The Occupy movement has spectacularly united progressive forces with a base. In the month from initial occupation on Wall Street in New York, there are now, according to OccupyTogether, over a hundred occupied cites in the U.S., (and five internationally) and over a thousand meetups being organized around the Occupy movement. Facebook lists nearly 500 "Occupy" groups. The Occupy movement is important to support.
The movement has kept its focus vague and simple - against the country’s growing inequality and corporate control. The environment is one where capitalism is globally in a crisis of its own making. Its two major centers can not hold. The European Union is inevitably splitting apart, and the U.S. is declining because of economic weakness. While China and other parts of Asia and other parts of the developing world are still growing, they are still highly dependent on the developed world and face their own problems. The conditions that feed the Occupy movement as well as the Tea Party movement will not dissipate for several years if not decades. And if they do, they will be at the dramatic expense of war and the environment.
The Occupy movement will face questions of sustainability in the coming months, particularly as winter comes to the northern U.S. and the local political leaders grow impatient with its challenge. Yet, the movement has shown a determination that will probably transcend these challenges.
What to Do?
How should Asian American activists, especially those organizing in communities, constructively engage in the Occupy movement?
There are issues:
1. The Long Term: organization and not
Adbusters, the Vancouver-based alternative magazine, initiated Occupy Wall Street. It called for people to emulate Tahrir Square, the popular convergence that led to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the president for life of Egypt. They also emphasized the need for a simple organizing principle. The Occupy efforts are "leaderless" and decentralized, and local, participatory democracy is the organizing principle. Anarchism pervades the movement.
However, what happened in Egypt afterward also shows the importance of organization. After Mubarak was overthrown, those who assumed positions of power were the military and the Moslem Brotherhood, both highly organized groups. While Egypt's story is still incomplete, the popular forces lost ground because they lacked organized vehicles.
At this time, it’s probably wise to keep things simple to build up the strength and broad support of this progressive trend. As a friend wrote, "We are the 99%" is pretty easy to understand.” Economic inequality and flagrant domination of corporations and finance capital is the current main theme. The Occupy movement will need to explore whether other issues can mobilize a broad sector of the American people and how to frame them in a progressive manner. That will be a process.
2. Race and class
The Occupy movement ignores or at least downplays race and class – the 99% are undifferentiated. This is both a strength and a weakness. That simplicity is something that many can unite around, creating a growing and broad base. But in the long term, race and class in the U.S. can’t be ignored. There are already people of color caucuses organizing to press our concerns in different cities and resolutions have been introduced in Occupy movement general assemblies.
Walk on Two Legs
Asian American Movement organizers should encourage the occupy movement while continuing their work building political and other types of organizations. The Occupy movement has the ability to influence national politics however in a way that other present organizing can’t. Activists can however push the movement to expand to more issues but that maintain broad support. This is particularly important around issues of race and class. If the Occupy continues to grow, its political view could gain influence; it’s important to have a role in that.
At the same time, in the long run, if the Occupy movement or its successors ever scales up to be in a position to change the country, organization is necessary. Strengthening the activist organizations that organizers are in is still important. Organizations should also think about re-orienting some of their work toward the political-economic issues that the Occupy movement has touched a nerve around – jobs, inequality and corporate/finance control.