Intentionally or not the Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) movement has enacted a classic guerrilla strategy in a scenario of asymmetric warfare. By avoiding naming a leader or articulating clear demands, #OWS has denied the coordinated right wing a hard target to attack and demonize. In classics terms, it has avoided giving its opponents 'tall poppies' ithat can be easily decapitated. #OWS has been successful by depriving the right of a whipping boy and a straw man. More below the break.
A little story from the classics:
The king [Tarquin senior] went into the palace-garden, deep in thought, his son’s messenger following him. As he walked along in silence it is said that he struck off the tallest poppy-heads with his stick. Tired of asking and waiting for an answer … the messenger returned to [the land the son was now ruling] and reported what he had said and seen, adding that the king, whether through temper or personal aversion or the arrogance which was natural to him, had not uttered a single word. When it had become clear to Sextus what his father meant him to understand by his mysterious silent action, he proceeded to get rid of the foremost men of the State by traducing some of them to the people, whilst others fell victims to their own unpopularity. Many were publicly executed, some against whom no plausible charges could be brought were secretly assassinated.Livy's History of Rome
This often quoted passage refers to the advice a despot gives his son. If one destroys the leadership, one destroys the movement and there is no need to ruin the entire crop. How does this passage on the way a despot destroys their opposition relate to success of #OWS?
1. The faceless nature of #OWS has denied the right wing their weapon of Character assassination. The politics of character assassination (once a tactic of both the far left and right) has been fully co-opted by the right. From Alinsky;
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and 'frozen.'...Alinsky's Rules for Radicals
"...any target can always say, 'Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?' When your 'freeze the target,' you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments.... Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the 'others' come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target...'
Although originally articulated by the left wing, the idea of character assassination has been fully embraced by Fox News and the right wing. We've seen it again again, whether the Target be John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Acorn, NPR, etc. When the McCain Campaign tried to paint Obama as an associate of Roy Ayers, the principal of character assassination was in play. The tactic is to personalize your opposition, make its face recognizable, and then make that face an object of scorn, contempt, fear, or hatred. The irony here is that name of Alinsky himself is now commonly used by the right wing in a character assignation attempts on the left.
The point being, by remaining faceless, #OWS has denied the right wing one of their primary mechanisms of attack.
2. The 'failure' to articulate demands, has allowed the real message of #OWS to disseminate. Don't misunderstand, #OWS has a message, it's message is strong, and its message is propagating? What is the message? Well while the specific message is a matter of personal opinion, the general message that there is something wrong with the American economic system and that the system is unfiar to regular people like you and me is crystal clear. This is exactly how it should be, and #OWS should take pains for it remain this way. Calls for #OWS to define their demands are misguided. Defining the demands of #OWS is counterproductive for at least four important reasons.
a. As above, defining a specific demand creates a target, and once a target can be defined and isolated, it can be distorted and destroyed.
b. Defining a specific demand stamps an end date on the movement. In the unlikely the event the demand is met, the movement ends. More likely when the demand is defeated the push will be to give up the 'unrealistic expectation'.
c. Defining specific demands serves the strategies of those that wish to define the objectives of the movement within the policy standards of the status quo. The existing status quo is extremely limited and suffers from a three decade long push towards the right. Any attempt to frame the demands of #OWS within the possibility set of current policy discussions in under-ambitious.
d. Focusing on specifics obscures the movement's message. The message of #OWS is not about policy details like reenacting Glass-Stegal or extendign unemployment benefits. the public hates specifics and glazes over when policy is discussed. The reason why #OWS is resonant is because its message is bigger than specific policies. Its message is a fully realized narrative that things are unfair, that there are people responsible for the unfairness, and that together we can fix it. The movement is terrifying because it tells a story. Reducing that story to wonkish policy details plays right into the right wings hands.
In short, #OWS is doing exactly what it should be doing. It's success comes not despite, but because of its lack identifiable leadership and policy specifics. Given the asymmetric nature of media control and power in this country #OWS must continue its existing tactics of denying their opponents a hard target to attack.
Crossposted to Uncommon Reactions.