Pham Binh has an excellent new post up at Louis Proyect’s blog, The Unrepentant Marxist. I’ve followed the Occupy movement, both nationally and locally with great interest, and I’m still not certain where I stand on the demand/no demands debate. I understand the rationale behind the refusal to make demands, yet the part of me raised in a world of concrete objectives still yearns for at least one codified goal. If anyone asked, my one demand would be simple and straight forward: get ALL the money out of ALL our elections. After that we can start to have an honest discussion about all the other pesky details, but not before.
The full post is well worth your time, especially if you haven’t kept up with the occupation or don’t know much about it, so please click through and read the entire post.
OWS succeeded where traditional protests failed for a variety of reasons, one of the most important being the fact it was not conventional; it was not a single-issue, single-event protest, unlike almost all previous efforts by progressives in the U.S. over the last three decades. There was no end date or end game by design.
Because OWS was designed as an open-ended, ongoing event, refusing to adopt a formal set of demands was extremely wise. It allowed every person, organization, and cause to bring their own demands and shape OWS’s message and avoided the pitfalls that come with making demands, namely having them ignored, ridiculed, picked apart, or co-opted by the 1% or failing to include demands important to some specific section of the 99%. People and the corporate media were both drawn to this seemingly new phenomenon of a protest without demands, an action without goals.
Many people in Occupy feel deeply and instinctively that making a formal list of demands is the first step to defeat because such a list will be used as a yardstick to judge our success or failure. All the 1% has to do is point out the fact that our demands have not been met and people will feel defeated, that marching is pointless, just as we did in 2003 when the government invaded Iraq despite our best efforts. The invasion of Iraq was a fatal blow to the anti-war movement because our central demand meant zero in the big scheme of things.
Back then, people felt defeated, demoralized, and stayed home, but they also began to learn something important: showing up, yelling, waving signs, and going home is not going to cut it. It took years of organizing around other issues and other events for that lesson to really sink in and become the strategic, tactical, and practical basis for organizing.
The important thing is not how long it took to learn this but the fact that it happened.
A second important lesson of OWS is that determined, bold, and peaceful action is more important than lists of demands, formal politics, or theoretically consistent ideas about strategy and tactics. Much of the skepticism from existing progressive organizations during the first month of OWS centered around the fact that OWS had no discernible demands, no clear strategy to win change (lobbying, strikes, boycotts, elections), and no formal leadership. All of these alleged weaknesses were actually strengths, making it all but impossible for politicians and other established or
OWS succeeded above all else because of the willingness of first hundreds, now hundreds of thousands, to act, to stand up, to fight, to protest, to speak, to Occupy. French military genius Napolean Bonaparte described his method as “first engage, and then see,” and this is exactly what Occupy did.
In this respect and unknowingly OWS followed in the footsteps of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The comparison seems implausible but some of the underlying, methodological similarities are undeniable.
The Panthers developed a mass following in the 1960s not because millions of blacks read the party’s 10-Point Program and clamored to sign up but because the Panthers took bold action to meet the pressing needs of their community. One of their first initiatives was to follow police patrols in California with a rifle slung over one shoulder and a law hand to police the police, to make sure the cops were following the law when they dealt with blacks. Similarly, the Panthers marched with arms on the California legislature when it began to consider repealing the law that allowed them to carry rifles in public.
“Practice is the criteria for truth,” as the Panthers used to say. Their militant actions and the spirit of defiance underpinning them earned the Panthers the respect of the Black community and legions of eager followers who were literally willing to put their lives on the line to win their people freedom, justice, and equality. They were the vanguard.
Both OWS and the Panthers took bold, peaceful action and exploited legal loopholes so that when the police moved against them, the cops did so unlawfully.
(SOURCE: The Unrepentant Marxist)