Whither Occupy? (Probably not the ballot box.)

What a shame.

This New York magazine article on the Occupy movement is interesting, and that’s not a euphemism: author John Heilemann is not only aware that the supposedly leaderless movement has plenty of self-appointed (and I’d add, ‘imposed’) leaders to it, but he’s even willing to admit to it in writing. Heilemann also has some pretty good insights on the Occupy movement, and the Democratic establishment, and how the two are, ah, ‘interacting.’ All in all, it’s about as fair-minded an article as you could hope to get from somebody who is sympathetic to a movement that thinks that the act of defecating on police cars is a valuable addition to public discourse.

And yet: the following bit of advice on what the Occupiers’ long-term goals should be is, well, poor.

…OWS will need to achieve at least four things. The first is to survive the winter, literally and metaphorically, going into hibernation rather than withering and dying. [snip] The second, as Gitlin puts it, is “dealing with the crazy”—avoiding instances of violence and property destruction that would taint the movement’s image in just the way that Republicans and their media allies are attempting to. The third is that the protesters will need to put the conceit that the movement is leaderless behind them. [snip]

Fourth and finally, OWS will need to navigate the fork in the road between radicalism and reformism.

What the Occupiers actually need to do is elect Occupy-approved candidates to Congress. If they do not do this, then their movement is meaningless – which it is, of course; but the ongoing lack of Congressional representation that is beholden to the Occupy movement will merely make that fact more obvious, more quickly (and to more people). And note that I did not write ‘have Occupy-friendly advocates in Congress:’ it’s not enough to have sitting progressive Democrats show solidarity. They don’t need Occupier support to keep their seats, you see; which limits the amount of change that Occupiers can force them to support.

And, in case nobody’s ever pointed this out to the Activist Left, let me be the first: sometimes you have to use the stick on your party’s politicians. To paraphrase Machiavelli… it’s great if your politicians love you, but it’s even better if they’re also slightly afraid of you, too. And they have to keep being slightly afraid of you, which means that you have to sustain your original effort and make it clear that you’re still paying attention to their shenanigans. In other words, electing like-minded public officials is a process, not an event (Tea Party activists, please take note).

If the Occupiers do the above, they will sustain their movement – but this will of course not happen, for several reasons. First off, electing politicians involves work, and it’s more fun to sit around in a drum circle. Second, electing Occupy-supported candidates will mostly require either nasty primary challenges in Democratic-held districts, or tough general contests in Republican-held ones. Third and most important, the implications of the first and second points pretty much require that the Occupiers stop using “We are the 99%” to mean “We think that the 99% should believe this” and start meaning “We support what 99% supports.” As even that vague, innocuous position would involve purging the Occupiers of the blackshirt anarchists, the Stalinists, the professional antiwar activists, and roughly 80% of the people named in Heilemann’s article… well, that will be problematical for them.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

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