Why didn’t OWS transform into a political movement?
Two years later, author & journalist Nathan Schneider takes a look at concrete victories and missteps of the Occupy movement
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Tuesday marked the two-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the nationwide protest movement which decried economic inequality and now joining us to discuss the movement today is Nathan Schneider. He is most recently the author of Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse, and he’s the editor of Waging Nonviolence, a daily news and analysis website about social justice movements around the world.
Thanks for joining us, Nathan.
NATHAN SCHNEIDER, EDITOR, WAGING NONVIOLENCE: It’s great to be on.
DESVARIEUX: So, Nathan, can you give us some of your favorite examples of concrete victories of the Occupy movement?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I think, of course, the biggest victory is what I call in the book a kind of apocalypse. And that word, you know, might strike you as odd for this, but in Greek, apocalypse means unveiling. And I think for our society there was a real unveiling about the depth of economic injustice, racial injustice, discriminatory policing that a lot of people found, experienced through the Occupy movement. And I’ve met so many people whose lives personally were transformed by this and can’t really go back to the way things were before.
I think our national discourse has shifted. You see this in the elections of–reelection of Barack Obama and in New York of Bill de Blasio. And that’s really major.
DESVARIEUX: So we’re essentially talking about changing the narrative, really, over the financial crisis.
SCHNEIDER: Yeah. And I think it’s important to understand that that’s only a beginning, and, you know, especially when we look at those politicians. You know, they’re adopting the rhetoric, but they’re not necessarily adopting the policies that occupiers would like to see. And that’s why a lot of people in the movement have been pushing out–you know, a lot of people aren’t involved in the street protests today because they’re off, dispersed around the country, working on particular campaigns for labor, for environmental justice, all sorts of things that fit into the Occupy vision for society but don’t necessarily fall under the name Occupy.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And we can’t talk about the successes of Occupy without discussing some of the failures. To what extent do you attribute things like internal conflicts, police oppression, or just not having really a clear agenda to the decline of the Occupy movement?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I think it’s important to recognize first that when we talk about the failures of the movement, we’re talking first of all about the ways in which the aspirations that the movement put in our minds weren’t quite met by it. So in a lot of ways we wouldn’t even be talking about these failures if the movement itself hadn’t happened and set such high standards for what it might accomplish and such high ambitions.
But there was a lot of repression. This was a movement that was systematically torn apart by the security state, by the militarized police forces in cities all across the country. This was very clear. It was not only brute force. In meeting after meeting after meeting, there were clear infiltrators who were disrupting the discussions and making sure that no sustainable organizing practices could take hold. That was an incredibly significant problem.
But I think it’s also important to recognize that this movement excelled in creating that rupture and that adrenaline-rush moment of the occupations driven by artists, forcing itself on the imagination.
And I think we’re in a moment now where we have to transition. If this idea is to stay alive, we have to transition into more sustainable forms of organizing that can bring more and more people into the fold.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And when the Occupy movement really started, you heard a lot of people comparing it to the Tea Party. And some were even speculating that this movement could transpire into sort of a lefty Tea Party. Why didn’t we see Occupy evolve into a political movement or even a third party?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I think there was really never any intention of doing that. When I was at the planning meetings at the beginning, before the occupation even began, there was a clear turn away from making any demands of power. The decision was reached that it would be much more strategic to build the movement first, that people had to start from scratch and reawaken the political imagination of people. And that’s exactly what happened. Nobody was talking about whether to set up a political party or anything like that. And you see what happens when someone tries to do that with the Tea Party: they get immediately inundated with corporate sponsorships and they’re unable to make any serious changes to the system.
I think in some ways it would be more useful to relate what Occupy’s aspirations are on the right with the role of churches. You know, Occupy wants to create a political power base in communities. It wants to help people organize for themselves and build power from the ground up. So I think in some ways the religious right, the ways in which churches function is more analogous to what Occupy is aspiring to, and is certainly no less powerful, as we know, in American politics.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Sounds good. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Nathan.
SCHNEIDER: My pleasure. Thank you so much.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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