Everyone on the left side of American politics, from the near end to the far end, has advice for Occupy Wall Street. I’m no exception. But it’s useful to acknowledge first that this movement has accomplished things that the more established left didn’t.
The problems of growing economic inequality and abuses by the masters of the financial world have been in the background for years. Many progressives longed to make them central political questions.
Despite succeeding where others have failed, the Occupy Movement has been told "You are doing it wrong!" One of the stranger pieces of "friendly advice" has adopted the right wing framework that activism today is somehow damaged by association with 60s protest movements, particularly Vietnam. Dionne writes:
Let’s first dispense with a kind of narcissism that exists among Americans who lived through the 1960s and insist on seeing Occupy as nothing more than a rerun of the battles over Vietnam, Richard Nixon and the counterculture. This frame is convenient to conservatives who hope to drive a wedge between working-class voters and the occupiers, much as Nixon brilliantly played construction workers against privileged hippies. [. . .] It’s not the ’60s anymore. The protests of that era were rooted in affluence. Too often in those years, the left cut itself off from the concerns of the white working class and disdained its values. That’s the history the right wants to revive. In fact, the Occupy demonstrations are precisely about the concerns of Americans who have been sidelined economically. This is why polls show broad support for Occupy’s objectives of greater economic equality and more financial accountability.
Really? Dionne thinks the problem is people are thinking that this is "a 60s thing?" Ironically, Dionne invokes the Civil Rights Movement (psst, that was a 60s movement too) as a model to emulate:
Martin Luther King Jr.’s lessons on nonviolence are useful here.
The Civil Rights Movement was, of course, one of the most successful protest movements in all of American history. But it was not exactly a political winner for Democrats. The South became a GOP stronghold because of the Civil Rights Movement (To be sure, it is a price all Democrats should have been more than willing to pay.)
Booman rendered a similar critique of today's "activists" (I can only assume his "advice" was directed at the Occupy movement):
[T]he post-Vietnam War progressive movement grew out of the counterculture, and you can't make a very good case for running the country if your disposition is counter to the culture and power structures of the country.
That's why I say we need to get over being countercultural. I don't mean that we should change our values. I am talking about our disposition, our attitude, the way we carry ourselves, what we expect of ourselves. When I say that we should make the countercultural cultural, I mean that we should have the confidence to behave like our values are mainstream and that we want to and deserve to govern with our mainstream values.
In a response, I wrote:
I'm not even sure what that is supposed to mean. Slapping the label "countercultural" on people disagreeing with THE POLICIES adopted by the "power structures of the country" is not meaningful to me. Perhaps Booman means to object to the "protest" culture (seemingly the reference here is to the Occupy Movement.)
Perhaps Booman, like Markos Moulitsas before him, dis[likes] protests. Maybe that is what he means by "countercultural." Personally, I'm not much of a protest person myself. But that does not mean I do not appreciate the political space protests create.
I'm not a big fan of empty labels, and to me, "countercultural" is a particularly empty label. When Booman asserts that "[T]he post-Vietnam War progressive movement grew out of the counterculture," what does that mean? Did the progressive movement not also grow out of the Civil Rights Movement? Or the Women's Liberation Movement? Or the environmental movement?
And in case you are wondering, I think it is indisputable that in terms of electoral politics - the "winning power" thing -the aftermath of the Civil Rights and Women's Liberation movements had much broader effects on elections than the Vietnam War protest movement.
I'll now add that I have no idea what is meant by "our disposition, our attitude, the way we carry ourselves, what we expect of ourselves." To be clear, I'm not out protesting anything, so I assume that "friendly advice" is not directed at me, but at actual people doing actual activism. That means, now, the Occupy movement.
I will not pretend to know what the Occupy movement has as objectives. I know I like that they talk about income inequality, the failure of the "elites" and especially, the “We are the 99 percent” slogan. Consider the effect on Paul Krugman, our most important left of center public intellectual. In December 2008, Krugman was downplaying the importance of income inequality as an economic issue.
Yesterday. Krugman wrote a column titled We Are The 99.9%. At the very least, Krugman has decided now is a good time to discuss income inequality.
I guess the Occupy Movement's "disposition," "attitude" and "the way they carry themselves" has not been that big of an impediment (could it be that it was important to the Occupy movement's success?)
Of course, it could be that those folks providing "friendly critiques" are more interested in their own priorities rather than those of the Occupy movement. Perfectly legitimate. But it would be foolhardy for activists to take their cues from people with different priorities.
Personally, I've shied away from offering "advice" to activists and especially, to the Occupy movement. I like what they are accomplishing and well, they are not going to listen to me anyway. My priorities may not mesh with theirs. When they do, as they have lately, I cheer them on.
And I thank them for their efforts every day. They are making a difference.