Occupy and Politics

The Occupy movement has brought the struggle against the 1% onto the agenda. It has managed to organize a broad layer of activists and win support from tens of millions more. However, it does not have a clear political alternative beyond organizing struggles. While the initial impetus came out of Adbusters, the leading elements are different in each local area. But the most widespread political trends in leading circles of Occupy are anarchist and liberal ideas. They also have dynamic energy and have drawn new individuals into political activity who are looking for a serious and effective method of struggle against the 1%.

Occupy has not developed an approach to the 2012 elections, a crucial issue for the next 12 months. There are millions of people who support Occupy and who are ready to step up and support a powerful political alternative to the 1% if a lead is given. A huge potential exists for Occupy, especially if we consider the stormy political period we are entering and the chance for a swift shift in consciousness in the next few months. Remember: On September 1, 2011, Occupy did not exist.

Occupy activists have begun to respond to the 2012 elections. One direction has been to protest the undemocratic electoral process outside the Republican primaries. Other plans have begun to focus on structural obstacles to free elections. Calling for support for Occupy Rigged Elections, Victoria Collier and Ronnie Cummins write on www.truth-out.org: “Democracy is our birthright, but it has never been fully realized. We’ve had to fight and die for the right to fight and die for it. It’s a dream, a shared vision, a work in progress that has been derailed.” And: “American elections are not going away any time soon. They are rigged, and we must end the rigging.” (“Occupy Rigged Elections: A Call for the Second American Revolution in 2012,” 12/27/2011)

While it is positive to expose the rigged nature of the elections, it does not allow Occupy to bring its political message to the tens of millions of Americans who need to hear it. Moreover, this activity is not a threat to the Democratic Party, especially since it allows the focus to rest on Republican attempts to disenfranchise poor voters and people of color. It will be interesting to see if such actions are taken against Obama or Democratic candidates. Only by linking the fight against political disenfranchisement and the corrupt political system with an actual challenge to that power in the electoral arena can the movement avoid such activity being co-opted by the Democrats into a reason to vote for their party.

Occupy movement activists, along with other activists in unions and on the left, need to step up and challenge the 1% in the electoral arena in 2012. If a sizeable section of the Occupy movement and the left took this step, they could provide an important left alternative to corporate politics. If well-known left figures and labor and community organizations joined the effort, they would have the authority to speak to tens of millions. With the backing of important sections of Occupy, they could break through the usual media blackout of progressive candidates and force big business to open up the presidential debates to them or face a wave of protests, which would do more than anything else to concretely expose the undemocratic nature of this “democracy” to millions of ordinary people in the U.S.

Unfortunately, at present there are no strong signs that such initiatives are developing among left or Occupy activists. A number of left-wing third party candidates have announced they are running for president. However, at present it does not appear that any of them has the prominence or enough support from progressive organizations to make a breakthrough into the national debate. This underlines the strength of the Ralph Nader campaigns in 2000, 2004, and 2008. Despite his political limitations, Nader has been by far the most prominent left figure in the recent period who was willing to boldly challenge the Democrats and run a vigorous presidential election campaign that was able to reach a broad audience of workers and young people.