Some Choices and Implications for a Popular Movement
by Onan Musoy
A popular movement is massing itself on the streets and bringing awareness of its cause to the greater public. This movement has been confronted by municipal law enforcement, who have been arresting or detaining citizens on misdemeanor charges in order to supersede First Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Civic governments are challenging the organizing movement by presenting an obstacle in the form of a moral dilemma - protestors must choose between lawfulness and lawlessness, in its manifestation as civil disobedience.
When local ordinances grant no space to/for its citizens to assemble, the choice for each individual in the movement becomes whether to maintain its preferred site or give way. If the decision to hold is chosen and the number of protestors is small, they are cleared from the place, if not arrested and/or detained. Whatever the outcome, reassembly must continue until massive enough numbers of participants render the law enforcement process entirely unfeasible for municipalities.
If protestors’ numbers remain small and law enforcement becomes so Draconian that the choice to stay in its chosen space is not possible, then the group must go, but it must go mobile. This need not be seen as a defeat, rather a morphing of the movement into another phase of actions. Mobility offers advantages in the potential to create a multiplicity of smaller subgroups, with the attributes of quicker and more difficult to detect movements, allowing the protestors to offer a greater unpredictability to law enforcement.
If the right to assemble is legally denied, participants in the movement have at least two other time-tested tactics at their disposal: the boycott and the strike. With these actions, citizens still have choices when making distinctions between lawfulness and lawlessness.
Boycotts, law abiding in nature, effective as an individual effort and, much more so, as a concentrated group action, hold no legal downside for participants. All it requires is to make personal sacrifices for the greater good and anyone sympathetic to the movement can do it.
Another action available to people, with huge potential to effect change, is the strike. The demarcation line between lawfulness and lawlessness differs depending on whether or not workers have a non-strike agreement with owners/management. If one has such an agreement, then striking is illegal; if not bound by such an agreement, one has a legal right to do so. It is worth noting, at this juncture, that one need not be in a union to institute a strike.
Whereas an organized effort could bring rapid results, it will draw an equally concentrated response by government to counter the action, as we have witnessed with protestors in the streets. Civil disobedience, or conscious lawbreaking, is an effective and successful tactic when a massive number of individuals participate. If a general strike is going to work, it will have to occur in this way: there must be enough lawbreakers to make prosecution by the state impractical.
With regard to an overarching strategy of the movement, it will do well to bear in mind, the general trend in governance is centralization to further concentrate power. The movement must choose to what degree it mirrors the status quo and how much proportion is given to
decentralization, rooted in the structure of the movement, as a tactic to counterbalance governments’ actions. Ever-changing circumstances on the ground and within the movement call for equally fluid responses. If people choose to centralize, it must be over shared goals, yet they must stand ready to choose decentralization and employ a variety of actions to achieve stated goals.
Rapid results from actions undertaken, with agreeable solutions to the many grievances, are ideal. However, one must question if the desire for overnight success is being driven by commercial indoctrination for instant gratification. When resisting a corrupt system centuries in the making, it will take much time to undo the damage.
When contemplating present and future actions, the popular front of today would be well served in learning from past movements so as not to repeat the same missteps. Participants and observers alike have drawn parallels between current events and the 1960s, when people in large numbers occupied the streets, carried signs, and chanted slogans in advocacy for societal changes.
The movement of the 1960s, with the potential to achieve systemic change, opted for separate protests -- over civil, indigenous, and women’s rights, plus the end of a war -- with incomplete mutual support for the other causes. As a result, each group of protestors
settled for a sufficient set of reforms that brought satisfaction to their grievances, but kept the underlying inequitable system intact.
The current movement has come forth, comprising practically all human beings regardless of subgroups, with an all-encompassing set of grievances too numerous to fit nicely into a simple set of demands. Perhaps by learning from the shortfalls of the popular uprisings forty-something years ago, the present protest will be less content to accept reforms and more intent on pushing for a revolution of the system. As well, there is much to learn from a global, historical study of both successful reforms and revolutions.
While maintaining an enthused and optimistic outlook, being mindful of possible roadblocks can help with staying the course. A reported Republican strategy involves verbal rebranding with the aim of assuaging the masses and turning the tide. The phrases “economic freedom”€¯ and “free market”€¯ are to replace “capitalism,”€¯ since protestors are hip to the inequities of the capitalist system.
To maintain cohesiveness among groups large and small, the movement can benefit by keeping an eye out for potential infiltrators, such as those wanting to co-opt the movement along political lines. And even a successful revolution must be wary of counterrevolutionary forces.
Also worth considering is the art of advance and retreat. That is: distinguishing between when it is best to withdraw one’s participation from the system -- for example, taking money out of a private bank and putting it into a credit union or publically-owned bank, or
getting news from other than mainstream media -- and when best to confront the system directly -- for example, refusing to leave a foreclosed home, or blocking the transport of hazardous materials.
How far will the popular movement advance toward or help bring about an egalitarian society? Will the reforms of decades past be matched, or will systemic revolution have the 1960s come to be remembered as a dress rehearsal? Will it be for a country or will it happen for a world?
While such transformations may seem radical to some people, it is helpful to remember that “radical”€¯ simply means “of the roots, the origin,”€¯ and that is where one must often go in order to truly solve a problem, to revolutionize instead of reform.
That roots are essentially unseen is a reminder that: the pathway we take, in order to solve our global problems, will probably not be exactly where it appears to be.
(first published in The (Un)Occupy Movement anthology
and at www.axisoflogic.com 12-25-2011)