4 Key Questions About the Future of Occupy Wall Street
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After a little more than a month of explosive growth, there’s a growing sense that Occupy Wall Street is at a crossroads.
“The first phase of this movement has peaked. And now it gets interesting,” says Kalle Lasn, editor of Adbusters, the magazine that issued the original call for a Sept. 17 protest on Wall Street. “The original magic of some of those general assemblies is wearing a little thin in some — though not all — places. And winter is coming. People are wondering whether they want to hang around for three hours talking about protocol.”
With its decentralized structure, it’s impossible to predict where the Occupy movement might end up. But we can at least identify the questions that will determine its future.
Can the movement move from tactic to strategy?
Michael Kazin, a historian of left movements, argued in an interview with Salon this week that the occupation of public spaces to bring attention to economic injustice and corruption on Wall Street is at heart a tactic – one that has been remarkably successful. Can Occupy now shift to a broader strategy for effecting change?
The answer to that question depends on what sort of change Occupy wants to accomplish, which is itself not a settled issue. Adbusters’ Lasn predicts the movement will go in a variety of directions. “I believe the movement will break up into components and there will be myriad projects bubbling up from the grass roots,” he says. He imagines campaigns centering on a variety of legislative goals designed to address economic injustice — or even the creation of a third party in America.
Brian Kelly, a New Yorker who has been working on the facilitation committee at Zuccotti Park, argues that it’s important to stress what Occupy has already achieved.
“The first thing to say is, and it needs to be repeated and articulated well, is that something has already been accomplished that is very important. Three months ago these conversations were not happening,” Kelly says. “Suddenly our corporate world starts to look a little more vaporous than it did a few months ago.”
Going forward, one key thing to watch is how well existing progressive groups — especially labor unions — can partner with Occupy to pursue existing goals. These partnerships are already beginning to form, for example in the campaign to extend the millionaires’ tax in New York.
In New York, there is also an Occupy demands working group that bears watching. It continues to engage in intense discussions about potential demands that will ultimately be brought before the general assembly for a vote.
Can Occupy’s decentralized structure be effective in the long term?
There are already concerns in New York that the model of a general assembly — composed of anyone who happens to be present in the park on a given night and making decisions by consensus — does not scale up. Occupiers spend many hours every night on sometimes trivial decisions like whether to appropriate a few hundred dollars to an art project.
There is a structure working group and a proposal for a so-called spokes council that would complement the general assembly (see the proposal here). If it is adopted — and there’s no certainty that it will be given the hostility of some occupiers to anything that smacks of representation — it could streamline the movement’s decision-making process, at least in New York.
Kazin, the historian, also argues that leaders, in one form or another, will have to emerge if Occupy is to become a real, sustained political force.