The Fantastic Success Of Occupy Wall Street

Opinion: (Immanuel Wallerstein, sociologist, historical social scientist, and world-systems analyst): “In Stage one – the first few days – the movement was a handful of audacious, mostly young, persons who were trying to demonstrate. The press ignored them totally. Then some stupid police captains thought that a bit of brutality would end the demonstrations. They were caught on film, and the film went viral on YouTube.

“That brought us to Stage two – publicity. The press could no longer ignore the demonstrators entirely. So the press tried condescension. What did these foolish, ignorant youth (and a few elderly women) know about the economy? Did they have any positive program? Were they ‘disciplined’? The demonstrations, we were told, would soon fizzle. What the press and the powers that be didn’t count on (they never seem to learn) is that the theme of the protest resonated widely and quickly caught on. In city after city, similar ‘occupations’ began. Unemployed 50-year-olds started to join in. So did celebrities. So did trade-unions, including none less than the president of the AFL-CIO. The press outside the United States now began to follow the events. Asked what they wanted, the demonstrators replied ‘justice.’ This began to seem like a meaningful answer to more and more people.

“This brought us to Stage three – legitimacy. Academics of a certain repute began to suggest that the attack on ‘Wall Street’ had some justification. All of a sudden, the main voice of centrist respectability The New York Times, ran an editorial on October 8 in which they said that the protestors did indeed have ‘a clear message and specific policy prescriptions’ and that the movement was ‘more than a youth uprising.’

“The movement had become respectable. And with respectability came danger – Stage four. A major protest movement that has caught on usually faces two major threats. One is the organization of a significant right-wing counterdemonstration in the streets. …The Occupy Wall Street movement needs to be prepared for this and think through how it intends to handle or contain it.

“But the second and bigger threat comes from the very success of the movement. As it attracts more support, it increases the diversity of views among the active protestors. The problem here is, as it always is, how to avoid the Scylla of being a tight cult that would lose because it is too narrowly based, and the Charybdis of no longer having a political coherence because it is too broad. There is no simple formula of how to manage avoiding going to either extreme. It is difficult.

“As to the future, it could be that the movement goes from strength to strength. It might be able to do two things: force short-term restructuring of what the government will actually do to minimize the pain that people are obviously feeling acutely; and bring about long-term transformation of how large segments of the American population think about the realities of the structural crisis of capitalism and the major geopolitical transformations that are occurring because we are now living in a multipolar world.”

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