Occupy Wall Street: What’s The Endgame?

by J.A. Myerson

First of all, that’s a dumb question. The movement isn’t yet three weeks old.

Still, one can’t help imagining it. Every day, there are marches of hundreds of people committed to disrupting life in the financial district. This last weekend, there were thousands. Tomorrow, when we are joined by a huge number of groups declaring solidarity with us, there will probably be tens of thousands. If this continues, it will necessitate some kind of response beyond mass arrests and snide babble from the Nebbish-in-Chief.

And what if the other occupations happening around the country grow to NYC numbers? What if, just for example, every weekend in New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis, Dallas and Atlanta, thousands of people were marching in the streets and camping out in public spaces? Who would negotiate on behalf of the ruling class? Whom would they negotiate with? What would they be prepared to concede?

The movement certainly appears to be picking up steam. Every day, new calls for solidarity emerge from big organizations with big mobilizing power. Backlash from a corporatist right-wing media has arrived – a clear sign that we in Liberty Plaza Park ought to feel encouraged. Even in small cities like Tacoma,WA, activists are getting ready to demand a re-organization of this country’s economic and political superstructures so that they meet the needs of the 99% who currently get steamrolled rather than of the 1% who are driving the steamroller.

I am tempted to speculate that this is (already) the largest movement in the United States since the Great Depression that is leveling a critique specifically of capital. Now, I don’t mean to say that it is leveling a specific critique. In movements, critiques aren’t specific. As I’ve mentioned before, the political doctrines of Dr. King, Malcolm X and Bayard Rustin are distinct from one another, but all have meaningful claims to being aims of the civil rights movement. (And I bet no more than a tiny minority of the pundits demanding that we make demands can articulate the differences convincingly). What I mean is that the sense pervading the movement is that the system, as opposed merely to the people or the policies, is rotten and needs to be replaced.

There are 16.4 million children living in poverty. There are staggering numbers of families who declare bankruptcy because they cannot afford the medical attention they desperately need. There are millions of children in American ghettos who are growing up fatherless because of a drug war and mass incarceration that all but ensures generational inheritance of poverty. There are civilians of six or more countries being dismembered and incinerated by American bombs. There are species going extinct and entire ecosystems being obliterated. There are children in Alabama being chased out of schools because of anxieties about their parents’ immigration statuses. All of the worst things one can imagine – rape, torture, starvation, misery –America has got rich people who root for these things to happen so that they can get even richer.

There are millions of people across the country who object to the damage this does to the world and to our spirits as citizens of an ostensibly democratic society, and we finally seem to be demanding the alteration or abolition of the structures that not only allow this conduct, but encourage it, incentivize it, put enormous pressure on its perpetuation and expansion. Ethics commands us to object, and we are a deeply ethical movement. Let us be clear: this objection is an objection to capital, and we shouldn’t have to be afraid to say that.

Now, the solutions are various. A group like MoveOn can get on board with the sentiment and propose the adoption of the Volker Rule or the Buffett Rule or any number of other rules named for obscenely wealthy white men. By way of contrast, an activist or bloc thereof can propose the abolition of the class structure and the transference of the means of production to the control of the proletariat. For some people, the critique is closer to, “I don’t know about politics and economics. I’m just a recently-graduated biology major who is saddled with oppressive debt, jobless, hopeless and unsure of how I am going to survive, and it’s the fault of the people who benefit from my alienation and repression.” All these perspectives are valuable, and all should be heard. Thank goodness there’s a movement like Occupy Wall Street to hear them.

Luckily, we don’t have to worry about proposing the solutions. We just have to worry about creating the crisis. There are people whose job it is to make changes; we are not those people. Our job is to make those people apprehensive about failing to make those changes. Let’s occupy everything and bring the United States to a fever pitch, and then say, “What are you going to do about it, 1%? How are you going to get us to relent? What changes are you prepared to make? Make them. If they’re insufficient, you’ll know, because we’ll still be here.”

For now, we march and shout and expand and dance and feed one another and provide one another with warm clothing and medical attention and publish our own newspapers and create our own video-media output and reach out to other groups for support and solidarity and entertain one another with talent shows and teach one another about history, economics, politics and social theory. And we occupy.

What’s the end game? Don’t worry. Just occupy. Let’s cross that bridge once we’ve built it.