Thursday, November 10, 2011
A Note on the Occupy Movement
As a historian, I get wary of comparisons. My spider sense also goes crazy when people don't reference history. I find the Occupy Movement to be wonderful and to be quite honest, as much faith as I have in people, I expected my children who are now in elementary school and one about to enter college grow up to do something like this. I knew it would happen but not this soon. That being said, I see a growing number of people either loving or hating it. Those that hate it continue to use a myopic view of the Civil Rights movement as a standard.
Many detractors of the Occupy movement are claiming that it's actually a small percentage of people who are involved in these demonstrations. They are right about that one. Then they go on to say that it wasn't like this during the Civil Rights movement of the Sixties. The detractors claim that everyone was on board. This is a total myth. Like most movements, a small percentage of the people are involved with the protests and demonstrations. As the movement grows, which the Occupy movement is doing, higher percentages of people join. Yet most people are either observers or complacent about the entire thing. Ask your relatives who were around. Find out how many organized, marched, or donated time and money. You will be surprised at how few were involved.
I hear several detractors claim that they don't know what these Occupy folks are about. Well, if you are getting your news from the mainstream media you are not going to know. If folks actually listened to what the organizers of Occupy Wall Street were protesting about (through independent media outlets and internet sites), they would know. Ironically, its because of the corporate controlled media that those who are dependent on those sources are clueless. All you have to do is march right on down to your city hall and asked the protestors.
Many critics say that there are no central leaders like the Civil Rights Movement. While we believe that the late great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was THE leader of that movement of the Sixties, we are wrong on that part as well. The first myth most people are taught is that what happened in the sixties was a homogenous movement comprised of one organization with a set of goals. The second myth was that King was the defacto leader.
During the Sixties, there were several regional groups with their leaders and their own goals. The March On Washington in 1963 was a coalition of groups and many leaders spoke that day from all over the country. It's just that King's speech was the most memorable and inspiring. Although King's speech is considered one of the best delivered in the history of this nation, it didn't really lay out any plans as compared to his peers on that stage. It demonstrated that King was an inspirational leader and he bought many young people into the movement because of his charisma. There were several people like the recently deceased Fred Shuttlesworth, Bayard Rustin, Ralph Abernathy, Fanie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, John Lewis, and others who did the work but have been relegated to the background or not mentioned at all.
We must remind folks that King and the SCLC did not have any influence on cities in the Northern part of the United States. This was something that frustrated King and members of the SCLC. There were regions of the country where the NAACP were influential. There were regions of the country where the SNCC were strong. In the south, folks were focusing on fighting voter suppression and desegregation. Some parts of the country were fighting for better pay. Others were fighting police brutality. While all of these issues fit under human rights, each region had particular methods of insurgency. The entire story of what happened from the forties up until the Seventies has yet to be written.
We see the same thing happening with the Occupy Movements. As we are witnessing in Oakland, folks are organizing against police repression which what folks in the Sixties in Oakland were doing. Other cities are focusing on helping the homeless. So we see several issues and tactics being used. Like the Civil Rights Movement, the leadership is decentralized. All you have to do is walk down there on any given night and you will find committee meetings and discussions on procedures, tactics, and allocation of resources.
While it has similarities it isn't the Civil Rights Movement. The Occupy Movement has to be different. It has to be better. It has to use different modes of communication especially when the usual forms of media are controlled by the very forces they are railing against. So if one is looking at the Occupy Movement from a traditional lens, you will not get the entire picture.