Culture, Justice, Politics

Tactics and Strategy

Unsurprisingly, Jewschool and Jewschoolers have been all over the Occupy Wall Street movement. From organizing the widely successful Kol Nidre services to playing hacky sack and even demanding justice for the 99% or whatever they are demanding. However, this Jewschooler (admittedly the most “The Man” of any) is a bit put off by this movement.
I have had conversations about Occupy Wall Street with a number of people from across the spectrum and except for my friends on the far left, most “understand the frustration” but don’t feel like what is going on in Lower Manhattan is good. It is clear to me that this movement has no direction. Simply saying you are against greed is like saying you are for breathing. Who besides Gordon Gekko, who in fact later revised his statement, will say that greed is good?
My major complaint is that this is no “there” there in this movement. The demands are amorphous and without any sort of path to achievement. There is real anger in this country and around the world at the actions of the Financial Industry. This moment provides a huge opportunity to mobilize average, non-political folks—those soccer moms and NASCAR dads—around this issue. But sleeping in a park for a few weeks isn’t fixing anything nor is it bringing more attention to the problem. Rather it is bringing attention to the protestors and their on-the-street interactions with police and the so-called 1%.
These criticisms are being dismissed in many conversations with my friends. In discussions with friendly lefties, I have heard some form of the following which is borrowed from an offline conversation of Jewschool contributors:

I think that all this conversation about what exact language (“occupation” or not), or whose movement this is, is all beside the point. This is the movement at this moment. We can either get on board or watch it go by and wait for Godot.

However, what are we getting on board with? Are we calling for the destruction of capitalism? A distribution of wealth? Enforcement of Dodd-Frank? Expansion of the Volcker rule? A true open economy? Taxing that 1%? An end to all fee based banking? A fight against the enclosure movement? (Sorry, wrong century.)
None of this is to say that the status quo is good for anyone including those in the 1%. We have a system that has been deregulated and “opened” to the point of complete and total chaos. While watered down, there are a number of solutions on the table in Washington, Brussels and elsewhere to address the disproportionate risk that was taken by these institutions that lead us down this road to crisis and necessitated tax-payer bailouts. But that isn’t what is being discussed by the occupiers.
This morning it was reported that Vikram Pandit would, be “happy to talk to [the protestors] anytime they want.” But in that this acephalous congress can’t put together a functional leadership structure besides a show of hands, let alone a meaningful set of goals, what benefit would be found in a meeting with the CEO of Citigroup?
Pandit knows that. And so does the rest of the Street. Just look at the recent closing numbers and the Q3 earnings for further proof.
Without a strong, clear message (We could go Jewish: “There shall be no needy among you.” (Deut. 15:4)) and a delineated strategy to achieve the goals supported by the message, this movement is executing tactics without any point. Marching is great and often fun. It feels powerful. But if used for no reason, it is for not. Previous generations marched and occupied. But they were trying to get something. Here we have no clear message, no clear strategy and no clear end goal.
Now, if the point is to occupy Wall Street indefinitely, then good job. I would venture that this isn’t the point, but then again, how would I know?

30 thoughts on “Tactics and Strategy

  1. You ARE missing the point. The protest is a big bag of hot air. Once full, it shall power the dirigibles and gliders of more mainstream reformers who will push for a millionaires tax, a small financial transaction tax, a jobs bill, more protections for labor organizing, living wage bills in various cities, slowdown of foreclosure evictions, another Glass-Steagel, more Volcker rule, etc.
    Seriously; don’t worry so much about what the protesters actually say. Get involved in one of the groups that will use the hot air.

  2. DCC, I think there is real wisdom in working to articulate the problem (corporate power is hurting America) before you make concrete proposals to fix it. Lots of other organizations have been working to attract Nascar Dads and Soccer Moms (your named demographics)–Working America for instance has 3M members many of whom (most?) are working class white voters in swing states. Their message is primarily economic. What is going on with OWS is new and exciting. People are pissed and this is giving them a chance to voice that frustration, alienation, and anger in a public way. If momentum continues to build, we’ll start to see political shifts and these perspectives will influence the election narrative in big ways. Those are all good things. If you feel corporations are too powerful in our country than you should be supportive of OWS and if you think America is doing well and corporations have the correct amount of influence in government and our lives, than you should sit this one out.

  3. JG- I can never tell if you are kidding.
    zt – But the utilization of a tactical move without substantial demands, goals or messages, diminishes the power. And to your false choice at the end of your comment: You provide two options for a problem with plethora solutions. There needs to be regulations and limits and rule…but sitting in a park in lower Manhattan only pisses people off and entrenches them to their position.
    Ross – that is nice.

  4. Unfortunately I don’t have much time to devote to discussing this today but I’ll make a few more points before needing to sign-off. A friend helpfully pointed me to “Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail”. In it there is an instructive case study about occupation of welfare offices in the 60s. In that case, the occupiers said that something was very much wrong and didn’t make specific policy demands. That strategy worked then and perhaps it can work now.
    Policy changes come from power not from artful arguments. What sort of demands can work is dependent on how many people can be organized and in what way. Were I organizing a response to corporate power from scratch I might have taken a different approach (as it seems you would). But those various approaches haven’t seemed to work well. This seems to be building power, so I am favorably disposed to it. If you have a better strategy to build power around these issues I’d like to hear it (the one you have been hinting at has been tried hundreds of times over the past decades and hasn’t worked well).
    The argument that getting thousands of people to publicly and passionately support a position is good for that position is pretty obvious. If you have a clearer argument about why it causes actual harm I’d like to hear that too. I assume that you think this is marginally effective but could be more effective with different messaging or a more concrete policy platform. If you care about the issues (and you seem to given you likened their self-evident importance to breathing)than perhaps you owe it to yourself to get involved and help fix what you see as the issues rather than taking shots from the sidelines.

  5. zt – I will take a look at that piece/book. As to you point about power: Power is good if used correctly. The welfare example is close but not exact. In that case people who got something needed something else. There was a clear fix, while complicated it was clear. Here, besides the venting, there isn’t much happening.
    I believe the systems sucks and screws people, yet the power at this point is with the status quo because they are defending something and not just venting. I believe wholeheartedly if this mass of people put forth 3 ideas and said: We want this this and this — it would happen because of the excitement and energy of this movement…but I do not believe it will happen. These people are hamstrung by process and the thought of protest as a viable strategy.

  6. Dcc – Sure these people don’t have a structure, but that’s because power corrupts, and the more that power is shared, the less easily it will be corrupted. They don’t have a structure because it gives every person a legitimate chance to voice their opinions and concerns.
    There are no 3 tangible ideas to the movement, because the movement is too big, too broad, to contain 3 ideas. And even if they did, those 3 ideas would be too big and too broad. And because every single politician in power is influenced by various lobbyists, they wouldn’t do shit. You give 3 tangible ideas and you’d have ever lobbyist in the field scurrying to ensure that it wouldn’t pass on part lines.
    Seriously seems like you are just complaining for the sake of complaining. When you talk about the status quo, about how nothing has changed, and then you suggest that trying the same tactics that haven’t worked for decades now will suddenly work, I have the sense you feel uncomfortable about the movement because you so badly want to box it into some type of label, and yet it refuses to do so.
    And OWS has totally brought more attention to the movement, to the incredibly broad ideas, problems, and financial hardships that most Americans face. Not sure how you could claim otherwise?

  7. Seriously seems like you are just complaining for the sake of complaining.
    Not at all. DCC is making a good point and, btw. I’m not reading many tangible ideas here, or in other places; it seems more about how wonderful all of this is–it is indeed wonderful, but that’s not enough.
    Matt Miller has thrown out many ideas, at least:
    Otherwise the whole thing is going to turn into:
    “A thousand people in the street
    Singing songs and carrying signs
    Mostly say, hooray for our side”
    Which is just a waste of everybody’s time.

  8. @Chicky – Really? Today we will see the ows folks tossed out of the park by the city. What is the message tomorrow? “The City is ignoring our rights.” The message the next day? “greed is bad” Day after that? Who the hell knows.
    The issue of “3 issues” isn’t about a box or anything else…it is about utilizing this power (that is corrupted by its lack of utility at this point) for the main goal of creating a fair society. Want to know why the system doesn’t work for you and the millions of others who are young and pissed off? You don’t vote. You don’t call your reps. You don’t fight to make sure the lines of the legislation reflect your values and your needs.
    Sure money fucks up our current system but if “the people” stand on the sidelines, the corporations (who are people too of course) will come in and fill that void. The tactic being used in this occupation are weak and backed by ephemeral bullshit.
    There was a New York magazine article a few weeks back that noted that a significant majority of the 18+ crowd in the park had not voted in a number of previous elections. What would have happened if all the people who were pissed about this situation voted and made sure the radical right wing nuts that now control congress didn’t get elected…think there may have been more regulations on the book by now?

  9. -dcc That is bullshit and you know it. Voting, in and of itself, has never worked particularly well. History has shown us this time and time again. It didn’t work for the Emancipation, it didn’t work for Civil Rights. Our voting system is entirely fucked, mostly corrupt, and pretty awful at this point.
    And to blame young people’s lack of voting is over-simplistic and naive. Young people, like so many other disenfranchised voting segments, don’t vote because they have made the conscious decision that voting is ineffective, and that young people aren’t taken seriously. Which I’m going to assume you agree that they shouldn’t be taken seriously, unless they participate in a broken system that refuses to change, where they immediately are up against corporations who have incredibly more money, and power (because power=money) than the average 25 year old in debt.
    Fuck it, I’m gonna side-rant. There are numerous reasons why young people don’t vote. Some of these include: Jaded by the political system, received a shitty high school education (free from the government) and never were imbued with a civics mindset, young people are highly mobile, often ignored as fanatical, the fact that people have been screwed and disenfranchised for several generations, general distrust in the government, and a huge generation gap between young people and our elected officials. (wrong country but still very relevant).
    The fact remains that most of these ‘wingnuts’ are not from areas of high education or areas where liberalism is relevant. They are generally more rural, southern areas. The people protesting are from mostly pro-Democrat, center-left urban areas, whose voting had little to do or say with national politics.
    AND, if this somehow wasn’t enough, how do you explain that over 52% of young people voted in 2008? Or is that merely ‘coincidence’?
    At the end of the day it just sounds like you are giving an angry rant against ‘those damn kids’ for trying something new. Even if it is ineffective as you say, caring is sharing, and to deride the entire movement because it doesn’t fit into your narrow understanding of ‘politics’ does less to change things than you’ve done.

  10. – Jonathan1, Someone like Miller wouldn’t understand OWS because he is a part of the country’s elite. A degree at both Brown and Columbia shows me someone who has never had to deal with food insecurity, with poverty, or homelessness.
    Even then, while I agree with a lot of what Miller is saying, his article exists inside a vacuum, where even then there is a broken 2-party system. Having an Independent run for president has in the past, and will continue in the future, to be pointless. It is the benefit of Democrats and Republicans to ensure, through countless existing laws, that third parties have difficulty of existing and sustaining membership.
    Our political system is, in itself, a political/corporate monopoly. As a country which claims to believe that free speech and competition is so good in the economic realm, why do people continuously shun it in every other realm of thought and government?

  11. Jonathan, I am involved in the Philly OWS movement. I can send you a list of issues that we have about local problems, and a list of issues with national problems. We might not have solutions, but then again, we are not law makers. We can only tell you our hardships.
    In fact, you can go to any OWS facebook page or website and see the list of issues brought up at each meeting and over-all issues that we want fixed.
    Or you can go down to your local OWS protest and hear people talk. See what they actually have to say instead of reading it on a blog, or CNN.
    It saddens me that you think this movement is just people holding signs saying “yay us.”

  12. Chicky,
    If you actually read what I wrote and not dismiss it as you note as “those damn kids” rant, you will see that I do believe this is important. But the way they are going about this is wasting the energy. Look at the Tea Party…they vote in a block and got more of what they wanted. Do you actually believe if these occupations got together to put forward a message it wouldn’t resonate? The over arching problem here is that there is NO leadership, NO clear message, and NO actionable items. Simply saying the occupation is the point is short sighted and will lead to NO meaningful change.

  13. -DCC
    But you don’t offer a real alternative. You complain about how it isn’t working, and then your answer is to go back to the old, ineffective way. If you had some concrete alternative ideas I’d love to hear them, but you seem to prefer a status-quo answer to a group of people who are obviously have had enough with the status quo.
    Also, I’d read what the Duckman had to say above. Kinda goes against the whole ‘no clear message’. Meh, I already answered all the other no’s, too in my rant.
    I think it’s a bit presumptuous to write off what all these people are trying to do as a ‘waste of energy’. But I’m sure you are spending your energy much more wisely trying to make the world a better place. I’m sure as shit not, which is why I’m not going to go and bash these people and the effort they’ve put in.

  14. @The Duckman:
    We might not have solutions, but then again, we are not law makers. We can only tell you our hardships.
    That’s fine–but I don’t see how it’s then a sustainable movement.
    It saddens me that you think this movement is just people holding signs saying “yay us.”
    Read my words carefully, from above:
    Otherwise the whole thing is going to turn into:
    “A thousand people in the street
    Singing songs and carrying signs
    Mostly say, hooray for our side”
    Which is just a waste of everybody’s time.

  15. @Jonathan
    The people of Occupy Wall Street have many issues that they want solved. It all comes down to one thing
    Corporate greed. Its not just banks. It the entire economic and political system. Each issue has its own local and national problems that no one is dealing with.
    We have witnessed the quality of our own lives diminish rapidly. We have asked the government to help. We have begged the government to help. Its time to take our frustration to the streets. Some of us are jobless. Others work 3 jobs. I personally work 4+ jobs. At what point do I sit down and write out all of my “demands” or what I stand for?
    I believe if you went down to the protest and asked people questions you would learn a lot more and understand what they are looking for. The fact that you have not read the declaration (I gave the wrong link before: Leads me to question whether you are really looking for this answer, or you are waiting for main stream media outlets to feed it to you.
    The process of gathering the ideas of many and forming a document is painful, yet amazing to see. I challenge you to go to a General Assembly.

  16. @The Duckman
    1. I didn’t read it because the link didn’t work.
    2. The fact that the mainstream media outlets aren’t conveying the message might be a problem.
    3. I’m not sure why you are questioning my motives or challenging me to attend a general assembly; I’m simply making a constructive criticism about a movement which is inspirational. I’m not sure what you’re looking for from me.

  17. @The Duckman.
    Ok. I read the NYC Declaration, and I didn’t see two or three tangible proposals, which could resonate in my non-Economist, non-Political Scientist, non-intelligent brain.
    That’s fine, but at some point the movement will run out of steam it’s not presenting answers.
    And this song:
    “A thousand people in the street
    Singing songs and carrying signs
    Mostly say, hooray for our side”

    referred to a bunch of middle and upper-middle class spoiled kids, who spent their days smoking pot, dropping acid, and dressing up like clowns (this is just a slight exaggeration) . . . yet in the meantime we know in retrospect that their movement had a good deal to do with stopping the Vietnam conflict, or at least in ending it earlier then it would have ended, because they had a very simple idea: the US military should leave Vietnam.
    The OWS movement represents a wide-span of Americans, from all walks of life, who are truly struggling and have been screwed by the capitalist system . . . so maybe they could start articulating a better way forward, and who knows where it will lead things?

  18. @ Jonathan
    Im glad youre not struggling. Million of Americans are. If you can’t read the declaration and understand why so many people are upset; good for you. But you clearly do not understand how people are suffering.
    This movement will never die. Only its name will.
    And reading your ignorant comment about the anti-war posters is proof that you know very little of either subject and just like to complain. You have yet to go to a rally, you have yet to give these people a chance. You know nothing about whats going on.

  19. The entire movement is based off of corporate greed. But more so, how each individual is effect by it. Its not a movement about one specific thing or person. Its a movement about the people.
    How can we come up with a plan do abolish corporate greed when corporations are in bed with every politician? Haliburton misplaces $1 billion. Black Water scams us out of billions too. Both are still contracted by the government. Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Oil. Monopolies over running small businesses.
    The list goes on and on. One way to start would be by removing all private funding from campaigns. Although lobbyist will still find loopholes. So nothing will really get done.
    How do you fix a problem that cant be fixed?
    Will this die out because people will just give up? Or will corporations turn their head slightly towards us to “make up” for their wrong doings, yet go back to the same shenanigans 6 months later?
    This isnt a *end all wars* protest. Although, ending the wars is part of the protest due to moral and financial reasons.
    Here. Listen to Alan Grayson explain the basics of the movement.

  20. Duckman says: “This movement will never die. Only its name will.”
    Well then, doesn’t that mean it has no clear goals? A political action should have a goal and if it achieves the goal, wouldn’t you think it would be done? Just asking.

  21. NTSA. If the message could not be clearer than “we are protesting economic injustice”, then any confusion about the messaging of the OWS movement can only be due to deliberate obfuscation by those in power. In other words, they don’t want you to know the message, so they pretend to know nothing about it.

  22. Dear Sir,
    Last Sunday, I attended the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington and distributed 50 Occupy TheDream: Weed Out Hate banners. I got the idea after studying six years of Kabbalah, I came up with the idea. There is no way to promote cultural fusion at our level, only social fission. As John Lennon would have said, you say you want evolution….well, here is the plan:;next
    P.S. – This would make very powerful press.

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