a difficult thing to achieve in a rapidly growing organization. How many business fail for similar reasons?
posted by bzbb at 5:51 PM on January 9, 2013


But who gets more credit for Obama being reelected?

Well, not Frank and the Baffler, but certainly not Occupy, whose contribution to the Presidential campaign appears to have consisted almost solely of allying with the Free Bradley Manning folks to "occupy" Obama campaign offices, refusing to leave until the President freed Bradley Manning or they were arrested (guess which one happened). Arguably a significant symbolic gesture, but not really what I'd call helping.
posted by dersins at 6:23 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think Occupy failed. I think Occupy was crushed, as we knew we would be, by the government, and the media.

That is failure, in the context of actually challenging and seeking to change the system. Success is withstanding attempts to crush the movement (something which, among others, the Civil Rights, workingmen's movement and women's rights movements managed against far, far greater and more violent resistance to them).

It's worth asking why this failure happened, and what could be done differently next time - and I think that the successor "Occupy" groups have been asking those very questions and that the answers they have come up with have played a significant role in their success. Instead of sitting around feeling righteous in Zuccotti Park, they're organizing movements around specific tasks and goals (the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, evictions, labor resistance to Republican state administrations) which provide both the opportunity to set and achieve clear goals and to network with ordinary folks who share the same - often very local - goals.

So yeah, the original Occupy did fail. And badly. And people have started adopting the lessons of that failure to avoid repeating it. And, tellingly, a sizable portion of the Left seems far, far more interested in endlessly poking, prodding and dissecting the cooling corpse of the first Occupy than in looking ahead to what's next.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:34 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Consider movement inamorata Ayn Rand (a philosopher every bit as prolix as Judith Butler)

I never thought I'd ever defend Ayn Rand, but this is a bit unfair to Rand.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 6:55 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Abandon politeness and go for full on Alex Jones/fire and brimstone emotional preaching and we might get somewhere.

Hey, weren't you just complaining that "the environmental movement has a serious sense of self-righteousness that can lead to dangerous places"?
posted by octobersurprise at 7:03 PM on January 9, 2013


>I don't think Occupy failed. I think Occupy was crushed, as we knew we would be, by the government, and the media.
That is failure, in the context of actually challenging and seeking to change the system.

It is not. The true results and consequences of Occupy are not yet known, on either side. History is complex, results impossible to forsee, and anyone who points to a definite single cause or result of one event is in large part blowing smoke. But people made their voices heard in aggregate, and speaking generally that is positive.

What purpose does a movement like Occupy have? It puts governments and institutions in a bind by its very existence. If people weren't tremendously dissatisfied they wouldn't bother showing up en masse across the country. That they were pushed to those lengths is, itself, significant, so to an extent, just by meeting they won.

It embarrasses the powerful. They have to end it by acquiescing, which shows either weakness or that they had to be pushed to do what's right, stamping it out, which shows insecurity, or hoping it'll go away -- and it wasn't going away.

That Occupy did it without corporate backing like the tea party did makes theirs a larger victory. That Occupy was ultimately suppressed makes it a larger victory still; it showed the world that powerful people were sufficiently afraid of Occupy that they took forceful measures to end it.

I'm not saying everything done by Occupy is wholly positive, that it couldn't have been done better, that everything is roses because of it. But if you're waiting for the perfect expression of public will then you'll wait forever; life is finite and in the long run we're dead. It wasn't perfect, but it changed things, in undetectable ways, even if you don't realize it, as it does any time a sizable number of citizens get together to do something, and that is itself is good.

The very fact that so many people around here seem so often determined to say the Occupiers were wrong to do it indicates its success. It seems to me to indicate a urge by some people to brand Occupy a failure so it won't happen again, as a way to keep people disaffected and accepting, either to stifle dissent or to channel it into more traditional protest mechanisms, which the media has managed to compartmentalize and contextualize in such a way as to effectively defang it. The days of a MLK-style protest are largely over -- new forms will have to be discovered to overcome media inertia, and Occupy was a step in that direction.
posted by JHarris at 9:29 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The difference between Occupy and the Tea Party is that the Tea Party has actually damaged the American Right in significant ways.

Did Occupy achieve anything? I really don't think so. The problem is this: as far as I can tell, it didn't change anyone's mind. The most it can be said to have achieved was to rally sentiment within the choir. But that didn't really cohere. I think a lot of those people want it to mean something, but I don't think it resonated beyond those circles. The light of its theory cannot escape its own gravity, and fails to illuminate anything beyond its own bounds.

The Tea Party, on the other hand, successfully rallied up a very uncompromising form of conservatism. Mission accomplished, sure, but unless your revolution moves a true majority, being uncompromising in a republic tends to get in the way of successful politics. Mitt Romney is the poster child of how this plays out.
posted by Edgewise at 10:53 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The difference between Occupy and the Tea Party is that the Tea Party has actually damaged the American Right in significant ways."

I saw on tv Michael Brendan Dougherty (of The American Conservative) compare the Reagan revolution of the 80s as a popular response to the leftist counterculture of the 70s, to the current reelection of Obama and the senate turnaround as a popular response to the perceived extremeness of the Tea Party. So this might be accurate.
posted by dimejubes at 3:17 AM on January 10, 2013


Occupy Anti-Politics
I remember a beautiful moment this spring. It was a Sunday night in Chicago, the weekend of the Occupy anti-NATO protests. Most everyone was tired after several days of meandering marching. Following a thousands-strong, permitted march earlier in the day, several hundred of us had tried and failed to break through a police line; our chimerical goal was to shut down the conference. Now it was night, and hundreds of us had headed north to the Art Institute, the site of a dinner for NATO leaders’ spouses. Police ringed the building. We could make some noise and mount a sit-in, but little else. Soon, it started pouring. The rain didn’t precipitate despair among the youthful throng, though, but euphoria. There was a street dance party, and then a group hug. A feeling of deep, visceral cohesiveness with my fellow occupiers overcame me. I felt fulfilled. This was, in many ways, Occupy encapsulated.

It was marvelous. And, in retrospect, meaningless.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:35 AM on January 18, 2013


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