Occupy and the Next Big Thing

Future Hope column, September 24, 2012

by Ted Glick

“This is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave until we take
The longest stride of soul (we humans) ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.”

-from A Sleep of Prisoners, by Christopher Fry

I took part in the September 17 Occupy actions on Wall Street, and there were a lot more people with me on the streets than the “hundreds” figure used by most mainstream media stories I saw. From what I observed between 7 am and 11 am, at various locations, a couple of thousand seemed about right.

There’s no question that this action accomplished one key goal: the disruption of business-as-usual on Wall Street. Between the thousands of us on the streets—or the sidewalks, actually, where we were pushed by the police—and all of the roving police teams and police roadblocks, September 17th, S17, was not a normal day for those who work there, for sure.

There’s also the issue of activist arrests vs. police hurt and windows broken. I could well be missing some information, but from all that I saw in person or via reports afterwards, there were around 180 arrests, and there were zero cops injured and no windows broken despite being in the belly of the Wall Street beast with corporate and financial offices everywhere.

The number of arrests is evidence of aggressive, sometimes violent, police action against people, apparently with very few exceptions, who were committed on some level to tactical nonviolence for this day of action, as evidenced by the absence of cop injuries or broken windows.

This is a big plus for Occupy Wall Street, a demonstration of a level of political and tactical maturity that bodes well for the future.

I was also pleased by the growth in understanding within OWS compared to a year ago about the importance of the climate and environmental crises. This was evidenced by the integration, in action and in words, of those issues into S17 organizing. It was great to be part of the Eco bloc of a couple of hundred people taking action together early in the morning, with singing and chants linking Wall Street greed to the dire straits we are in climate- and environment-wise.

And two thousand people risking arrest or police violence on a work day is not insignificant. That’s especially the case when you take into account the 25-30,000 who marched through Manhattan as part of an OWS-initiated demonstration on May Day, four and a half months ago, and the on-going grassroots organizing and active networking taking place via Occupy by large numbers of activists who took part in the Zuccotti/Liberty Square occupation last fall.

S17 was a definite success, and the organizers of and participants in it deserve the progressive movement’s thanks and support.

The question is: what’s next?

It seems to me that the next big occasion that calls for massive street action is the inauguration of whoever wins the Presidency and the convening of a new Congress in January.

For a lot of progressive activists, the next big thing is Election Day, whether it be progressive Democrats working for Obama (hopefully critically) and other candidates, members of the Green Party working for Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala and other Green candidates, or other progressive non-two-party candidates.

But electoral activism is not what Occupy is about as a social force, even as some of those active within it are individually involved. Occupy, right now, is the key grouping undertaking visible street action, “street heat,” on primarily economic justice but also climate justice and other issues. It’s not the only grouping; indeed, the success of Occupy Wall Street’s May Day demonstration was due to the coalition created that brought together trade unions, peace and women’s groups, students and others.

This is what we need on a national level next January. We need it in Washington, D.C., of course, but we need it all over the country too, in a coordinated way. There should be at least tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people taking action in the streets.

If it’s an Obama-led government, which I hope it is, a key message that we need to get across has to be something like: Time’s Up: We’re Not Sitting Back, Take Action Now in support of the people and the climate.

Van Jones wrote about this in his book, Rebuild The Dream, in reference to what was NOT done in 2009 after Obama’s and the Democrats’ electoral victories: “Marches and protests are the bread and butter of the left, and yet there was never even an attempt to launch public mobilizations. . . The reason for this failure is hard to admit: the forces that ordinarily call and participate in big demonstrations, including myself, had largely gotten pulled into the vortex in Washington. Those pushing for change believed that the levers of power were now in the hands of Washington Democrats. . . At the worst possible time, the organizers of the people seemed to forget the power of the people.”

If it’s a Romney-led government, he and his 1% friends need to be put on notice that they’re going to have a big fight on their hands as they attempt to move us backwards to pre-New Deal government policies. Undoubtedly, there will be a lot more left-of-center people naturally inclined to take action in the streets if the Romney/Ryan/Republican forces manage to win the White House.

And we need more than just action on one day. We need action similar to what happened last August with the two-week campaign, day after day, of civil disobedience at the White House against the proposed tar sands pipeline, or the on-going, weeks-long, inspiring activity taking place right now in Texas against the efforts to build the southern leg of that pipeline (http://tarsandsblockade.org).

What we really need is for a cross-section of progressive activist groups to start considering now, not waiting until after the results of November 6, what we can do as an organized independent progressive movement in January and beyond to REALLY make it clear that we’ve learned our lesson. We’re not getting fooled again. We totally get it on the necessity of a movement in the streets fighting nonviolently for our rights, the needs of the people and in defense of our deeply wounded Mother Earth, no matter who wins political office in six weeks.

Affairs are now soul size.

Ted Glick has been active in the progressive movement since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.