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Sustaining a Movement

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23 Responses

  1. Orin Kerr says:

    I would think the first key to this being an “effective long-term protest movement” would be some substantial support for the views of the protesters among the general public. To my mind, that makes it all the stranger that the protesters are having a hard time identifying the goals of their protest.

  2. Tim Zick says:

    I think that’s right. In the short term, public support may take the form of sympathy, from some, for protesters as they engage in conflicts with authorities. Those conlicts could result in more people joining the movement, or supporting it in some fashion. But to sustain this movement over the long term, organizers will need, among other things, to generate a message that resonates with the public. As others have observed, the intellectual and framing foundations for previous movements have been built up over years and even decades. It is going to be difficult to sustain the movement while the message is being crafted on the streets.

  3. Frank Pasquale says:

    I think the protesters’ deliberation about what demands to make (or goals to set) is laudable. It also reflects successful aspects of the pro-life movement:

    “Beliefs about abortion are often underdeveloped, incoherent, and inconsistent until individuals become actively engaged with the movement. The “process of conviction” (Maxwell 2002) is the result of mobilization, not a necessary prerequisite for it.”

    from
    http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/actions-become-beliefs-participation-and-class-bias-in-occupywallstreet-debates/

    The protesters realize that they, like much of the bottom 90% of society, are on an economic playing field that is tilted against them. They feel that normal channels of political change are blocked (especially given corporate influence over the Democratic party, the usual target of egalitarian reformist energy). (See also the reflections of finance blogger Steve Randy Waldman at http://www.interfluidity.com/v2/2255.html).

    Addressing these issues will take a lot of thought, reflection, and debate. As they watch megabanks grab thousands of properties via foreclosures, often through processes that are utterly lawless, they think it equitable and just that they get to claim some small parcel of lower Manhattan as a center for their own deliberative processes. Giving them this space is the least that a society ostensibly committed to freedom of speech and assembly can do.

  4. Tim Zick says:

    Frank,

    As my free speech work indicates, I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment about permitting the movement to claim a public space in which to demonstrate. And I think there is a measure of public solidarity with the protesters’ objections to financial mismanagement and the excesses that have brought us to this point. Message coherence is often a problem during public demonstrations. It is laudable that the protesters are deliberating thoughtfully about their message. But I wonder how long they will be able to do that on the streets, and whether in order to succeed they will have to adopt some form of leadership hierarchy and more institutionalized agenda-setting in order to become a viable movement. In some sense this is an ongoing public experiment — a non-hierarchical protest born on social network sites with no pre-determined message or agenda.

  5. AYY says:

    Prof. Zick,

    The virtue of the protesters is that they are diverse and passionate and engaging in “public dissent?” Dissent as to what? Later in the post you say “For the occupiers, though, the agenda (insofar as one is becoming clear) seems to be opposition to private greed — banking excesses, corporate welfare, etc”
    Sounds like you’re not quite sure. I don’t blame you for not being sure, but wouldn’t it be better to identify an agenda before praising the protesters for trying to further it? If the protesters were protesting the loans to green energy companies, one might have second thoughts about supporting them, and we don’t really know that they aren’t protesting that.
    As for opposing private greed, that’s already been done, by the Bolsheviks, among others. There probably aren’t too many people who favor banking excesses, but off the top of my head I don’t know what a banking excess looks like. And hasn’t corporate welfare been pushed by the Obama administration?
    If they’re, as you say, protesting “financial mismanagement”, I don’t know anyone who’s in favor of financial mismanagement, except maybe Sen. Durbin, so are they protesting Dick Durbin, and why would they protest Sen.Durbin in New York?

    Prof Pasquale,

    It’s unfortunate about the foreclosures, but if the banks don’t get to foreclose, they have no incentive to make the loans in the first place. I mean it’s not as though the government wasn’t telling the banks that they had to lend money to people who couldn’t repay the loans, or that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae didn’t have anything to do with it.
    If the banks are doing the foreclosures through unlawful means, there are legal remedies available. Giving the protesters space in Manhattan isn’t going to solve anything. There’s no reason the protesters can’t get themselves a permit so that they can demonstrate for a few hours and then leave, like any other self-respecting protester would do.

    Giving them a small space in the middle of Manhattan is not the least a society committed to free speech can do. They can write letters to the editor, they can vote out the politicians, they can run for office, but they don’t have a right to expect us to indulge them in by taking over a public space. .

  6. AYY says:

    After I posted my comment, I saw their demands:

    “Demand one: Restoration of the living wage. This demand can only be met by ending “Freetrade” by re-imposing trade tariffs on all imported goods entering the American market to level the playing field for domestic family farming and domestic manufacturing as most nations that are dumping cheap products onto the American market have radical wage and environmental regulation advantages. Another policy that must be instituted is raise the minimum wage to twenty dollars an hr.

    Demand two: Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market as their only effect on the health of patients is to take money away from doctors, nurses and hospitals preventing them from doing their jobs and hand that money to wall st. investors.

    Demand three: Guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment.

    Demand four: Free college education.

    Demand five: Begin a fast track process to bring the fossil fuel economy to an end while at the same bringing the alternative energy economy up to energy demand.

    Demand six: One trillion dollars in infrastructure (Water, Sewer, Rail, Roads and Bridges and Electrical Grid) spending now.

    Demand seven: One trillion dollars in ecological restoration planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of river systems and decommissioning of all of America’s nuclear power plants.

    Demand eight: Racial and gender equal rights amendment.

    Demand nine: Open borders migration. anyone can travel anywhere to work and live.

    Demand ten: Bring American elections up to international standards of a paper ballot precinct counted and recounted in front of an independent and party observers system.

    Demand eleven: Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the “Books.” World Bank Loans to all Nations, Bank to Bank Debt and all Bonds and Margin Call Debt in the stock market including all Derivatives or Credit Default Swaps, all 65 trillion dollars of them must also be stricken from the “Books.” And I don’t mean debt that is in default, I mean all debt on the entire planet period.

    Demand twelve: Outlaw all credit reporting agencies.

    Demand thirteen: Allow all workers to sign a ballot at any time during a union organizing campaign or at any time that represents their yeah or nay to having a union represent them in collective bargaining or to form a union.”

    So it looks like the message has been developed and is being disseminated.

  7. Brett Bellmore says:

    Developed, disseminated, and stark raving insane. My three year old’s demands, when he’s lying on the floor kicking and screaming, are actually more reasonable, being of more limited scope, though identical in nature. (Everything is mine, give it to me NOW!)

  8. Shag from Brookline says:

    Why does Brett compare the results of the passing on of his genes with those of the thousands who have been protesting? Now if his 3-year old had a tantrum that continued for days, weeks, perhaps months and years, and “conspired” with other 3-year olds to challenge their parents, that might be a better means of a comparison.

  9. Tim Zick says:

    AYY,

    There are matters of form and substance here. I support the use of public forums as channels of political protest. Social movements depend on visible public contention of this sort. Whether the substance of the message, which seems to focus primarily on themes of income inequality and corporate excess, will be viable and will resonate with the public remains to be seen.

  10. Joe says:

    Many respect the protests of the ’60s now, but I bet many of them at the time from the outside wouldn’t look any better. We might be too close to tell.

  11. Shag from Brookline says:

    Back in 1968 (I was 38, engaged in a very good private law practice), I recall Sen. Gene McCarthy’s efforts. While he was not personally successful with his candidacy, he did influence many such as myself who were not subject to the draft (having served pre-Vietnam) nor active in the students and other young protests. I recall in particular Sen. McCarthy in an interview being asked (in substance): “You have voiced your complaints but have not proposed solutions. What are your solutions?” Sen. McCarthy responded: “You don’t have to be a shoemaker to know the shoe hurts.” Many of the OWS protesters were too young to have significantly contributed to the events that led to the 2008 Bush/Cheney Great Recession that continues to plague our economy. But they are hurting now. The financial community has been identified as a significant contributor to the Great Recession and has to a certain extent been seeking a free regulatory ride. Perhaps in time the protesters’ message will be tightened and get more specific. But their shoes are tight right now.

    Frankly, I was disappointed that American youth did not come out to protest the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yes, there was no draft. But there was a sense of unfairness as Americans (other than the troops) did not have to sacrifice. The youth are our future and their voices deserve to be heard; their futures are being sacrificed while politicians diddle with solutions.

  12. One of the virtues of having some organized pedigree (e.g., from the ‘old’ Left to the New Left…) is that you get groups producing fairly coherent statements of socio-economic, political and cultural substance that do help in giving some direction to countercultural and political protest, etc. Thus the SDS (from LID) produced the (in several respects, remarkable) Port Huron Statement (some of the students involved in its formulation, including its principal writer, Tom Hayden, remain politically active today).

    Personally, I believe if the Greens in this country had not canalized their political energy into becoming a political party and instead remained true to their social movement origins, they would be at the forefront of today’s protests, especially inasmuch as many Green activists went beyond their initial and fairly conventional environmentalist orientation into questions of economics (as either ‘social ecologists,’ ‘red-greens,’ or simply Greens influenced by the Marxist critique of capitalism). There was an internal debate within the Greens in this country, and those fairly impatient with socio-political change and rather too enamored of conventional political power, won out over those of us who thought political party formation was far too premature (in this sense, the German model was not worthy of emulation, as some, like Rudolf Bahro well understood).

    There’s much in a “Green” worldview that is capable of absorbing the disparate concerns and foci among the protesters. But political visibility is in many respects a virtue in and of itself at present, letting people know that there may be a very different kind of “silent” if inchoate majority (if not a majority, at least a substantial number of people) “out there” with whom they may want to identify or express tangible solidarity.

  13. Orin Kerr says:

    AYY,

    Just looking around at news sites, I’m not sure those are actually the group’s demands/wish-list. It may just be what one supporter has posted as his own preferred demands/wish-list.

  14. Brett Bellmore says:

    You do have a point, Shag: Unlike the protesters, my son is eventually going to grow up.

  15. Individuation: psychological, ethical, even spiritual, is an open-ended task from which none of us are exempt. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that some if not many of us will, on occasion, regress in the direction of “the mass.” Political behavior is frequently, owing to its locus of action in public fora and spaces, an occasion for reminding ourselves of individual and collective failures in facilitating and encouraging such individuation, as is the behavior found in large organizations like corporations or in any occasion in which large masses of people assemble (and is one reason Gandhi sought to ‘purify’ politics through the introduction of forms of self-discipline of spiritual provenance, like the monastic ideal, into conventional power politics). Protesters, for example, may happen at times to succumb to the dynamics of mass and group psychology that inhibit if not pervert such individuation, but they are only conspicuously displaying what the rest of us frequently succumb to in smaller, more intimate arenas of action in daily life: egregious failures to commit to the arduous work of individuation in the first instance or otherwise go beyond episodic and half-hearted attempts at same. At least the protesters have the will and courage to do the things that are often a necessary if not sufficient condition for progressive social and political change, to step out of the routine “comfort zones” of daily life (a step that often involves considerable self-sacrifice of one sort or another), to fight for changes that benefit not just themselves, but all of us….

  16. Shag from Brookline says:

    Alas, the growing up may be with Brett’s genes, including his chronic “Wick-burn.” But seriously, Brett, resorting to an anecdote of your 3-year old? Hopefully the child will overcome the father’s choice – and become a progressive.

  17. A.J. Sutter says:

    Shag, the McCarthy quote is great and plausible (cf. the contemporary “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”), but when I searched online I found your comments on a couple of blogs as the only apparent source for it. Do you recall where you encountered that remark, e.g. in some magazine? Or did you hear him say it, in person? How could I cite it?

  18. Shag from Brookline says:

    A. J., I most likely heard it on a TV news broadcast as the campaign was underway. It is possible that the interview was in NH. My liberal friends and I here in the Boston area had followed with interest McCarthy’s campaign and Boston TV provided quite a bit of coverage especially of the campaign in NH. That’s the best I can do for now but I’ll give this further thought.

  19. AYY says:

    Prof Kerr,

    If you’re right about that, then it’s even better. As James Taranto described their rallying cry today, “What do we want? Whatever. When do we want it? Whenever.”

    Patrick,
    Not sure what you mean by “individuation”, but as best as I can interpret it,
    a, it requires an orderly society to occur,
    b, one doesn’t accomplish it by marching with a group of people with no clear goals or who are making the demands that I quoted above,
    c, one doesn’t get to do it on someone else’s dime,
    d, those people aren’t going out of their comfort zone, and e, at some point the “individuation” process can turn into malignant narcissism.

  20. Shag from Brookline says:

    A.J., it is possible that I heard this on Meet the Press. I “Googled” and learned that McCarthy was interviewed on Meet the Press in 1968 but the link to McCarthy indicated the page was not available. Back in 1968, I did watch Meet the Press religiously (instead of going to church). I sort of picture the type of questioning on that program as producing McCarthy’s response that I remember so well. I disclaim authorship for McCarthy’s response. The only original I claim credit for is “Beware of Overbearing Greeks” (well prior to the current Greco-Euro conflict). At age 81, my memory is pretty good, but it must be kept in mind that the memory is the second thing to go. So perhaps someone active in McCarthy’s campaign back then will come across this Blog and provide a credible source for my recollection, as citing “Shag from Brookline” may not be.

  21. Joe says:

    Brett is repeatedly concerned about the abuses of the federal government and how we don’t properly defend against its abuses but when people go out and do just that, he criticizes them as being too immature and asking too much. Never can win.

  22. AYY,

    I understand individuation largely along the lines generally of developmental psychology and the psychoanalytic tradition (the latter as understood, for instance, by Jonathan Lear). It has strong family resemblance to if it is not identical with, some conceptions self-realization.

    There is of course an ongoing dialectic between “society” and the “individual” and no one is contesting the fact that individuation presupposes a social context, or that some societies are better at tilling the soil for individuation than others. There is nothing about what the protesters are doing that undermines or threatens the “order”—in an anthropological or constitutive sense—of our society, unless, that is, one has made a fetish out of order itself. Prior to and indeed apart from the current economic crisis (which is capitalist in nature), one could safely say that American society was and is “fraught with anxiety, isolation, and emptiness, and…in an effort to escape this emotional wasteland, people engage in a desperate scramble for commodities, status, false gods, and narcotizing pleasure.” This is one of the downsides to living in a “democratic capitalist” society defined by unsustainable affluence. The socio-cultural, economic, and political “order” of this society is conspicuous for and shadowed by the spirit of unhappiness and depression. In the words of Mark Lane, we’re witnessing “a rising tide in all advanced societies of clinical depression and dysphoria (especially among the young), increasing distrust of each other and of political and other institutions, declining belief that the lot of the average man is getting better, a tragic erosion of family solidarity and community integration together with an apparent decline in warm, intimate relations among friends.”

    This suggests, at the very least, that something has gone deeply awry with a social system utterly beholden to the imperatives and constraints of capitalist economic logic, the “contradictions” of the system having surfaced with the consolidation of capitalist globalization on neo-liberal terms beginning in the 1970s. However inarticulate or disorganized, our protesters sense that something is indeed deeply wrong with the current state of affairs, as sundry economic and political elites are unwilling to disturb the status quo in a manner that threatens their personal, political and economic stakes in the dominant economic and political order. Such conditions contribute to failures of political will and imagination exacerbated by systemic principles and logic that have clogged the arteries of democracy in this and other countries. In other words, conventional forms and channels of political expression and representation have, of late, proven ineffective and social protest is one of the few alternative means for democratic will formation, especially for those frozen out of (ignored, viewed with contempt, trampled on…) the system: The relevant DISORDER in the first instance is symptomatic of the political and economic system, the protesters struggling to re-establish some semblance of moral, economic and political order so that they can return to the terrain of daily life in relative economic security with their hopes and dreams intact. The protesters don’t pretend to have all the answers to what ails us, but they provoke us to at least begin the process of asking the right questions:

    Are the IMF and the World Bank amenable to truly social democratic-like economic reform? Can existing global institutions become sufficiently democratic while a significant number of member states in the world system remain internally authoritarian? In short, is it possible to achieve a globally egalitarian (neo-) Keynesian Golden Age? Poverty remains recalcitrant in several regions of the world while regional and global inequality is increasing, economic facts we might grant without in any way diminishing the historic significance of capitalism for wealth creation (and thus betterment of standards of living if not quality of life indices). Are we, at last, reaching the structural limits of capitalist economic logic? Have we exhausted the economic—and, yes, moral—virtues of the neo-classical economic worldview? Or, are we merely at the lowest ebb of an economic cycle that will be cured by some fortuitous combination of conventional and creative politico-economic policies crafted by prudent democratic leaders of countries North and South? Is this a propitious time for seriously contemplating the imminent dissolution of the “aristocracy of capital” and the “economization of social relations?” Is the time ripe for (re)articulation of the authority of “the Good” (and the common good) by way of abandoning the capitalist criteria for market success? Are we prepared to break, once and for all, with the structural socio-economic and political constraints of “capitalist democracy?” Must the welfare of the many and their generalizable interests remain subordinate to the welfare of capitalists and their particular or special interests? Are the interests of working people fated to be canalized into the exclusive pursuit of economic advantage? Must labor markets remain plagued by the material uncertainties and insecurities intrinsic to the private control of investment within the terms of finance capitalism?

    The distorted and artificial needs and the individually and socially harmful desires generated by hyper-industrialized casino capitalism finds the masses in a state in which they feel an overwhelming need to be psychologically indemnified by the possession and consumption of as many goods and services as possible, in a socio-economic world in which conspicuous consumption exists side-by-side with absolute and relative poverty. In such a system capitalists are thus, at least psychologically speaking, every much victims as are the workers and the unemployed. Capitalist democracy remains committed to the aristocracy of Capital, meaning that, in the end, the special interests of capitalists trump generalizable interests tied to the common good, while economic insecurity compels workers to canalize their interests in the struggle for higher wages or short-term material gain. The aristocracy of Capital finds workers dehumanized insofar as they’re indemnified by the false promises of conspicuous consumption and irresponsible affluence, utterly distorting the pursuit of happiness and the potential of individuals for uniquely realizing values and manifesting virtues.

    The protests should prompt us to ask ourselves: Can we accord socio-economic primacy to creating the necessary (and thus not necessarily sufficient) conditions for generalizing psychological and moral individuation or self-realization? Assuming the capacity to meet basic material human needs, can we resort to criteria associated with the recognition and fulfillment of our moral and spiritual needs by way of the regulation of economic life and therefore the subordination of economic life to the goals of establishing the conditions necessary for generalizing the pursuit of self-actualization or self-realization in a psychological, moral and spiritual sense, for generalizing the innate incentive toward worthy living, for generalizing, within the constraints of dignity and self-respect, the capacity for realization of what it means to live worthy lives? We live in an economistic because capitalist culture and are governed by misleading ideologies that create a social environment which rewards individuals for choosing paths that do not lead to their true well-being: “they escalate their standards in proportion to their improved circumstances, choose short-run benefits that incur greater long-term costs, fear and avoid the means to their preferred ends, infer from early failures an unwarranted and disabling incompetence.” (Robert E. Lane)

    The protesters serve to remind us what precisely are the right questions. In the words of Daniel Haybron,

    “The modern era’s overriding preoccupation, arguably, has been the betterment of the human condition, inarguably, a noble aim. Yet the real focus has been on our material conditions, with far less attention paid to the question of how we are living and what our way of life does for us, or to us. Once it has well enough satisfied the basic constraints of morality, the chief question facing any civilization is: do its members enjoy a reasonable level of well-being? We probably won’t get much of an answer to this question if we simply ask what they have got. For human well-being mostly depends not on what people have but, among other things, on what they do with what they’ve got. A better question, arguably, is this: do they live in a sensible manner? A decent response to this question will require us to understand whether their way of life suits their natures. And central to that project, surely, will be seeing whether their way of life conduces to their flourishing psychologically. If a civilization cannot muster a reasonably affirmative answer to this question, then we might reconsider whether it is properly called ‘civilized.’ For if people do not flourish psychologically, they do not flourish. Period.”

    The protesters sense something is amiss, and in a profound if not always obvious or coherent way, they are right. Economically speaking, and thus with regard to the masses, the hoi polloi, the many, there needs to be more of a choice between unemployment and underemployment on the one hand, and alienating work on the other. Leisure or discretionary time, particularly insofar as it is understood and abused in our society by way of purely hedonic pursuits and conspicuous consumption, cannot compensate for the alienating and empty conditions of work time for many Americans. A commitment to “everyday life” for both the employed and unemployed remains psychologically unfulfilling when not downright debilitating. As Erich Fromm recognized a generation ago, our society is in many respects “sick,” and the protests are symptoms of that sickness in a manner that should provoke the requisite diagnosis of what ails us. It is doubtful that a cure lies in an attempt to recover the conditions that defined the postwar economic boom and social compact. And it is rather obvious that any pharmacological prescription based on “de-regulation” and unfettered markets will prove not only futile but fatal. At the very least, our protesters possess the virtue of understanding this, more or less.

    The protesters are participating in a “social movement,” defined as “a summary expression for a variety of collective efforts by the relatively powerless to exercise historical power.” (Richard Flacks) In protesting, social movement actors “break with, step out of, stop complying with, the terms and conditions of their accustomed daily lives.” In doing so, they attempt to influence their life circumstances and the life circumstances of those similarly situated, and this often entails considerable risks and costs. In a sclerotic democracy, we should give thanks to those willing to assume such risks and costs. These protests are in part and for some democratic forms of resistance in dramatic and urgent response to grave threats to accustomed, shared patterns of everyday living (even if some of the preconditions and conditions of such living were, and are, as we saw above, disturbing). Existing ways of life and cherished values are being undermined or threatened such that protests by social movements are the only political means available for bringing the attention needed to appreciate the gravity of such threats. Other protesters are clearly more motivated by or attuned to themes of “liberation” rather than moved by simple resistance to the current state of affairs (and by implication a return to some earlier status quo). They embody a critique and vision that aims to propagate the possibility of new ways living, new social arrangements, new means of self-fulfillment. These and other modes of protest endeavor to widen the arena of political participation in a way that gives the masses a greater voice in the decisions that affect their daily lives. Whatever faults and foibles those ensconced comfortably on the sidelines will detect among the protesters, it would be far more ennobling and intelligent for us to be grateful for the fact that others have not forgotten what it takes to prod our collective conscience and awaken democratic self-determination and political consciousness as a necessary condition of the endeavor to meaningfully address what ails us.

  23. Frank Pasquale says:

    Tim, thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree that “they will have to adopt some form of leadership hierarchy and more institutionalized agenda-setting in order to become a viable movement.” There will be a talk in NYC on 10/14 on exactly that issue. Doug Henwood has been particularly vocal about the need for leadership and clarity. I look forward to reading your work on protest and the First Amendment.