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Occupy Wall Street

October 8, 2011

As I read all the press coverage of Occupy Wall Street that bemoans the lack of a unified message and a plan, I can’t help thinking of one of my favorite movies of last year, The Social Network. In it, the Mark Zuckerberg character resists his partner’s insistence on defining and commodifying the network right away, saying repeatedly that “we don’t even know what this is yet.” When Napster founder Shawn Parker echoes this sentiment in one scene, he’s exhorting Zuckerberg to stick with his instincts and resist locking the whole thing down before it has a chance to show what it’s capable of producing. I think the protesters are wise to similarly resist calls to become something easy to understand within a more traditional framework. What we’re seeing is a mass, spontaneous people’s uprising that is spreading like wildfire and the participants are absolutely right to ignore calls to organize in such a way that the movement can be pigeonholed and “dealt with.”

Besides, capital and the politicians who serve it are far more comfortable with an “organized” group, with identifiable leaders and a “reasonable” list of demands, than with a spontaneous and growing movement that’s not so easy to “pin down.” Any boss would much rather deal with a “responsible” representative of mass discontent (and dreams) across a negotiating table, who has the power to make both demands and concessions and then go back and “sell” the whole thing to the membership, than with the threat of unpredictable massive wildcat strikes and slowdowns, for instance. It’s the latter that really makes the Man cry uncle and give something up to the people.

And the truth is, the movement has already won a massive victory. The conversation in this country is now centered on a real consideration of all the ways in which poor, working, and middle-class folks in this country have been for decades sacrificing more and more of their precious lives for less and less reward. We are moving the discourse leftward with every day of the occupation, and every new city and town that joins. We are rediscovering the power and leverage that we have, to — as the protesters cried out today — “create the kind of world we want to live in — a world in which human concerns outrank the logic of profit in our system of priorities.” That’s a win right there.

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