Over the past month, Occupy Wall Street has chalked up a large number of bold actions against both government and private authorities; it has led an attempted general strike, raucous marches, occupations of banks and abandoned buildings, disruptions of political speeches and press events, and a massive West Coast shut down of major port terminals.
The actions, moreover, have already achieved limited successes – besides having created space for Americans to come together outside of the established political system, they have rightly been credited with having stopped fee increases amongst the largest banks in the country, as well as having widely validated the American public’s fury over increasing inequality, generating massive media exposure. Largely, however, the only real material victory of Occupy so far – its having stopped increased bank fees – has been incidental, and was in no way a conscious objective of the Occupy Movement.
Accordingly, the Occupy Movement remains increasingly susceptible to losing its momentum if it does not achieve some tangible, substantive gains for itself and for its communities. People, after all, don’t just want to vent forever – they want something done. We can be certain that if people do not see real results from the Occupy Movement soon, they will move on to something which seems to offer them more; and with our two political parties gearing up for election season, we should take this threat all the more seriously.
Concretely, what this is going to mean for Occupy supporters is to re-orient their organizing from mass, symbolic actions – such as “mic-checking politicians” and waving signs at CEO’s - to more targeted campaigns designed to win real, immediate gains for ourselves.
A look at Direct Action and the Seattle Solidarity Network:
A small group, comprised of only several hundred people, the Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol) is an organization for local Occupy groups to look to for inspiration, because of just how much it has achieved with such little resources.
Its success, in large part, has been due to its unique strategy. Originally, a good part of this strategy was borrowed from organizations such as the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and the Industrial Workers of the World, who had launched Direct action campaigns similar to SeaSol’s present day actions.
The idea of confronting our problems ourselves, of course, actually predates both SeaSol and its forerunners. It is based not only in the anarchist tradition of self management, but critically on the idea that by surrendering control over the outcome of your problems to someone else, you’ve more than likely surrendered the outcome of your problem being solved in your favor.
Thus, unions who have relied on the Democratic Party have lost the battle over the Employee Free Choice Act, NAFTA, and even the right to basic collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin; environmentalists have lost a series of contests over offshore drilling and smog regulation; and citizen volunteers for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign have lost battles for more transparency in government, and an end to corporate influence over legislators. The list could go on.
Despite the obvious setbacks of relying on political parties and ‘specialists,’ the reason organizations like the Democratic Party remain so pervasive is because there is no obvious alternative for most people. What alternatives there are in the United States are often disorganized, directionless, and most importantly, they normally aren’t relevant. They simply don’t achieve anything meaningful to our day-to-day lives.
SeaSol might be seen as a response, then, to both the dominance of “professional” activist organizations which specialize in mediating people’s struggles, and to their ineffective counterparts who partake in the sorts of symbolic, wishy-washy politics the grassroots left has become synonymous with.