Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zucotti Park near Wall Street in New York City, which sounded the alarms that the 98% of society are fed up with the egregious income inequality that pervades American life today.
I remember watching on television like millions of other Americans the people and voices who were championing a more just world and were directly challenging the power of the 1%; i.e. the rich bankers and financiers of Wall Street.
Mark Bray, author of Translating Anarchy, spoke on CNN Money about what he felt were the achievements of the Occupy Wall Street movement. These included the rise of popular political action back into the American mainstream; it instilled a sense of class and economic justice into how we think about the way society works; and ultimately the impact the movement had on a whole new generation of activists that inspire future social movements over the next several decades.
Mark interviewed activists from the Wall Street protests and in his book he states that 72% of interviewees had “anarchist politics.” In this case, anarchist means anti-capitalist, directly democratic, horizontal politics, and a rejection of any compromise with capitalism. The next 1960s will be anarchist in character, according to Bray.
OK. Stop right there. That’s IF there’s a next 1960s. And by then will it be too late? Mark is asked the ultimate question: What did Occupy Wall Street accomplish? Did it adjust tax brackets for the 2%? Did Glass-Steagall get re-implemented by Congress to separate commercial banking from investment banking? Did the minimum wage get increased and be adjusted to reflect the current costs of living in America today? Bray said that the Occupy Wall Street movement ultimately wasn’t about getting legislation passed through Congress. It was about envisioning a world where people have their needs met by society and that current American style capitalist economics is not working for the 98%.
Too many Indians; not enough Chiefs
I’ve got news for you, Mark Bray. While I laud the vision of Occupy Wall Street and protest against the economic disparities that make living in this country more challenging for the 98%, I don’t think Occupy Wall Street nearly accomplished what it could have. This is because it did not coalesce around a strong central organization and preferred to stay decentralized with no structure whatsoever. For the 98%, they are not waiting for the next 1960’s. The 98% want to see legislative action now that tackles the fundamental problems associated with economic inequality. In this case, the rich are getting richer and the middle class is only shrinking.
The only people that will be left to take up the next anarchist revolution will be the abject poor and they do not have guns, power, or influence. Bray harkens back to the Anarcho-Syndicalists, first formed by the International Working Men’s Association back in the 1860s. These anarchist unions were made up of workers who sought direct democratic participation to rectify economic inequality while avoiding any hierarchy. Bray says Occupy Wall Street soared at first because it allowed anyone to participate in political speech without the limitations that an imposed organized structure might put upon it. Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, astutely reminded Brey that the Occupy Wall Street movement could not come to any group consensus on what action to take unless more than 90% of the participants agreed to it. Good luck on achieving that number.
Individuals, not groups, inspire revolutions
Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, these are just a few individuals who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the greater good. Their activism inspired massive social change. Yes, groups can inspire individual leaders and for that reason perhaps Occupy Wall Street should put its energies into more chiefs who can champion the cause of economic justice. The fact is, as an anarchist collective, Occupy Wall Street has not accomplished anything on the level of massive societal change. There will one day be another challenge to the status quo that comes from the streets. It won’t be called Occupy Wall Street. And hopefully it will coalesce into a structured organization that supports individuals who will captivate the imagination of the people.