Occupy Reality
Jun 2012 18

Occupy Reality

Posted In Activism,Blog,Politics

by Steven Whitney

On the June 8th edition of Real Time, Bill Maher took the Occupy movement to task. His was more of a pep talk than a scolding, but his message resounds clearly: If Occupy doesn’t start making a difference, and soon, it will become just another left-wing full-of-hope-fad that failed. And we Baby Boomers know all about revolutions and/or protests gone awry.

Ours was the love and peace generation –– Woodstock Nation, populated by flower children, hippies, and even Yippies (an outrageously theatrical political movement) –– who believed that to end the war in Vietnam “all you need is love.” We marched, occupied parks –– the term “flower children” originated in a Berkeley park that Governor Ronald Reagan wanted razed –– disrupted political conventions, got arrested (more than 13,000 in the D.C. May Day Protests of 1971 alone), performed street (guerilla) theatre, slid daisies down the barrels of rifles, sang, chanted, burned incense and candles, wore ankh necklaces, and visualized the end of war. Men burned draft cards and women burned bras. Protesters and students at Kent State and elsewhere were shot and killed. We raised awareness, got everyone’s attention –– “the whole world is watching” –– and it didn’t make a damn bit of difference. Well, we got better hair, better concerts, healthier (organic) food, and wider sexual freedom –– all good things. But the war ended only when the last American helicopter was chased out of Saigon by NVA troops –– no peace, no honor, just defeat. . . and more than 58,000 young American men and women KIA. The system stayed in place and Nixon started the slow erosion of confidence in our government.

It was the era that began the culture war that split America apart and still rages today. . . and it was the revolution that ultimately failed. It didn’t end any wars and it didn’t change America for the better. Indeed, we made it worse –– because we remained defiantly outside the mainstream, a nation that would have elected Robert Kennedy President in 1968 wound up with Nixon and Watergate, Ford, Reagan and Iran/Contra, the two Bushes (George the Elder and George the Stupid) and their Iraq fiascos, and a nation filled with crass capitalists who bought the system and kept it rigged. Down with Che and up with Gordon Gecko.

Obviously, raising consciousness or awareness wasn’t enough. Neither was singing, marching, dressing up in costumes, or any of the other creative means we utilized to spread the word. We had the right message, but –– to our everlasting shame –– we didn’t deliver it properly.

Many blamed drugs for short-circuiting our feel-good revolution. But even without drugs, the ‘60s revolution was doomed because we didn’t focus on reality, on how things work in the real world. All the peaceful protest in the world did not end the Vietnam debacle because Nixon and a Republican congress, backed by corporate war-profiteers, were in power. If we had not opted out, if we had concentrated on supporting Democrats –– from President on down –– in 1968, the war would have ended, Watergate would not have happened, and Republicans would not have had a nearly unbroken 28 years in power. Instead, our demonstrations and the resulting police riots at Chicago’s Democratic Convention that year scared the shit out of ordinary Americans –– the swing voters each party needs to win –– and they literally ran the other way.

Now we have a President who actually wants to end our extreme economic inequity. But we have a Republican party that blocks every effort in that direction.

At the same time, we have a huge and growing movement called Occupy that also wants to end our financial double standard. But Occupy is doggedly apolitical –– it doesn’t want to get involved. Occupy decries political parties and refuses to endorse candidates while encouraging its loosely-knit membership not to participate in the existing political system. It doesn’t want to change the system, it wants to replace it entirely. . . all the while remaining on the outside looking in.

It’s an understandable position – the Hippies and Yippies actually held much the same view. But it’s unrealistic and totally counter-productive to Occupy’s own goals. As we Boomers tragically discovered, it’s like sitting on the curb and watching Republicans march the American parade off the cliff.

It’s vital that Occupy not repeat our failures, and perhaps the best way is to learn from our mistakes. Like the unsuccessful Yippies, Occupy intentionally has no party affiliation, hierarchy or leadership. That’s certainly democratic, but who makes decisions and who speaks for you? Democracies need leaders –– hell, every revolution, every system of government needs leaders. Otherwise who inspires? Who mobilizes the millions of willing volunteers at your disposal?

Most importantly, you can get involved from both the outside and the inside – one doesn’t preclude the other. Just figure out the most effective strategies to get what you want. What’s at the top of your wish list? What are your top five positions? You must make it crystal clear for both yourselves and others what policies and positions you stand for. How do you propose changing a system that’s fixed from the top down? And how do you communicate that to swing voters?

Occupy should be the important political movement that America needs, but right now its policy of non-engagement is sadly evident. Just look at Wisconsin: Scott Walker –– a politician for and backed by the 1% if ever there was one –– won by a larger percentage of voters last week than he did before Occupy was born. What’s wrong with that equation?

What’s glaringly wrong is that Occupy wants to change things, but apparently doesn’t want to dirty its hands by participating in the albeit imperfect process currently in place, one that can nevertheless affect change. The $11 million that the Koch brothers donated to Walker might have been counteracted by the occupiers in the state had they mobilized fully, but instead Occupy by and large stood by and allowed money from the 1% decide the election. And Wisconsin is only a preview of coming attractions if Occupy remains on the political sidelines.

There is much moral clarity in the ideals Occupy cherishes. But only cowards shy away from their moral responsibility. More than two centuries ago, Irish philosopher Edmund Burke wrote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” It’s still true today. . . and the deliberate non-engagement of Occupy in party politics, is a de facto example of doing nothing.

So roll up your sleeves, Occupy – mobilize and swarm the neighborhoods of all 50 states. You need to make people understand the real issues at stake –– and that voting for what you view as the lesser of two evils is still better than not voting at all (and worse, aiding and abetting the GOP by default). You have to convince everyone in the 99% not only to vote but to vote in their own interests. If you want a better and fairer America, the first and most pragmatic step is to keep Obama in office and get rid of Congressional Republicans who are blocking his progressive agenda. You must figure out how to threaten Republican power bases in a meaningful way or nothing will change for the better.

The lasting effect of Occupy will not be how many “likes” their various pages receive on Facebook, or how many re-tweets their accounts get on Twitter, or how many livestream views their citizen broadcasters rack up, or how many people occupy a park, a square, or even the Washington Mall. Occupy can only be judged on how it changes the face of a country in the midst of the greatest political crisis in its history. In the end, Occupy’s worth will be valued by how much it gets involved and directly affects what could be the most important election of our lives this November.

Up to now Occupy has been sitting on the sidelines preaching to the choir. But now it’s time to exit your tents, stop banging drums in circles, and get your political act together. Run from the dugout onto the playing field and exert your grass-roots power to pressure the only system we have into working for all of us.

The Boomers who largely failed are rooting for you to succeed. We want you to restore a true democracy. But if you don’t get involved –– and Republicans win by default –– then you can kiss your aspirations goodbye. Possibly forever.

There’s a lot of heat on Occupy right now. . . and there should be. You’ve got to prove to skeptics that you’ve got the goods to help build a better and fairer America.

It’s time to deliver.

Related Posts:
Giving. . . And Taking Back
A Tale Of Two Grovers
A Last Pitch For Truth
America: Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.
Gotcha!

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