Some Rules for Radicals
SAUL ALINSKY: Always remember the rule[s] of power tactics…The seventh rules: A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time, after which it becomes a ritualistic commitment, like going to church on Sunday mornings. New issues and crises are always developing, and one's reaction becomes, "Well, my heart bleeds for those people and I'm all for the boycott, but after all there are other important things in life"—and there it goes.
As I’ve previously opined (in a Gateway piece, so it doesn’t really count), the comparisons of “The American Fall” to the Arab Spring are especially apt because while both initially feel good, one gets the feeling the participants share little common agenda besides frustration (which for many of them is probably well justified).
There are two big differences:
1) The Arab Spring had the potential to make things better.
2) The Arab Spring had the potential to make things worse.
Yes, surveys do show that the Wall Street Protesters are More Popular than Congress—but Congress is in a statistical tie with leprosy.
With all due respect to the mighty Breslin, his memory is faltering here.
OWS is not at all like Selma.
My belief that the guys participating in OWS would probably call MLK an authoritarian was given confirmation when we learned that OWS’ spinoff, Occupy Atlanta, would not allow Congressman John Lewis to address the crowd.
While helping to lead the Selma march, Lewis endured brutal beatings by angry mobs. On a day known as “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. There, the marchers were met by Alabama State Troopers, who ordered them to disperse. When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. Lewis's skull was fractured, but he escaped to a church and then to a hospital.
The scars on Lewis’s head are still visible today, but you would not know that from watching the TV coverage of Occupy Atlanta, because Lewis was not allowed to speak.
OWS is not at all like Selma. The Selma march was but one tactic of many in an ongoing struggle; it had a beginning and an end, and the struggle had short and long term goals.
And though, normally, I'd be suspicious of any righty wanting to give helpful advice to a left wing protest, I would also recommend that after the OWS people actually read their Alinsky, they might want to peruse this article where Josh Barro of the Manhattan institute outlines what OWS migh t learn from the Tea Party (who, it has sometimes been noted, have made Alinsky's left wing tract, "Rules for Radicals," a right wing best seller).
While reading their Alinsky, OSW protesters might want to pay particular attention to the rule about tactics I quoted above, and these rules as well:
5. Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.
Unfortunately, for the almost totally humorless OWS, all the good jokes are on the other side.
12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. You cannot risk being trapped by the enemy in his sudden agreement with your demand and saying "You're right—we don't know what to do about this issue. Now you tell us."
Jonathan Chait notes that even when a vision of OSW’s goals is articulated (which ain’t often, or in the alternative is too often) that message is mixed and self-contradictory:
It’s currently an open question whether Occupy Wall Street will ultimately take the form of an anti-capitalist movement. There is a long, grim history of left-wing movements being hijacked by their most radical elements, which are usually the most organized and fanatical. For one example of this hijacking, take a gander at this “collective statement” from the protestors in Zuccotti Park. It’s filled with Marxist drivel. (“They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. … They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media. … They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.”) The point is that corporations are responsible for all the world's ills, and the only conclusion is that we must do away with them all.
On the other hand, the intellectual influences most apparent in the movement are those of advocates of regulated capitalism, like Joe Stiglitz. There is a reason the movement is called “Occupy Wall Street,” not “Occupy Main Street” or “Occupy Silicon Valley.” It is no doubt because most of the participants, or sympathizers, understand that Wall Street is not the same thing as free enterprise — that it is one element that…poses a unique threat to the functioning of the free marketplace.
These are not small differences—the difference between “reform the system,”—even radically, and “destroy the system” are unbridgeable. People on different sides of this dichotomy are not in common cause, even if they believe otherwise.
New York magazine notes that in a survey of 100 OWS protesters, 37 called capitalism "inherently immoral" and 34 agreed with the statement "the U.S. Government is no better than, say, Al Qaeda.”
But at least the Trotskyite types have a real world agenda—even if that real world is Cuba and North Korea.
Far worse are the anarchists, and their hippie (not hipster) and Quaker-types allies who seem to believe that consensual democracy (as opposed to the representative kind) is a model for an effective mass movement.
Recently, on CBC news, one of the movement's “organizers,” Drew Hornbein, said that OWS would drive change by "building a model society within the heart of darkness." Barro described this platform (or lack of it) as “by camping out in Zuccotti Park and sharing food with each other, the protesters would actually show Americans a better way to live.”
Barro also cites another protester who told The New Republic that policy proposals would have to wait while the protester used "a radical, open, transformative, prefigurative democratic space to explore the possible."
Not entirely coincidentally, this hurry up and wait prescription is the same policy stance towards handling our economy currently being implemented by the House Republican Conference.
I think Breslin has the wrong sixties event.
OSW is not at all like Selma—it is far more like Woodstock.
Hype, totally at variance with the reality.
In the aftermath of what was really a man-made disaster, and which also involved camping out, sharing food and lack of adequate sanitary facilities, it is notable that, at the time figures like Abbie Hoffman actually cited Woodstock, where only massive intervention by NYS, local communities and volunteers averted tragedy, as a model for societal reorganization.
As radical writer Ellen Willis noted, “Ecstatic heads even proclaimed that the festival proved the viability of a new culture in which no one worked and everything was free.”
The biggest difference, besides better music (even Mountain had shorter drum soloes) is that Woodstock only lasted three days.
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