#7. The Importance of the Occupiers and of Non-occupying Supporters

#7. The Importance of the Occupiers and of  Non-occupying Supporters

Non-occupying supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement are critical forces in influencing the impact of the movement. The bold and brave occupiers, who put their bodies on the line for what they believe in, are themselves a tiny fraction of the discontented and exploited who seek major change, but their support reaches widely, those many that are discontent, insecure, and/or exploited, dissatisfied with things as they are, angry about the direction in which the country is going. Their support reaches into the majority of the population, even into Republican circles, even sharing some roots with some tea partiers. Occupy Wall Street will not bring about the changes that are wanted by themsleves, but it can be a force to bring about a shift from a defensive to an offensive posture, to push from radical reform rather than only amelioration at the edges.

Supportive non-occupiers can play a major role in moving in this direction. They can develop the details occupiers are accused if ignoring, organize around individual the individual concrete issues contributing to the deep discontent with the direction in which society is moving. Linking the broadly-targeting aroused occupiers to the multiple existing groups and organization already struggling for change might provide strength and energy all around.

In more detail:

Non-occupying supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement need to reflect on just what the Occupy movements (s) are, and what they signify, for the two are not the same. Substantively, those who are occupying space with their bodies, often in the heart of the beast, are brave and largely young discontents, dissatisfied with a society in which human values are subordinate to the search for profit, opportunities for creative work are shrinking and often put in the service of destruction, war is an accepted part of foreign policy, nature is simply raw materials for production, consumption exceeds needs for some and is inadequate for a decent life for many, violence is made attractive and non-conformity punished.[1] In this they reflect what many, many, feel. But they are putting their bodies where their feelings are, and in this they are a small minority. They signify the depth of those feelings, but do not reflect on their actions the breadth with which they are shared.

Numerically, the occupiers, those physically occupying space in protest, today constitute perhaps .05% of the population of the United States.[2] Much more important, however, is that from various polls a good majority of the American people agree with them.[3]

One might line things up somewhat like this – for illustrative purposes only, :

Occupiers         non-Occupiers      +    Support OWS      Republican         Tea Party     Ruling Class        Ruling class

OWS            Supporting Occupy       Republican        Not TP/ OWS                             foot soldiers      Wall Street

.05%                       55%+                          10%                       15%                  15%                 4%                        1%

Small                     majority                    small                    large                     large              small                  very small

The occupiers of Wall Street will not bring about the changes that are wanted by themselves, but they can be a great force to bring about a shift from a defensive to an offensive posture of those needing and wanting change, to push for radical reform rather than only tinkering at the edges. One might line things up somewhat like this – for illustrative purposes only :

Occupiers      Support OWS         Support OWS      Republican         Tea party

in OWS            Not in OWS          Republican        Not TP or OWS

.05%                      55%+                     10%                       15%                  15%

Tiny        majority                small                    large                  large

Ruling class      Ruling Class

foot soldiers       Wall Street

4%                  1%

small               very small

If such an analysis is anywhere near right, the real impact of the Occupy Wall Street movement  will be in what effect it has on the other 94.5% of the population (although the 4% and 1% at the top may be influenced to change their ways somewhat, not out of conviction but in self-defense). Certainly energizing the already supportive majority is highly important, and to some extent the 1% may be influenced against their will. . But the fact that a significant percentage of Republicans also express sympathy with the movement, and that there are elements within it that even resonate with tea partiers, is something to which attention should be paid. Tea partiers, after all, also condemn casino capitalism; when occupiers are accused of illegally occupying public spaces, do they not have more right to claim the tradition of the illegal dumping of tea in the Boston Harbor than the members of the law and order tea parties do? Are there any openings for discussion there?  Possibly, as the broadest yet potentially most meaningful proposal, might not the push for a millionaire’s tax be a unifying struggle, to which the occupations could give a clearer meaning Occupy Wall Street is, must see itself, and must be seen, as part of a very broad movement, one involving far more of the discontented and deprived than can occupy the spaces of the movement itself.

Putting the substantive and the numerical together, it is clear that the possibilities for real change do not rest with the members of Occupy Wall Street itself. It is misleading to measure the movement for change by the growth or shrinkage of the number of occupiers; it must be measured by the scope and effectiveness of the movement of those they represent, that are in sympathy with their feelings and in support of their goals.  It is likewise misleading to focus on a critique of their slogans, the limitations of their theoretical understandings or organization (surprisingly good, even exemplary, as it might be!), or to want them to formulate detailed demands or lobby or get into electoral politics. None of this is what they are about, nor is it the role that they want to or can play.

The Occupy Wall Street  movement It is not about to occupy the Winter Palace, charge the Bastille, overthrow Batista, or even throw cases of tea into Boston harbor. Those reactions that might eventually result from what they do, although it seems pretty unlikely right now. Where the discontent and the deprivation that their movement signifies goes next is not in the first place up to them, but up to those in  whose name they act. They do not occupy positions of influence, their work is not essential to the survival of the system, they do not command the resources that can take on the establishment and win major concessions, let alone overthrow it.

The real support that non-occupying supporters can give the Occupy Wall Street movement, then, is to draw from it the conclusion that the time is right to go on the offensive, to move from Real Politiik to principled politics, to expose and attack the real roots of social injustice rather than only ameliorate their worst manifestations. If they are being accused of not formulating concrete and feasible programs to achieve their clear goals, there are plenty of other organizations and individuals around who can do so. Rather than blaming the occupiers for not doing it, let those who are working within the system  re-double their efforts. The occupation movement is no substitute for the labor movement, for urban social movements, for radical think tanks, for insurgent political organization; it is rather a call to arms for their further mobilization.

But the immediate needs of the occupiers should not be lost sight of in the debate about how their work relates to others. Real support, not only in the obvious ways: pizza, legal defense, blankets, physical presence and encouragement. But also with shared experience, history, theory. There is incredible discussion going on within the occupied spaces, debates, experiments in organizing, discussion of tactics. In one occupation I was at the participants had divided their discussions into those requiring consensus – how to organize, how to run meetings, how to obtain, prepare, and distribute food, how to deal with individual problem – in a sense, management matters — and deal separately with those that required political action, to be decided with debate and discussion but majority vote in General Assemblies. Whether the experience in such an (almost commune-like) setting can be extrapolated to lessons in democracy at other scales is a complex question, but certainly the experience puts vital questions on the table. Such questions have been dealt with before, in much drier fashion, perhaps but deeply and extensively. And need to be faced directly now.

Certainly there are issues on which there are divergent opinions among those fully in support of the basic goals of the Occupy movement. Is the opponent greed, or corporations? Will revising the electoral system produce a democracy where all will be heard? Gross inequality is bad; is all inequality bad? Affordable housing should be available to all; can that best be accomplished through regulation, through subsidies, through non-market provision? In what sense are major corporations job creators or is their motivation to limit payrolls as an expense? What is the history of movements like Occupy Wall Street , what strategies have they historically used? What is the experience with non-hierarchical but effective forms of organization? Can encampments in public space lilke those of Occupy groups be justified in law? If in private spaces? How does “race ” relate  to anti-corporate campaigns? Immigration? Gender bias? Some Occupy groups are welcoming teach-in type forums where such matters are systematically discussed; more offers to organize such events would surely be welcomed. The movement needs theory as well as practice, information as well as feeling. Non-occupiers can surely help.

Could not supporters of Occupy Wall Street, many of whom are in education one way or another, provide opportunities for education at the sites of the occupations, perhaps offer to organize teach-ins, discussion groups? Providing reading material – would not copies of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States be as satisfying to the hunger for intellectual nourishment as boxes of pizza to the hunger for physical nourishment.

A perhaps more far-fetched possibility might be the direct linking of the occupations with the existing movements and organizations of the discontented and the deprived. Might not occupiers be invited out to attend meetings of LGBTQ groups, labor union meetings, civil rights groups, homeless groups ,environmental groups, both to tell their stories and to see how others  do things? Might not educational institutions or teachers and faculty offer visits, discussions, seminars for occupiers?

The occupations will not go on forever; certainly the length of time any individual can participate directly is limited. Cannot outsiders offer opportunities for engagement outside of the space and time of the occupation, but compatible with them, for participants? Is not in fact, in the broadest sense, the promise of the occupations exactly the extent to which they will link to, inform and be informed by, ultimately coalesce together with others, in hat the 99% want and need and strive for?

If all of those who, in support of Occupy Wall Street, have put pen to paper, finger to keyboard, frown to forehead, or mouth to movement, would put conviction into action, the change for which the occupiers  have put their bodies on the line might indeed begin to take place.

[1] The media get is so consistently wrong. The New York Times headlines a story: Countless Grievances, One Thread: We’re Angry,By MARC LACEY, October 18, 2011, without a thought that the end of that one thread is one grievance: a world that is going badly, for the benefit of some and at the expense of others. As a student commented on that article: “Really the fact that there are so many grievances should be a stunning representation that the 99% feel America has lost its great path… instead every media instead says “the 99% don’t have a clear message.” Their message is as clear as day; ignoring it won’t make it go away.”

 [2] Just for order of magnitude: 200 cities, average 200 occupiers each, = 40,000 people, say even triple that number at times of heightened activity, 120,000, rounded off, 200,000. That’s .066% of the population of the United States. In any event, a very small number.

[3] In a Sienna poll, 58%; a Quinnipiac poll, 68%; http://empire.wnyc.org/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-killing-it-in-the-polls, and http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/2011/10/siena-poll-new-york-state-voters-would-rather-occupy-wall-street-than-throw-a-. Polls have their limits, and much too much attention is paid to them, yet they can be revealing; the Time Magazine poll of 1001 persons is fairly typical: http://swampland.time.com/full-results-of-oct-9-10-2011-time-poll/.

#8. Occupy Wall Street – Character, Strategies, the Future


Will the Occupy Wall Street movement continue to grow? I think that is the wrong question. It cannot “grow” in the sense of enlarging the area it occupies, staying longer and longer and refusing to leave. There is simply no space available where it is now in New York, the weather in winter will make it simply a test of endurance, it is more than can be asked. But there are alternative forms by which it can show its strength: marches, timed occupations, rallies, continued effective solidarity and networking. And refinement of claims, clarification of interpretations, pin-pointing of objectives and targets of non-violent action and exposure.  The attached argues:

Five alternative futures confront the movement:

  • Dissolve
  • Be co-opted
  • Focus on specific immediate reforms
  • Go for non-reformist reforms
  • Push for revolution.

The strengths and weaknesses of each are analyzed, and they are not mutually exclusive. But the “non-reformist reforms” seems the most productive.

In any event, its future will hinge on the extent to which it maintains its three defining characteristics:

The common thread in the analysis of the underlying nature of the problems with which it is concerned, symbolized by the 1%/99% formulation;

  • The bringing together of multiple diverse interests and viewpoints in a mutually supportive and trusting human social context; and
  • The commitment to action, to exploring , physically as well as intellectually, the available avenues for implementing their desires, overcoming the obstacles they face, moving towards a better world.

Immediately, tactically, imagination may suggest a variety of new approaches to immediate action. Since continued limited occupation of a restricted site poses major problems as the sole center of the movement, imagination and spontaneity can be looked to provide alternatives to reflect the growth and wide popular support of the movement. Some possibilities are mentioned below.

The following spells out the argument.

There is a deep unease in the country, and internationally. People are dissatisfied, and are suffering. Their specific complaints have to do with jobs, incomes, housing, education, war and peace, corruption, the environment, health care, the role of government, cultural norms, injustice, discrimination, inequality. Underneath are strong if often inchoate feelings. ranging from despair to insecurity to broad discontent with things as they are, unhappiness at the direction in which they are going.  And those feelings are leading to active resistance, demands for change finding their expression more and more in communities and work places, and very visibly on the streets of our cities

Where does the Occupy movement fit into this picture? Where might it go, in the immediate future and in the long run, the big picture?? Will it disappear after its brief moment of fame? Will it end up co-opted, perhaps pushing the Democratic Party a bit to the left, joining a range of movement-type players in the political game? Might it split up into a variety of single-issue organizations, pushing certain specific reforms, lingering as one or more lobbying groups? Will it press for the most far-reaching “non-reformist reforms” feasible reforms within the system, non-reformist reforms, hoping they will lead to deeper system changes? Or will they produce a dramatic change in power structures, a revolution?

In the big picture, cooptation seems to me not be a big danger for happy and for unhappy reasons. Happily, the participants in the Occupy movements are smart, alert, aware, quite sophisticated, some quite experienced, and know who is on their side and who isn’t. Nor can they be so easily bought off, without starting on the very road they wish to go, with some fundamental changes in the economic, political, and social system. Less happily, they are not (yet?) large enough in numbers or power to constitute a threat that must be bought off; so far, the 1% may feel that between the police, the weather, the passage of time, the power of the media, they have nothing serious to worry about. Ben Bernanke may express mild sympathy of the movement, but he is not likely either to win it over or to join it himself. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is circulating petitions declaring “I stand with the Occupy Wall Street protests;”[1] such support can be welcomed, as long as a distance is kept.

The pressure to whittle down the movement to one for specific reforms is one that is significant, but the discussions thus far seem increasingly to be aware of the pit-falls of that direction, the dangers of converting a mass popular movement into a enterprise in legislative drafting, political forecasting, tactical positioning. Occupy  is seen by most of its participants and supporters not as a set of pressures for individual rights, but as a powerful claim for a better world, a real alternative, to what exists; not a set of subsidiary rights in the city ,but a claim to the right to the city, to the world produced by the 99% and now claimed by them as their own..

Non-reformist reforms are an appealing goal, but not one that easy to define or pursue.  How does one tell a reformist goal from a non-reformist one:. Is opposition to charter schools, or more funding for public schools, reformist, or more? Is renegotiating mortgages with principal forgiveness reformist, andif not, what more should be demanded? Are living wage jobs on the one side and a millionaire’s tax of 5% enough to move towards real equality, or a way to prevent greater redistribution? Is providing subsidized insurance for the ill or injured a step towards universal health care, or an end point of reform? Are requirements for transparency and paublic participation in planning moves towards real democratic control of the future of cities, , or a way to avoid changes in the way they are actually built and managed? Are the differences maters just of degree, and when does quantity turn into quality change? Are small reforms way-stations towards larger, less reformist ones, or simply attractive dead-ends?? These are not easy questions to answer.

Unfortunately, the question of revolution seems easier to answer – in the negative. Under what circumstances a revolution might in fact take place is a theoretical question that has been subjected to extensive debate, but whatever the answer, those circumstances do not seem to exist today. The positions of power of the 1%, the control in the economy and in government, their command of the media, the power of the consumerist way of life, the dominance of its ideological supports in nationalism and the Protestant ethic, are too great, technology to firmly in the control despite contrary independent forays.

Strikingly, thee question of power is rarely  raised in discussions within the Occupy movement, at least to one listening from the outside. Yet, push their claims far enough, ask what in reality is needed if they are to be met, and the question of power looms  large. But the very organizatonal ethos of the movement militates against confronting that fact; the movement is against hierarchy, against controls, for discussion and debate and openness, against decisions made through the exerciseof power – with a deep desire to see the form of organization witin the movement, rejecting all use of power, aplied to the society at large. Anarchists are clear on the point; non-anarchists are not, and their views vary widely. The role of government as such, of the state, is involved; it is a tricky question, which the tea party, for not entirely unrelated motives, has answered one way, a way clearly unsatisfactory to most, yet a clear sense of the alternative is yet to be developed. Revolutions involve a major shift in who exercises power, at least initially, and the occupy Movement is not at the point where it sees itself needing to address that problem frontally. And it is probably right; revolution does not seem to be on the table as things stand.

If that analysis is right, non-reformist reforms end up as the only way to go, and I believe the Occupy movement I in fact reflects that position. Look at the various formulations, placards, interviews, demands, manifestoes that have come from it, and you will see claims for justice, equality, freedom, , justice, in many spheres, but not demands for this reform, that bill, such and such a tax, this or that change of regulation – although these are often components of claims that are made.

Looking at the role the Occupy movement plays within the general framework of the opposition to the status quo supports this conclusion as to the primacy of non-reformist reforms. The Occupy movement has three key characteristics:

First, it perceives a common thread among the disparate criticisms, crudely represented by the formulation “for the 99%, not the 1%,” with conflict inevitable as the 1% resist the claims of the 99%;

Second, it brings together with a deeply felt broad dissatisfaction with specific criticisms of the prevailing order and in a mutually supportive and culturally rich environment;

Third, it sees non-violent but direct action as a necessary means to implementing its claims in the face of the resistance of the 1%.

On the first point, the common thread, there is less else happening. Many of the groupings mentioned above lack an analysis of the causes of the defects that campaign against, or tend to place the blame on secondary factors: the media, the election laws, continuing racism, lack of regulation, etc., without probing the deeper structural issues dividing the 99% from the 1% that Occupy sees as the underlying issue. More on this below

On the second point, the bringing together,: the effort is not unique. A number of other movements have similar aims and composition: the international Social Forums, the loosely-organized “anti-globalization” network, the Right to the City movement, National Peoples Action, union and labor-community coalitions and workers’ centers, MoveOn, Restore the American Dream, and many others.

And on the third point Occupy is virtually alone, and this, perhaps, is why it has so quickly and so dramatically gained such wide-spread support, has been welcomed as at long last representing a Springtime on a par with the Arab Spring, and on a scale and in a manner approaching that which is felt necessary to match the scope of the problems of our times.  “Occupying” is a dramatic action, widely recognized, with positive national and international resonance, and will plausibly remain an appropriate hallmark of the movement.

Looking at the immediate future, however, the Occupation faces some uncomfortable truths. One of course is the weather; New York City is not Cairo, and the possibilities of sustaining an effective outdoor 24/7 campaign are more than daunting. The participants in the movement are no doubt already deeply in discussion as to how to address this issue, and they will decide for themselves how far and how long they can go. It may be wise to change strategy according to a specific timetable, rather than turn the occupation into a test of physical endurance.

One possible alternative might by for Occupy to replace is physical locational focus with a more temporal on: to meet, to occupy, only during specific hours or days of the week, perhaps not always at the same location, , with other locations strategically chosen.  Or it might join with other occupations to establish a prsence in Washington D.C., where the capital grounds or the mall might offer opportunities.

Another logical possibility might be finding locations that locally can be occupied consistently regardless of weather. That would be an entirely different approach, looking, for instance at Convention centers as spaces where General Assemblies might be convened, or other public halls or meeting places. Perhaps marches to strategic destinations, rather than focus on a single stable place of occupation, might work: marches to the headquarters of specific banks, specific firms, specific institutions, specific agencies: Trump projects, Wal-Mart, Goldman Sachs, the Federal Office Building. might be effective. But those decisions must be made by the participants themselves, and made with the same imagination and resourcefulness that has characterized their actions thus far. Outsiders can be well see themselves as supportive, indeed as admiring, of what Occupy and its participants have so far accomplished, and help them do what they themselves in the end decide to do. They have earned our confidence so far.

What academics, professionals, writers, artists, intellectuals can do is another matter.  One of the three essential characteristics of the Occupy movement is the presence of a common thread running through the claims of its diverse participants. That common thread, more formally put, is an analysis of the causes of the conditions with which they are concerned.  1%/99% summarizes that analysis, but only in the most symbolic way. Just who is on each side of that division, how clear the lines are , what the dynamics of the relationship between the sides i s, what the tools/weapons each participant uses, how the strength of each is and how each is constrained, , just what needs to be changed in the big picture and how incremental changes can lead to or possibly detract from the desired result – these are all questions on which research, the lessons of history, the analysis of each problem, causes and effects, opportunities and blockages in the struggles – these are the issues on which academics and intellectuals (for not all intellectuals are academics!) can contribute. This is, in a larger sense, among what we are supposed to be doing.

A few examples: In housing, is the problem of foreclosures  and more broadly affordability on or regulating the giving and availability of credit, or are underneath that problems of speculation, of the treatment of land and housing as commodity to be allocated by the market, of private landownership, In health care, is the problem the monopoly position of the big pharmaceutical companies, the restrictions of patent law, the high profits of insurers, the inefficiency of hospitals, or is it the private nature of the health system, the funding of care and treatment on a pay for services basis, the need to see health care provision  in as a public responsibility to be provided publicly like police and fire protection, paid for out from public, social, funds? On questions of jobs, is the problem encouragements to private enterprise to create jobs, or is it the assumption that what is to be produced is what can be sold for a profit rather than what is socially needed, with public provision a n appropriate and major part of a healthy economy and private provision relying on profit based on low wages undesirable? In governmental taxation and land use policy, is encouraging decentralization and competition among communities a solution to uneven development, or does it aggravate the problem and require national solutions?

And in all of such cases, and generally in any matter of public policy, should we not expose who benefits and who loses, and what the respective power positions are of the 1% and the 99% in producing the results that are being questioned? Having made that analysis, is there not a need to propose measures and actions that will begin to address the injustices thus exposed, looking to immediate reforms that go in the direction of addressing the larger problems thus exposed – “non-reformist reforms, whose specification is hardly an easy matter? And that being done, is it not appropriate to politicize the results,  become directly engaged in the messy processes of putting proposals into effect, of becoming directly involved in the popular struggles’ that are involved, joining with those most directly affected in common actions trying to produce an alternative, a better, world? “Expose, propose, politicize,” might be one formulation of what academics and non-academic intellectuals can contribute if the wish to support the Occupy movement.

The growth and effect of the movement will depend, not on how many bodies occupy a specific place for a specific time this winter, although where feasible that can help, but on the imagination with which it takes up the task of exposing the ills of which it complains, formulating the claims it makes, and developing strategies to move towards their implementation. Its allies, in a supportive role, can be a big help.

.  Peter Marcuse                                                                                                   October 11, 2011

[1]  Eric Lichtblau, “For Democrats, Wary Embrace Of the Protests,” New York Times, October 11, 2011, p. 1.

#9. Occupy WallStreet – Claims, not Demands

#9. Occupy Wall Street –Targeted Claims, Not Limited Demands

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a basic response to a social system seen as unjust and inhumane, one which is killing people, leaving millions in poverty, destroying the natural environment, stifling and distorting creativity, undermining democratic participation in social decision-making, and creating an existential insecurity about the future throughout the land, and indeed throughout the world. All of its slogans, all of its participants, reflected in hundreds of interviews and media stories and learned analyses, confirm that understanding of what it is about.
Specificity: Demands vs. Claims

Yet there is a strong undercurrent in these accounts, including some sympathizers as well as critics, that the movement’s demands are unspecified, unclear, lacking in useful formulation, uncertain of actual and concrete goals.

Is that criticism justified? I think not, with one exception. I think it results from a misinterpretation of the movement’s sources and has political consequences that undermine the movement’s potential for desired radical change.

Why does not the movement ask for repeal of the Bush tax cuts, implementation of environmentalists’ resistance to fracking, subsidies for alternate energy development, a moratorium on evictions for mortgage arrears, renewed restrictions on campaign contributions, closing of tax loopholes, a Warren Buffett tax on millionaires? Adequate Federal and State funding for education, repeal of mandatory criminal sentencing laws, ending mass deportations and inhuman immigration laws? These – just as examples – are all demands that virtually every supporter of the Occupy movement would endorse. Why not settle down, draw up a list of those demands, spell them out in enough detail so that there is no doubt of their meaning, figure out their budgetary implications, lay out a strategy for getting them adopted, and set about systematically developing a campaign around them?

Why not? Because that ends up playing the game, and the whole essence of the movement is to reject the game’s rules as it is being played, to produce change that includes each of these demands but goes much further to question the structures that make those demands necessary. The analogy to the heart of the Arab spring uprisings, to the civil rights movement, to the counter-cultural protests of the 60’s, are striking. They all believed they were operating under a system that needed to be changed in the way it functioned before their specific demands could be realized; their power lay in the evidence of the mass support they provided for change, the evidence that things could not go on as they were, that those that held the levers of power had to use them to implement deep changes or get out of the way and let others that would do so get at it.

In this sense, claims of rights, perhaps in the form of manifestoes, rather than political laundry lists of demands, are indeed the way to go: understanding rights as statements of principles, sharp enough to reveal concrete positions on broad topics, perhaps with examples, but not confined to specifics. Occupy Wall Street is not a lobbying movement, but a movement for social change. In the Arab spring, the core of the demonstrations was for fundamental change, with the ouster of a particular dictator is immediate target but not its only or ultimate goal. It could well be argued that limiting the demand to that one step needed to be seen as only one step, a first step, and that the hard work of more comprehensive change still remains its task. Certainly Saul Alinsky would argue that that any effective movement must have one or more immediate, realizable, demands around which to organize and demonstrate success. This might be the exception to the “claims for rights, not demands for programs” rule.” Perhaps pushing for the Warren Buffett millionaire’s tax might be such a demand for the Occupy movements, or possibly a short list for flexibility. The important thing is to see them as parts of a larger picture, means to broader goals, not ends in themselves.

Further, demands, as opposed to claims, implicitly assume a setting within the established order. They call for reforms of the status quo, rather than for rejection, for what Richard Sennett has called “different shades of capitalisms” rather than alternate methods of structuring a society. That is not to say that reforms are not important in themselves, nor to say that they may not be steps on the way to larger changes. There are reformist reforms, and non-reformist reforms. Many social movements that support claims such as those of the Occupy movement see their path to winning those claims as going through non-reformist reforms, and that route is not inconsistent with the one Occupy has thus far chosen. But it is not Occupy’s route. Occupy’s actions may in fact be the necessary underpinning for achieving real reforms, both reformist and non-reformist. But in the spectrum of resistance to the prevailing order, Occupy Wall Street represents a different approach.

Paul Krugman puts it this way:

It’s clear what kinds of things the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators want, and it’s really the job of policy intellectuals and politicians to fill in the details.

But it’s not only a matter of division of labor; it reflects the depth of the concerns of the protestors. Pressing claims is different from targeting demands. Occupy Wall Street not about detailing a political or legislative agenda for today. It knows at whom the movement is addressed, who is blocking the claims of rights in its manifestos, and it knows for whom it speaks, whose claims it is pressing. Its claims are not for pie in the sky, not simply hopes and desires, but the principles it is pursuing. Those in power need to surrender that power, need to change their ways. Let them start; the movement will watch, will say whether they are on the right road or not, whether they have gone far enough or not. The claims are addressed at a particular named target, and establish the criteria by which their actions, in response to any specific demand, can be judged.

Conflict vs. Consensus

Consensus is not sought; conflict is seen as inevitable. Perhaps at some deeper level everyone can be better off, but immediately some, the 1%, will be losers– not of everything, but of the unjust riches and power they have amassed. What is wanted is not consensus around concern for some amorphous declining “middle class,”, nor around a charitable concern for the very poor or the “underprivileged,” but a claim that there be no upper, middle, or lower, no privileges for anybody.

Thus the Occupy movement is not after consensus, covers but is not limited to concern for the rights of the very poor, is not for the rights of the “excluded” to be “included” in the system as it is. Such rights are part of their claim, but the claim is for a better life for all. The 99% formulation is exactly right; the hope is “for all,” but the recognition is that 1% already has what they need and much more, and must give up their hold on the excess, over is fair in a socially-oriented society, in the interests of the other 99%.

Public Space vs. Private Territory

The use of space also reflects a particular approach to the recognition of the inevitability of conflict along the way to its goals. Public space is frequently seen as a necessary ingredient of a democratic urban field. It is seen as a place for communication, for diversity, And for protest, and the presence of settings such as Tahrir square or the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires or Hyde Park in London are seen as strong support for broad mass movements for change . Occupy’s spatial setting is different: it is the site of the power that is being challenged. It is, I this sense, direct action itself, not just a call for action. Just as protests at the Pentagon in Washington differ from rallies at the Washington Monument, picket lines in front of a factory differ from collecting signatures of support at bus stops. Centering action in Zuccotti Park is bringing the battle to the enemy’s territory.

While thus far the location in New York City is only symbolic, it happens that Zuccotti Park is a privately –owned space, coincidentally named after an aggressive real estate development lawyer who has been active both in governmental affairs and in private development. The park, actually a paved plaza and what is formally known as “privately-owned public space,” is owned by Brookfield Properties, in conjunction with its ownership of One Liberty Plaza, the adjacent high-rise commercial tower, which, in Brookfield’s terms, “is home to many leading financial and professional services firms including Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Zurich American Insurance and Royal Bank of Canada.” It is in the heart of the city’s financial district, only blocks from the Wall Street centers of speculation and economic power which the movement by its name challenges. In a sense, the occupation of Zuccotti Park is already the occupation of a small piece of Wall Street.” At one corner stands a 70-foot-tall, bright red metal sculpture by Mark di Suvero, perhaps fittingly called, for today’s purpose, “Joie de vivre.”

The location can be interpreted as potentially fitting in to the Piven and Cloward view of the role of disruption in the life of social movements.

Occupy Wall Street makes no small demands, but asserts a claim broadly to the rights of all men and women. How far it will get no one knows as of now. But it certainly deserves all the support it can get.

Personal note after the big march, October 5, 2011

I’m just back from the Occupy Wall Street march. It was massive; I would guess rivals in numbers some of the national Marches on Washington. Entirely peaceful, up to now; the police were polite but stupid, closed streets to traffic but confined the marchers to the sidewalks, etc. The General Assembly at the end of the march adopted a set of resolutions, quite democratically, amazing for a setting with thousands of people participating. And without any electronics. Speakers read short resolutions or made comments, the crowd that heard them repeated them in chorus so all could hear, approval was raising your hand and wiggling your fingers, disagreement was raising your hand with palm out flat – I wasn’t sure of the motions, but there seemed general understanding and consent.

Some of the signs were great — from” Piggy Banks,” to “I’ll believe corporations are people when they execute one in Texas,” to “Wall Street should buy stocks, not politicians” and “Marx was Right: Capitalism doesn’t work”. Substantial important support from key unions: Transport Workers, American Federation of Teachers, SEIU, CUNY”s Professional and Staff Congress, Retail Workers. And apparently some neighborhood groups also, although I didn’t see any under their own signs–interesting. I’ll find out more tomorrow. Apparently after it ended a split-off group in fact tried to occupy Wall Street, and was met with excessive force — pepper sprays, horses. The media seems more interested in what the police did than who the demonstrators were or what they wanted. Yet even the Chair of the Federal Reserve System says he sympathizes with the protesters. And the movement seems to be catching on all across the country. I think it’s tapped into a generalized feeling of discontent and despair that in a way also underlies the tea party’s spread, but is much more participatory and genuine (not financed by bigoted billionaire zealots). Maybe.