This is the text of a piece I just sent to the Occupied Tampa Tribune (the newspaper of the Tampa Bay Occupy Movement), based on a couple of comments I made here at DKos a little while ago about the feasibility (or lack thereof) of the whole strategy of occupying parks. I am posting it here to stimulate some healthy discussion about future strategy and tactics as the Occupy Movement awakens from its winter hibernation.
Out of the Parks and Into the Streets: A New Strategy for Occupy 2.0
by Lenny Flank, Occupy St Pete
You may have noticed lately that both the Democratic and Republican parties have made desperate attempts to steal Occupy's message and rhetoric. Obama and Biden talk as often as they can about the "middle class"; MoveOn has lifted all our 99% rhetoric and used it to begin training new organizers for the Democratic party; even the Republican marketing icon Frank Lutz has declared that Republicans should adopt the language of the 99% and try to sound anti-corporate too.
Luntz is selling this message for the same reason MoveOn and the Dem Party are---because Occupy has been effective at changing the terms of the entire political debate, it took both parties completely by surprise, and now both parties want to jump on a bandwagon that neither party did jackshit to create. The fact that BOTH parties are now trying to steal Occupy's rhetoric during an election year (and NEITHER party gave a damn about Occupy's rhetoric just a year ago when they were both arguing over how much austerity to impose on us) indicates that Occupy has indeed set the entire agenda for the political world. The genie is out of the bottle now, and neither party will be able to put it back in. Occupy has won the ideological battle. The debate is happening within the framework we have chosen. Now it remains to win the political and economic battle.
Now is the time for us to move to the next strategic step. The "occupy the park" tactic was useful in the beginning, to bring attention to the movement, give it a base to grow in, and allow it to build power. Now, though, the next task is to take that power and direct it against our enemies---and our enemies are not in the park. It is time we move out of the parks and into the streets and buildings.
We need to learn some lessons from the strategy of the insurgent. Insurgents don't "take and hold" territory. As all the big Occupy branches learned the hard way, that only makes it easy for the enemy to surround you, cut you off, and crush you. Instead, insurgents "take, hold a little while, then move somewhere else". If, instead of trying to defend Freedom Park, the whole encampment had just picked up and moved to another base in another park, and then again, and again, and again, the cops would have faced the impossible task of either sealing off every park in the city, or chasing the occupiers ineffectually all over the place forever. Instead, Occupy tried to stand toe-to-toe with the cops in a fixed battle. The result was preordained. Fixed fights are always fatal to insurgents. We had no chance at all of winning that fight.
By futilely defending the park instead of retreating to another base of operations to carry on the fight against the 1%, the Occupy movement also made a serious political mistake. So long as we were seen as the victims, as simple peaceful nonviolent protesters who were being attacked by the cops, the Occupy movement won public sympathy and support--but as soon as we began to be seen (rightly or wrongly) as provoking confrontations with the cops, we lost that public support, quickly. By turning the Occupy movement into a mere duel with the cops, we placed the "occupy" part ahead of the "wall street" part, turned the fight away from a battle for economic justice and into a battle with the cops over who could stay in a park, thereby losing sight of our real goals and losing our support. A fight of the 99% against the corporate 1% is a fight that will win public support and sympathy--a fight with the cops over whether we can sleep in a park, is not.
So, as a matter of practicality as well as of strategy and tactics, we must expand out of the parks---and into the buildings where our corporate enemy is. Rather than being the total sum of the Occupy movement, the park occupations must be turned into mere base camps, mobile and flexible, where we can meet wherever is most convenient to plan actions in the surrounding community, aimed directly at the 1% and their minions wherever they are--in the banks, the corporate buildings, wherever they happen to be.
In Occupy St Pete, we adopted this strategy right from the beginning--mostly because we were forced into it by circumstances. Like many other smaller Occupy branches, we were never large enough and never had the resources to successfully occupy a park 24/7, so we had no choice but to focus on actions in the surrounding community, in things like the Move Your Money bank actions, the actions at the Progress Energy Building, canvassing on the Pier issue, and successfully pressuring the City of Gulport to take their accounts out of Bank of America. The bigger Occupy groups like New York, Oakland and Seattle, have already demonstrated that they are simply incapable of taking and holding a park permanently against the semi-military might of the police and security forces. Any such efforts are doomed to failure. The larger Occupy groups will, then, inexorably be forced into the same situation as Occupy St Pete---ineffectually defending the parks against the police will simply no longer be the center of their efforts, and they will instead focus their resources on actions in the surrounding community, directly at the places where the 1% exercise their power. Such a strategy not only makes a virtue out of a practical necessity, but it also happens to be the right thing to do, politically and strategically.
"Out of the parks! Into the streets!"