For now, the “Occupy” movement seems to have faded away.
In 1999, the anti-globalization movement convened in Seattle and, with the help of new tactics, succeeded in shutting down the World Trade Organization’s meeting there. Law enforcement was quick to adapt, however, and subsequent attempts to use the same tactics that worked so well for demonstrators in Seattle did not achieve the same results. Similarly, cities that saw substantial “Occupy” movements last Fall were able to pressure those movements out of existence over the winter, and keep them from growing back this Spring. Is “Occupy” dead?
The short answer is, “No.” Suppressed, yes, but none of the grievances that brought the Occupy movement to life have been addressed, and that virtually assures us that, at some point, the movement will spring into action again, bigger and more militant than before.
A lookat Russian history provides a possible scenario. Everybody, I hope, knows that the Communists came to power in the Russian revolution of 1917, but how many of us are aware of the almost-revolution that took place in Russia in 1905?
That uprising was far more widespread and violent than anything this country has seen since the Civil War. It began in St. Petersburg, in January, with a peaceful mass demonstration by an estimated 150,000 people (about 10% of the city’s population–think 800,000 New Yorkers turning out for a demo!) in front of the Tsar’s palace, in support of a petition that hardly questioned the basis of the status quo. It read:
“Oh Sire, we working men and inhabitants of St. Petersburg, our wives, our children and our parents, helpless and aged women and men, have come to You our ruler, in search of justice and protection. We are beggars, we are oppressed and overburdened with work, we are insulted, we are not looked on as human beings but as slaves. The moment has come for us when death would be better than the prolongation of our intolerable sufferings.
We are seeking here our last salvation. Do not refuse to help Your people. Destroy the wall between Yourself and Your people.”
Seems humble enough, right? The Tsar’s guards opened fire on the unarmed, peaceful demonstrators, and possibly as many as a thousand were killed. Hey, that’s what happens when you say “Death would be better than the prolongation of our intolerable sufferings.” Watch what you ask for!
The government’s violence lit a fuse, and it didn’t help that Russia had just had its butt kicked in a war with Japan. Within weeks, hundreds of thousands of Russian workers were on strike, Russian army and navy units mutinied, the country’s transportation system was shut down, and alternative revolutionary governments were up and functioning in several major cities.
The government’s response was twofold. On one hand, it offered some reforms and liberalizations; on the other, it sent out loyal army units to crush the most serious revolts. Thousands died as artillery units shelled striking neighborhoods, right-wing militias dealt summary “justice,” and “terrorists” were subjected to on-the-spot execution. In spite of this repression, the legislature that was elected as a result of the reforms was fairly militant, and chafed at the limits that were put on its power. The government waited a few more months for things to quiet down, then dissolved this body and constituted another, more pliant one in its place. There was no widespread outcry over this; the “liberals” remained mollified, and the radicals were mostly dead, in jail, or in hiding.
Having thus used its power to crush the opposition, the Imperial Russian government sailed blithely on until 1917, when things came to a head again. We all know what happened then.
So maybe that’s a parallel to our current situation. The state has reasserted its authority and made a nod towards minor reforms that do not displace any of those who exercise power. Radical activists may find themselves prosecuted as terrorists, if the subject of their activity is a major party political convention, a gathering of world leaders, or a person, such as our President, who is protected by the Secret Service.
Meanwhile, none of the basic issues that spawned the Occupy movement have been addressed in any substantial way. Corporations are still free to buy elections. The bankers who destroyed our economy to enrich themselves have not even had their hands slapped, let alone cuffed. Mortgages and student loans remain clamped to peoples’ ankles like a ball and chain, and our military budget continues to bleed the country’s economy at the rate of about 3 billion dollars a day, unquestioned by our ostensible legislators. The government is not addressing the needs of the people. ‘
We have entered an era of government of the people, by the corporations, and for the corporations, and the peoples’ needs be damned. This is not what our founding fathers intended. But a hot wind is blowing off the tree- and snow-denuded Rocky Mountains, baking and drying the rest of the country with its force. In spite of our bluster and technological superiority, we are getting our butt kicked in Afghanistan. At some point in the not-too distant future, the meteorological and political heat will rise to the flash point, and America will change very fast, in ways that are hard to conceive of from here. But, for now, everything is quiet. For now. Enjoy it while it lasts–and make good use of this breathing space, because it won’t last forever.