Occupy movement – gone but not forgotten

Jul 5, 2012
Alexander Cockburn

The Occupy movement appeared dead and buried until the Barclays scandal erupted

IT WAS very hard not to be swept away by the Occupy movement which established itself in New York's Zuccotti Park last September and soon spread to Oakland, Chicago, London and Madrid. And indeed most people didn't resist its allure.
Leninists threw aside their Marxist homilies on party organisation and drained the full anarchist cocktail. The Occupyers seemed to have a complicated way of communicating with each other – finger gestures were important. And as with all movements involving consensus, everything took a very long time.
Was there perhaps a leader, a small leadership group, sequestered somewhere among the tents and clutter? It was impossible to say and at that point somewhat disloyal to pose the question. Cynicism about Occupy was not a popular commodity.
But new movements always need a measure of cynicism dumped on them. An Occupy gathering was like being in church. Questions of organisation were obliterated by the strength of the basic message – we are 99 per cent, they are one per cent. It was probably the most successful slogan since ‘peace, land, bread'.

The Occupy Wall Street assembly in Zuccotti Park soon developed its own cultural mores, drumming included, plus a version of PC. I found none of this to my liking. Where the hell was the plan?  
But I held my tongue. I had no particular better idea and for a CounterPuncher of mature years to start laying down the programme seemed cocky. But, deep down, I felt not without glee that Occupy, with all its fancy talk, all its endless speechifying, was riding for a fall.
Before the fall came there were heroic actions, people battered senseless by the police. I could scarcely poo-poo that. These were brave people trying to hold their ground.  

There were other features that I think quite a large number of people found annoying: the cult of the internet, the tweeting and so forth, and I particularly didn't like the enormous arrogance which prompted the Occupyers to claim that they were indeed the most important radical surge in living memory.

Where was the respect for the past?  We had the non-violent resistors of the Forties organising against the war with enormous courage. The Fifties saw leftists took McCarthyism full on the chin. With the Sixties we were making efforts at revolutionary organisation and resistance.
Yet when one raised this history with someone from Occupy, I'm sorry to say that I encountered total indifference. There also seemed to be a serious level of political naivety about the shape of the society they were seeking to change. They definitely thought that it could be reshaped – the notion that the whole system was unfixable did not get much of a hearing.
After a while it seemed as though, in Tom Naylor's words: "Is it possible that the real purpose of Occupy Wall Street has little to do with either the 99 per cent or the one per cent, but rather everything to do with keeping the political left in America decentralised, widely dispersed, very busy, and completely impotent to deal with the collapse of the American empire…

"Occupiers are all occupied doing exactly what their handlers would have them be doing, namely, being fully occupied. In summary, Occupy Wall Street represents a huge distraction."
Then the rains of winter came. Zuccotti Park came under repeated assault, the tents were cleared from St Paul's Cathedral and by early this year it was all over.  

People have written complicated theses trying to prove it's not over, but if ever I saw a dead movement, it is surely Occupy.

Has it left anything worth remembering? Here, surely, the answer is yes. With Bob Diamond squirming before British MPs, and politicians jostling to apportion blame for the Barclays scandal, memories of the 99 per cent and the one per cent are still very much in currency.

Everything the leftists predicted came true, just as everything hard-eyed analysts predicted about the likely but unwelcome course of ecstatic populism in Tahrir Square came true.

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9/10 people I know have heard of Occupy Wall Street. I'd say that's some success. How many marches of tens, even hundreds of thousands can we name?

Dave Spart Cockburn just can't accept that he is an old fogey, ineffectual in (self imagined) heyday, irrelevant now.