What’s next for the 99% movement?

This morning, OaklandBecks tweeted:

I just realized that this is the first morning since Oct 10 that there have been no #occupyoakland camps in Oakland.

I’m not sure that’s an entirely bad thing. The camps were an effective protest for a long time, but it may well be time for the movement to move on.

The first reason is that the camp in Oakland is becoming a divisive issue internally. When the city evicted the camp from Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza, a group proposed that the camp move to an empty lot at 19th and Telegraph. But that site is next to the Oakland School of the Arts, by affordable housing, and is about to undergo construction to become a sculpture garden. The effort to create the sculpture garden was a subject of community activism on behalf of the working class neighborhood. In other words, the camp moved from the front steps of city hall – where police violence emphasized the nature of the conflict between the 1% and the 99% and forced the government and the police to pick sides – to placing schoolkids and a community of the 99% in danger should police attack. This would create a hassle for working folks heading to the nearby BART stop or kids getting off it to get to school, but wouldn’t inconvenience the government or the corporate workers further downtown. When people proposed that the camp choose a different location, the folks who put forward these concerns about the wellbeing of working class Oaklanders were shouted down and the proposal was ultimately rejected (apparently quite nastily). The lot was briefly occupied on Saturday, but police quickly and peacefully cleared it out. They also cleared out the longstanding camp in Snow Park, where campers had been clean, quiet, and peaceful. That camp’s eviction undermines the claim that the camps were being closed down because of public health and safety concerns.

I fear that the fights over where to camp and whether to re-occupy old spots or find new spots has distracted the movement from its core message, the concerns about income inequality, the pernicious effects of that inequality on society at large, and the need for radical changes in order to fix those problems. If the public face of the movement is a self-serving argument over the protesters’ eviction, rather than the many families being evicted from their homes, then the camps are a distraction and an ineffective tactic.

Moving on from the encampments is also fully in keeping with time-tested rules of political activism. At this point, the camps no longer fulfill Alinsky’s 3rd and 7th rules (and many others):

The third rule is: Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat. …

The seventh rule: A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time, after which it becomes a ritualistic commitment, like going to church on Sunday mornings. New issues and crises are always developing and one’s reaction becomes, “Well, my heart bleeds for those people and I’m all for a boycott, but after all there are other important things in life” – and there it goes.

I’d say that by last week, the camps were a drag on the movement, and it’s better to be moving forward. In addition to generating internal dissent, they were no longer outside the Oakland PD’s experience. They didn’t confuse or scare the police or the city or the corporations. They were a nuisance, and one that they figured out how to handle. As Alinsky says in his 10th rule: “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”

I don’t know quite how to formulate this as a proposal for the Oakland General Assembly, but I’d like to see the tactic shift from occupation of City Hall’s front door to an occupation of lots which have been abandoned for years, or (with the occupants’ permission) the front yards of houses due for foreclosure. This would help defend people from foreclosure and return the focus to the nation’s economic woes, and occupying abandoned lots would emphasize that this economic crisis is not news for Oakland. These sites might be farther from a BART stop and harder for the media to find, but by now they know to look for the camps, and this would create a different set of challenges for them, without violating the second of Alinsky’s rules, “Never go outside the experience of your people.”

The violence on the UC Berkeley campus and last weekend at UC Davis, and the subsequent challenges to the chancellors on both campuses, emphasize that the Occupy movement still has legs, and shows that there are still ways for the 99% to express its power through that movement. “Power is,” as Alinsky says, “not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.” When a crowd of students managed to talk riot police into lowering their guns and retreating, they took power, and they took it again in forcing their school’s chancellor to make a walk of shame past a crowd of angry but silent students. In the first case, the people’s mic became a weapon that overcame pepper spray and body armor. In the second, it was silence which tore away the armor of power and privilege.

How we bring that power to bear is the question. Camping for the sake of camping is no longer outside the opponent’s experience, nor is it inherently powerful any more. But we still have power, and still have grievances, so we have to keep moving forward.

Comments

  1. #1 AMW
    November 21, 2011

    I’d just like to note that I object to the use of the terms 99% and 1%. In terms of income and wealth I’m in the 99%. But I certainly don’t see my interests as aligned with the rest of that 99% versus the interests of the remaining 1%. So maybe from here on out you could refer to the 99% – 1? Or maybe the 98.999999%?

    On second thought; I’d say at least half of my compatriots in the lower 99% of the income distribution would agree with me. So maybe it’s the 49.5%.

    And on third thought, I think only about 53% of Americans pay income taxes. So maybe it’s the 47% you’re talking about?

  2. #2 Physicalist
    November 21, 2011

    (lol at AMW. Funny troll is funny)

    I like the idea of occupying foreclosures. It puts the focus in the right place, and (I presume) would primarily impact the banks, and might help some of the 99%.

  3. #3 LJJ
    November 21, 2011

    AMW – I have to wonder which part of the 99% you’re in. I would guess that you’re one of the lucky ones who has a job in say, government, upper management, etc. One of the 99% who has a family income greater than $80K/year.

    It’s fun to be complacent. It’s fun to not have been one of the ones who has had to relocate from job to job every few years because they were always the ones without enough time with the company to stay. I have other friends who have watched their wages stay stagnant while the cost of groceries and gasoline have continually climbed.

    My stepson works at a battery factory. Recently they expanded. They completely ignored OSHA safety standards for ventilation, etc., in the new wing of the plant. His lead levels in his blood have nearly doubled in the eight months since he got moved there vs. the amount of lead exposure (blood levels) he has had working the previous three years. When he and fellow employees complain they were told by management, “Go ahead and shut us down. You won’t work and we’ll just have to relocate overseas.”

    This is not happening in third world countries. This is the attitude of American corporations towards their working class people. Working class are disposable and meant to be bullied. A sister-in-law in a bank has had her workload doubled, and was “reclassified” to an employee which cannot get overtime (and no raise to compensate for the additional required hours). When she said she didn’t have enough time in her working hours to complete everything assigned she was told to stay later or work on it from home at night. My son lost his full-time union job in August. He’s working two part-time jobs at gas stations, making about half as much per hour and not enough to support himself anymore.

    I’m glad you’re fine and have a whole bunch of co-workers and friends who are equally safe. I doubt, though, that it’s half of the 99%. If it is, they really are choosing to be willingly ignorant of the plight of a great deal of people they share this country with.

  4. #4 Josh Rosenau
    November 21, 2011

    AMW: Who cares how much income tax someone pays? Everyone pays sales tax (which funds local government), and either directly or via rent they pay property taxes (funding state and local government). Anyone who has work pays payroll taxes to fund Social Security and Medicare.

    And furthermore, why look for a way to divide society in half? You say you object to the terms 99% and 1%, and you say you don’t think your interests are aligned with 99% of Americans, but you don’t say why not. For everyone but the very wealthiest Americans, the last decade has brought no net increase in real wages, but the wealthiest Americans got epically richer. Their interest is making themselves rich at your expense. Your interest are as aligned with theirs as yours are with a con artist.

  5. #5 AMW
    November 21, 2011

    LJJ,

    I’m a professor in southern California. Not tenured, but tenure track. I work in the business school, so the pay is respectable. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but this thread motivated me to look up where I’m at in the income distribution. It looks like I’m close to the bottom of the top quartile. On the other hand, I live in a very expensive part of the country. A few years ago I was in Wichita at a non-profit. My pay was significantly lower in dollar terms, but my standard of living was significantly higher.

    I’ve had three jobs in the last 7 years, all of them located more than 1,000 miles apart. Not that any of those moves were a hardship, per se. They all represented (to my tastes) advancements. I wouldn’t say I’m complacent, but I certainly don’t look to government policy to change my lifestyle or my prospects for the future.

    I’m really sorry things have been tough for your family and friends. I wouldn’t want to belittle their hardships. I just don’t think those hardships are caused by the existence of a class of super-rich.

  6. #6 AMW
    November 21, 2011

    Josh,

    Personal income tax is a little less than half of the Federal Gov’t’s income, and the top 1% of earners pays a little more than a third of income taxes. I’d say that’s significant. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I would guess they pay a healthy share of property taxes and sales taxes. (Not so much payroll, since it cuts off a little north of $100K.)

    I don’t want to divide society in half. But I don’t want to divide it into 99% and 1% either. I don’t believe that setting the bulk of citizens against their wealthiest neighbors is good for either group.

    Also, I’m not sure you understood my original comment, which might be my fault. I wrote, “But I certainly don’t see my interests as aligned with the rest of that 99% versus the interests of the remaining 1%.” I meant two things by that. First, my interests aren’t perfectly aligned with 99% of the income distribution because we have diverse and varied interests and desires. I want the same things as a lot of them, and different things than a lot of them. Second, my interests aren’t perfectly opposed with the upper 1% of the income distribution for the same reason.

    Even amongst themselves the upper 1% of the income distribution want different things. I think it’s simplistic to divide the world into haves and have-nots, and assume that they have necessarily opposed interests.

    As for them getting rich at my expense, I simply don’t buy it. In general, one person getting richer does not make me poorer. There are exceptions, of course. Theft and fraud spring to mind. And a lot of investment bankers got rich when times were good and bailed out when times were bad. I oppose such bail outs, and I think they should have been left to face the wrath of the market. But that doesn’t mean that rich people everywhere are building their fortunes at my expense. By and large, they get rich by offering me goods and services that I’m willing to pay for.

  7. #7 Wow
    November 22, 2011

    Go look at the wealth disparity.

    Look at the changes in disposable wealth.

    Look at what happened when offshore investment controls were relaxed. Did any of that extra money get back to the USA? No.

    When the difference between the haves and have-nots are as high as they are in the USA, and when the ability of the have-nots to move out is removed (what do you think all those extra laws are for?), then there’s one thing that is inevitable: revolution.

    What’s REALLY dumb about it (especially since these 1% are supposed to be SMARTER than average, not as dumb as bricks), is that easing up on that greed would lose them a little. Revolution will lose them everything.

    Can’t they do the cost/benefit analysis?

    Or are they just hoping that the midden hits the windmill after they’re gone?

  8. #8 Physicalist
    November 22, 2011

    AMW says, “I just don’t think those hardships are caused by the existence of a class of super-rich.

    And nobody here (and almost nobody in the occupy movement) is saying that the mere existence of the super-rich is the cause of the hardships being faced by many of the 99%.

    But there are causes of these hardships, and these causes by-and-large benefit (or at least further enrich) the super-rich.

    Is that really so hard to understand?

  9. #9 Physicalist
    November 22, 2011

    Revolution will lose them everything. Can’t they do the cost/benefit analysis?

    Before, they thought housing prices would never crash. Now they think that revolution will never come.

    I have strong doubts about the possibility of substantial change in this country too. But I also didn’t think home prices would crash . . .

  10. #10 AMW
    November 22, 2011

    Hi Physicalist,

    What would you suggest are the causes of these hardships, and in what way do they benefit the top 1% of the wealth distribution?

    As for revolution, well, I’d say it’s unlikely in the extreme. Much more unlikely than a crash in housing prices; which has happened several times in the past.

    Josh,

    I wrote a response to you last comment, but it seems to have been sequestered by the system (maybe b/c it was so long?).

  11. #11 Wow
    November 23, 2011

    “What would you suggest are the causes of these hardships, and in what way do they benefit the top 1% of the wealth distribution?”

    Siphoning the money from that 99% and taking that money for themselves in the 1%.

    Does this thought of “wealth good” not occur to you?

    “As for revolution, well, I’d say it’s unlikely in the extreme.”

    Aye, that’s what Louis thought too. So did the Romanovs.

  12. #12 Physicalist
    November 23, 2011

    AMW:

    My reply is in extended moderation. I posted it on my blog at the link on my name. (Here’s hoping this one gets through.)

  13. #13 AMW
    November 23, 2011

    Physicalist,

    Could you explain how you think the wealth is siphoned away?

    Here’s my conceptual problem. For the most part, wealth is generated and earned through exchange. One person makes something, and sells it to another person who values that something more than the money they voluntarily pay. Lather, rinse, repeat. Exchange enough times with enough people and you can get very wealthy. But by getting wealthy you have had to make a lot of people better off (as evidenced by their willingness to exchange their money for your product or service).

    That’s econ 101. So what do you add to (or reject about) the above that results in siphoning from 99% of the population?

  14. #14 AMW
    November 23, 2011

    Whoops! I mean, Wow, could you explain how you think the wealth is siphoned away?

  15. #15 Wow
    November 23, 2011

    “could you explain how you think the wealth is siphoned away?”

    Well, given that more money is available to the 1% than the 99% than ever before as a proportion, is your contention that this is because the dollar notes have been breeding?

  16. #16 AMW
    November 23, 2011

    Wow,

    There are many hypothesis consistent with wealth concentration that does not require the siphoning of wealth by the wealthy. A few would be:

    1. The wealthiest 1% have become much more productive over the past decades, while the remainder of the population have not.
    2. Assortative mating (based on wealth) has increased over the past few decades. With less intermarriage across income brackets the wealthiest citizens accumulate wealth at a faster rate than the less wealthy.
    3. The top 1% of the income distribution have skills and resources that are difficult to compete against, while the remaining 99% have skills and resources that can be effectively competed against by foreign workers.

    Or, yeah, maybe pieces of paper are having children together.

  17. #17 Wow
    November 24, 2011

    “1. The wealthiest 1% have become much more productive over the past decades”

    Hmmm. Those who PRODUCE are called “working class”. What, exactly, does a CEO produce?

    Now, have you ANY evidence this is correct?

    No.

    “2. Assortative mating (based on wealth) has increased over the past few decades.”

    WTF are you on about? Rich people mix with rich people and always have. ANY proof this is happening?

    No.

    “3. The top 1% of the income distribution have skills and resources that are difficult to compete against”

    Well, yes, they have more money. In a capitalist society, this means more power.

    You hear of Carly Fiorina meeting the secretary for state, but never Ed Walters, refuse reclamation operator (dustman) doing so.

    So you don’t really have anything other than faith that they deserve it.

    Here’s how it goes.

    CEO cuts the workforce, the workforce pay goes down (unemployed). Profits for the next quarter go up, CEO gets huge bonus.

    Rich person wants house. Buys house. No mortgage. Cost 100% cost of home. Has money in the bank to be loaned out.

    Poor person wants house. Buys house, has to have mortgage. Cost 500% cost of home. Extra money goes to bank and paid back as interest to rich person’s account.

    It’s like you are one of those CEOs in a “gated community” and have NO IDEA what money is. Apart from you deserve it all.

  18. #18 Wow
    November 24, 2011

    PS if the managers are making more, why aren’t they losing more after their efforts caused trillions in debt?

    Why is it that senior executives got an average 50% per year rise when FTSE made only 2%, if these executives get richer for “doing more”?

    And, like I said, if doing more means more wealth, why hasn’t the pay for the working classes gone up fivefold from the 80′s to the end of the 90′s when per-worker-efficiency went up fivefold?

  19. #19 Poverty Stricken Government Slave
    January 1, 2012

    Don’t these people have jobs to go to or a lawn to mow or snow to shovel or soemthing construction (not destructive) to do?

    Hopefully Old man Winter will show up and freeze most of the protestors out – at least the violent and vulgar ones anyway.

    I made less than $25,000 last, but you do not see me bitching about wall street, however, you will see e bitching about too many taxes coming out of my pay. I grossed about $24,850 last year, but only saw about 60% of that in my bank account.

    I agree with Ron Paul, abolish the IRS and the income tax. Individuals would be better off the “rich” would pay more money since they would spend more – if we had a national sales tax.