Lately I’ve been thinking of Humpty Dumpty; he had a great fall, remember? And this is what’s going round in my brain: All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Wall Street together again. Corporate greed and its vast inequities and abuses have been exposed and can’t hide. Busted.
So far, the Occupy Wall Street movement’s stunning success has come in forcing a “greed vs. need, 1 vs. 99” dialogue in the U.S. and around the world. OWS has brilliantly changed the public discourse for several weeks. But what’s next?
Dozens of tent occupations in American and Canadian cities are vulnerable to police actions and winter temperatures. Some have already come down. There are varying opinions on whether long-term occupation of public spaces is worthwhile.
Contradictions within OWS are evident. Take Occupy Vancouver for one example. On Oct. 15, some 4,000 people demonstrated, but that number dwindled down to several dozen tent occupiers in all; and this crowd, determined as it is, hardly contains the diversity that gave the initial gathering its strength. Those who can and do remain aren’t representative of the 99 per cent no matter how often they say they are the 99 per cent.
Then there’s the recent panel discussion at The New School in New York. Five panellists including an occupier from Zucotti park and the well-known Michael Moore and Naomi Klein held this online viewer engaged for two hours. For a movement that’s said to be leaderless, here were leaders! We can’t all be in a panel discussion, so the best available people were picked.
At some point, this decentralized movement will need forms of representation in capable spokespersons who can best deliver a cogent message and demand a set of legislative goals. Are those who pretend otherwise being too “egalitarian correct” or naïve? Are OWS people so afraid of hierarchy that they can’t or won’t engage reasonable representation?
For the sake of all those within the 99 per cent who suffer the gross abuses of the current plutonomy (as Bill Moyers called it), I hope this movement can spawn groups of leaders willing to lead. And soon.
To effectively challenge the status quo, OWS has to go mainstream. And to do that it will need outgrow some outdated notions. “Equity” doesn’t mean all have equal gifts. “Activist” is not a sacred word. “Leftists” cannot attract critical mass. As Gandhi so eloquently put it, “You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.” Divisive labels and tactics are counterproductive. For this movement to evolve, the pride in struggles past must give way to new strategies.
Surely the point of the tent occupations isn’t to square off against police forces. Resisting arrest plays into their hands, wastes a lot of energy and throws OWS off message. When you’ve got the moral high ground, as George Lakoff has written, it’s not police battles you need — you want to focus on winning public support.
To court ordinary families struggling to make ends meet, make rent or mortgage payments and provide for their kids, OWS must devise a diverse array of communication and education tactics: actions that speak loudly in their disciplined, peaceful and positive ways. And it needs to take advantage of the work that’s already been done.
Documents like the Earth Charter and the UN Convention On The Rights of The Child can serve to remind us what we know and should do to respect both Earth and Child. So can the work of ecological economists whose wealth of knowledge provides clear road maps to sustainability. If I sound optimistic, it’s with good reason.
Twenty years ago the unthinkable happened. Apartheid in South Africa folded. The mighty Soviet Union came undone. The impregnable Berlin wall fell.
If OWS can mature beyond protest and into a global wave for positive progressive visioning, anything’s possible. For the crumbling global economy is in rough shape, nothing’s for certain, and there’s no wall too tall to fall.
Listen to Raffi’s song No Wall Too Tall available for free download. This song and many others are available for free download or streaming at the website of the organization Centre for Child Honouring.
Raffi Cavoukian is founder and chair of the Centre For Child Honouring on Salt Spring Island, B.C. Known to millions as the singer, Raffi, he is also an author, ecology advocate and entrepreneur. His awards include the Order of Canada and the Order of BC, along with three honorary degrees. His most recent song is “Letter To A Nation,” inspired by Jack Layton.