Occupy Wall Street: Complete, unmitigated, disastrous failure

by Sonny Bunch on November 5, 2012


Nearly all of these books wander more or less directly into the “danger” Žižek warned against. They are deeply, hopelessly in love with this protest. Each one takes for granted that the Occupy campaign was world-shaking and awe-inspiring—indeed, this attitude is often asserted in the books’ very titles: This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement (Berrett-Koehler, $9.95), for example. The authors heap up the superlatives without restraint or caution. “The 99% has awakened,” writes the editor of Voices From the 99 Percent: An Oral History of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Red and Black, $15.99). “The American political landscape will never again be the same.” What happened in Zuccotti Park was “unprecedented,” declares Noam Chomsky. “There’s never been anything like it that I can think of.” But that is nothing when compared to the enthusiasm of former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges. In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Nation Books, $28) he compares Occupy to the 1989 revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. …

In 1999, you might recall, lefties nationwide swooned to hear about the WTO protests in Seattle; surely the tide was beginning to turn. Then, in 2008, liberal commentators swooned again for Senator Barack Obama: he was the leader we had been waiting for all these years. Then, in 2012, they swooned in precisely the same way for Occupy: it was totally unprecedented, it was the revolution, et cetera. I don’t object to any of these causes, as it happens—I supported Occupy; I voted for Obama; I was excited about the 1999 protests—but I can’t stand the swooning. These books were written by educated people, certain of them experts on social movements. Why must they plunge so ecstatically into uncritical groupthink?

“Groupthink”? Yes. With a few exceptions here and there, these books are amazingly, soporifically the same. They tell the same anecdotes. They quote the same “communiqués.” They dwell on the same details. They even adopt, one after another, the same historical interpretations. …

Measured in terms of words published per political results, on the other hand, OWS may be the most over-described historical event of all time. Nearly every one of these books makes sweeping claims for the movement’s significance, its unprecedented and earth-shattering innovations. Just about everything it does is brilliantly, inventively, mind-blowingly people-empowering.

And what do we have to show for it today in our “normal lives”? Not much. President Obama may talk about the “top 1 percent” now, but he is apparently as committed as ever to austerity, to striking a “grand bargain” with the Republicans.

Tough but fair throughout.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Matt S. November 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Pretty good, well-balanced article, but Frank completely overlooks the antisocial elements associated with many Occupy camps. Even if most of the “tent communities” were democratic and peaceful (and I do believe that most Occupiers are decent folks, if clueless about how to effect social change), there were those who went extreme. It seems that everyone has conveniently forgotten the most extreme instance, the Cleveland bridge bombers, four of whom have pled guilty to the charges so far. http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/two-occupy-bridge-bombers-enter-guilty-pleas.

I’m fine with these incidents being treated as outliers. They were. But they happened, and they were ideologically correlated to the larger, disruptive mission of the Occupy movement. To treat them as outliers, they have to be acknowledged. Instead, they’ve been memory-holed. It’s incredibly frustrating and intellectually dishonest.


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