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17 Sep, 2021 11:36

Occupy Wall Street had the potential 10 years ago to take activism to the next level. Instead, it may have crippled it forever

Occupy Wall Street had the potential 10 years ago to take activism to the next level. Instead, it may have crippled it forever

Occupy Wall Street was, for many activists, the point at which the masses came closest to shaking the foundations of power. But it also sowed seeds that have derailed subsequent movements, leaving the 1% more ensconced than ever.

When activists began setting up tents in lower Manhattan 10 years ago, inspired in part by the Arab Spring and in part by the sheer rapacious greed of banks that had gambled with Americans’ money, lost it, and demanded to be made whole, the narrative managers fell into two camps. 

There were those who cast it as a fly-by-night stunt by hippies who just needed a bath and those who – perhaps hoping to co-opt it for their own political purposes – hailed it as the rebirth of political activism. Emerging from a call to arms published by a well-heeled Canadian magazine called Adbusters (cover price at the time: $8.95 per issue), its grassroots credibility was questionable. But the idea seized the American imagination, bringing influential names like anti-capitalist professor David Graeber to the effort. Many stopped by to speak to the occupiers or even pitch a tent for a few days.

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But with the country in the depths of a recession, no jobs to be had and many left homeless through foreclosure, what could have been a dilettante’s movement ended up with serious staying power – in the people’s imagination if not always in the encampments themselves. Satellite occupations sprung up all over the US and around the world as, for once, it seemed, humanity’s enemies had made themselves known. They were the international banking cartels, they did not play by the rules, but they were hardly all-powerful – indeed, they’d just needed the help of a corrupt government to bail them out. Never were the forces that ran the world seen as more vulnerable.

But Occupy’s questionable origins helped sink it. Rumors of funding from the likes of liberal bogeyman George Soros (also alleged to be a benefactor of Adbusters via the Tides Foundation, which both the magazine and Soros have denied), big-labor interests, and even the Democratic Party convinced some its aims were not the overthrow of the existing system, but merely a further buildout of the existing parasitic structures represented by Wall Street. 

Certainly some aspects of the movement seemed designed to frustrate, confuse, and disempower.  The “people’s mic,” for example, turned every announcement into a potentially hours-long exercise in “collective decision-making” in which the most inexperienced voice was given the same audience as the most expert. Easily mocked, it also created the illusion of consensus where there was none. Early troubling glimmers of the identity politics that has ruptured the Left were felt at General Assemblies, where even the most idiotic suggestions had to be treated like any other. Every political strategist knows things move most smoothly when the opposition is controlled by those in power, and Occupy was no different. Meanwhile, law enforcement helped break the protest’s back by funneling the homeless and those recently released from jail to the Zuccotti Park encampment, which would predictably be full of free food and others’ possessions.

The movement was ultimately defeated by its refusal to issue concrete demands. Portrayed as a plus by its supposedly nonexistent leaders, who had the resources to publish and distribute their own periodical called the Occupied Wall Street Journal, the failure to ask anything of the financial overlords working just a few blocks away wasted a massive opportunity. Those in the encampment actually suffering from the financial fallout of the 2008 crash lacked the influence to place issues like foreclosure and student loan relief front and center, allowing the guilty parties to get away with financial murder. Further demoralizing the movement, Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn all but patted the occupiers on the head and told them to go home in an email that came just hours before the NYPD showed up with bulldozers and trash bags, into which went all the camp’s possessions – from an impressive library of subversive literature to bicycles rigged to power generators (which could have kept the encampment warm through winter).

The “fresh tactics, philosophies, and myriad projects” Adbusters claimed the Occupiers would have “ready to rumble next Spring” failed to materialize. The magazine has returned to its navel-gazing ways, chiding the shrinking consumer class for buying too much (presumably the magazine itself doesn’t count toward consumerist habits). Such finger-wagging fails to notice that poverty – far from becoming less of an issue – is merely being redefined out of existence, its victims classified as useless eaters to be tolerated until something can be done with them. 

As proof of just how far the energy behind Occupy has fallen, a “call to action” on a Reddit forum that shares its name with Adbusters has called for a “General Strike for Climate Action” on September 17 – the tenth anniversary of the closest the 99% ever came to throwing off the parasites who feed on them. But protesting climate change, as journalists like Wrong Kind of Green’s Cory Morningstar have shown with abundant research, is far too often just another scam behind which the world’s super-rich will continue exploiting the poor until there is nothing left to take.

Indeed, a look at the group’s climate demands suggests the magazine’s creators have given up on the class war, instead returning to the environmental virtue-signaling that characterizes so much of the foundation-funded Left. 

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Demanding an end not only to fossil fuel subsidies but to the operations of the companies themselves, which are to be charged with “crimes against humanity,” the group doesn’t seem to understand that cutting off the supply of planetary oil and gas will have a devastating effect on the world’s poor much more quickly than it affects the wallets of the wealthy, who can live off their investments forever without breaking a sweat. 

Their call for a “general strike” may or may not be heeded from deep in post-Covid police-state Canada, but with the western world on the brink of the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset,” it’s clear there are much direr issues in play than pushing the big green bait-and-switch championed by the billion-dollar foundations that use children like Greta Thunberg as puppets to push their anti-carbon crusade. 

Like many of the Occupiers, these children are led to believe that they (and only they, never the adults stage-managing their telegenic “protests”) are “making a difference.” Unlike the Occupiers, the climate kids are often too young to smell a rat, and perform for the adults while their big-money backers asset-strip what’s left of civilization.

However briefly, Occupy Wall Street struck fear into the ultra-rich, making them feel their comparatively tiny numbers as the protesters’ peaceful equivalent of pitchforks and torches assembled outside their offices. But instead of learning from the mistakes made in Zuccotti Park (hint: there is no such thing as a leaderless movement), activists have taken those mistakes as the way forward for all future movements. Class consciousness has been wiped out and replaced with identity politics, while equal opportunity has been chucked in favor of equal outcome. 

Activists have allowed themselves to be pacified by the promise that social media is the easiest route to revolution, with entire astroturfed “movements” run out of a few small bot-farms, while genuine protest movements are concealed by a complicit media and social media that has increasingly shown itself to be in lockstep with government (which is itself in lockstep with the 1% Occupy tried to shake loose).

All is not lost, of course. It’s not too late to learn from what went wrong 10 years ago. But climate strikes and environmental pandering only make the ruling class vultures chuckle as they prepare to dive in for yet another kill. If human society hopes to exist in a few decades, the 99% owe it to ourselves to remember who the enemy is.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.