Which way forward for the ’Occupy’ movement

This article was first published on October 28 on the website of Socialist Alternative, CWI supporters in the USA. One of the latest opinion polls shows that in the USA “59% either fully or strongly agreed with the ‘aims’ of Occupy Wall Street” (Financial Times, London, October 31, 2011)

“We are winning. Sure, we haven’t captured government institutions, haven’t even won concrete reforms or come up with solid institutions to protect our gains. We aren’t even close to finishing the fight or creating the world we wish to live in. But – alongside revolutionaries around the world – we have helped to unlock the hidden and slumbering potential of millions of people, ready to believe again that there is an alternative,” explains Yotam Marom, a leading organizer of the Wall Street occupation, capturing the bold confidence of the movement (Alternet.org, October 13, 2011).

“Our movement is made up of people fighting for jobs, for schools, for debt relief, equitable housing, and healthcare. We are resisting ecological destruction, imperialism, racism, patriarchy, and capitalism. We are doing it all in a way that is participatory, democratic, fierce, and unwavering.”
In a few short weeks, the Occupy Movement has changed the face of U.S. politics. Well over 100 cities have ongoing occupations, with activists in 1,000 more cities and towns planning occupations or solidarity events. Hundreds of thousands have joined in the protests. Millions of working class people who clearly identify themselves as part of the 99% and oppose the 1% have been inspired by the bold stand taken against Wall Street and the corporate-controlled political system.

From the early days of the movement, Socialist Alternative members energetically helped to organize occupations in our cities, putting forward proposals for action, outreach, messaging and process. Just as important, we added our voice to the cry that “another world is possible,” boldly making the case for a democratic socialist transformation of society. Now, alongside many others in the movement, we are grappling with the question: “What next?”

What Next?
First we must recognize that, all of a sudden, we are a force to be reckoned with. The political establishment and corporate media at first attempted to ignore, then belittle, then physically repress our occupations. But now every ruling-class institution, from Obama’s presidential campaign to the Tea Party, is fumbling to reorient its political strategy to meet the unfolding social explosion.

Our success in breaking the corporate media blackout and winning wide support for our movement has also attracted the attention of the Democratic Party. With the presidential election campaign beginning, they have already begun courting the occupation movement. Obama has offered us kind words while soliciting millions in Wall Street campaign contributions. We need to be clear; the Democratic Party is no friend to social movements. They only extend the hand of friendship in order to co-opt the movement and channel our energy into their corporate election campaign.
A Socialist Alternative member
Instead, our friends lie with other social movements, especially the labor movement. The occupation movement needs to link up with wider social and economic struggles. We need to link up with students on college campuses and the concerns of working people and the poor who are suffering under this devastating economic recession.
October 15 witnessed a global day of action that drew over 25,000 in Manhattan and even larger numbers across Europe. Now Adbusters – the magazine that initiated the call for Occupy Wall Street – is proposing global protests on 29 October to demand a “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions. [This article was originally published on 28 October]
Such calls for coordinated action around clear demands points in the right direction. But while the “Robin Hood Tax” may be a popular idea among activists, for workers and youth anger at the system is rooted in budget cuts, unemployment, student debt, foreclosures, inadequate health care, etc. Far bigger protests would be possible if the movement squarely positioned itself against the brutal economic austerity now being prepared by Congress.
In fact, Congress and Obama are inadvertently handing us a perfect rallying point to unify the Occupy Movement and deepen our active support in diverse working-class communities most impacted by the cuts.
After years of severe budget cuts at the state and local level, now Congress and Obama are preparing historic cuts to the federal social safety net. By November 23, a bipartisan congressional “Super Committee” will decide the fate of trillions in funding for popular social programs which seniors, the sick, the poor, students, workers, women and others depend on. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education funding and other vital programs are on the chopping block.

Occupy Congress!
These historic budget cuts, demanded by the big banks and bondholders, are the biggest and most imminent threat facing the American working class. If the whole of the Occupy Movement – including the trade unions – turned to squarely oppose these unpopular cuts, employing mass direct action tactics and mobilizations in working-class communities, it’s possible the cuts could be dramatically curtailed, if not defeated!
Imagine if, across the country, Occupy General Assemblies called on public sector unions and student groups to organize coordinated national strike action against the cuts, as the Assemblies in Greece did! Even if many union leaders refused to go along, the level of anger is such that rank-and-file workers in many areas could organize mass sick-outs on their own, like the teachers of Wisconsin did last spring.
Imagine if the Occupy Movement put out the call to “Occupy Congress,” that is, to occupy the local offices of members of Congress unless they sign a pledge to vote down any proposed cuts to working people’s programs. This would be linked with protests, petitions, community education meetings and creative direct actions.
Already a “Jobs Not Cuts” week of action has been called for November 16 – 23 with support from figures like Noam Chomsky, unions, community organizations, Socialist Alternative and others (see JobsNotCutsProtest.org).We are encouraging Occupy General Assemblies to endorse these actions and orient the movement to oppose these cuts.
Supporting this campaign will not only link the occupation movement with the broader struggle against cuts; it will have the added advantage of further exposing the Democratic Party for their role in pushing these budget cuts. This will make it more difficult for the Democrats to suck energy out of the movement into backing their candidates for the 2012 elections. It will be important to build on the energy from this anti-cuts struggle to put a real alternative in front of voters in 2012 by running independent anti-cut candidates as part of building a new political party of and for the 99%.

“We Demand!”
To maintain our momentum, we must learn to rapidly adapt. We have already changed the political landscape in such a way that simply repeating the tactics and slogans that birthed our occupations will not be adequate to sustain the movement. Millions are looking to us to provide a concrete way forward, a path toward tangible change, to put food on the dinner table.
To demand reforms from capitalist institutions does not mean putting aside the radical aspirations of Occupy. In fact, our task is to explain that real reforms are always the byproducts of massive struggle that threatens the power of the ruling class. We have already frightened the political elites and the titans of capital. If we can continue expand our influence, coordinate our actions and demands, and provide a clear strategic lead to all layers of U.S. society prepared to enter the struggle, the feeling that we are “winning” will take on flesh and bones.

Previous Article

15 October: day of intercontinental resistance

Next Article

Where now for Libya after the downfall of Gaddafi's regime?

Related Posts

Unite general secretary election: support Len McCluskey

The general secretary election in Unite will take place between 25 October and 19 November this year.

Nomination papers have now been sent to branch secretaries and shop stewards can order forms for workplace nominations, all of which have to be in by 6 September.

Socialist Party members in Unite are supporting Len McCluskey, the candidate of the left organisation, United Left.

Anti-gay laws in Uganda

When the European Parliament meets in Strasbourg for one week every month, the last session which takes place on Thursday afternoon is always devoted to debates on human rights issues in different parts of the world. Although most MEPs will have already left to get their transport connections to often far flung corners of Europe, this session is usually very purposeful in illuminating the suffering of different opposition groups, vulnerable individuals or minorities at the hands of brutal political or military regimes.