Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Left Drops the Ball

Since this whole #OccupyWallStreet movement started, the liberal blogosphere has weighed in in their usual fashion - which is to say they've taken a pro or con position and fought it out amongst themselves. PRO (here, here, here, here and here); CON (here, here, here, here here and here).

The position of those on the con side is generally that the movement lacks clearly-articulated demands. As many people have pointed out, what they're protesting seems fairly clear. Here is a statement from We Are the 99% (which, if you haven't seen it, do so immediately):

We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we're working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.

That seems pretty straight forward. But, I'm sure the con camp would say that the occupiers need clear-cut demands.

Gee, wouldn't it be great is if we had a bunch of progressives who were paid to think about such things full time? Maybe whole groups of people who wrote endlessly about politics, economics and how to make a more equal society? So yeah, you get my point - that would be the progressive blogosphere. (Many of whom have advanced degrees in economics and are employed full time at think tanks and/or universities).

Why isn't the Left jumping in an providing suggestions? Why isn't it reaching out to the protesters, offering to answer questions, to provide expertise? To my knowledge, only one blogger/think tanker did - Mike Konczal. (And bravo Mike Konczal!) Other than that, the entire progressive blogosphere - with a single voice - just gave their personal opinions (more than a little hippie punching, btw), as if they were commenting on a sporting event.

Really, the progressive blogosphere has an opportunity - a very rare opportunity - to actually be useful. Many bloggers/think tankers have really useful expertise and they know things about proposed Financial Transaction Taxes, various technical solutions for debt forgiveness, etc.

Because here's the thing: We're talking about a difficult fucking problem here. These corporations and the financial systems that support them are international. Our political system has been completely corrupted. Everyone knows the top 1% have all the money and all the power, but we don't know what to do:

We are . . . living through an epoch . . . in which there is no available mechanism to oust a political-economic elite whose interests have become incompatible with ours.

This is not some sudden development, much less a coup d’etat as is sometimes claimed. No, the accretion of power by the rentiers has been systematic, structural and the outcome of a decades-long process. It is deeply rooted in modern capitalist economies due to the transformation of corporations into tradable, recombinant portfolios of assets, increasing concentration of and returns to ownership, and the failure of regulation to keep pace with technology and transnational scale. . . .

The real problem is political, and it is profound. Unless we can unseat the class that sees the world only through its portfolios, they may well take us all the way down. Unfortunately, no one seems to have a clue how such a revolution can be engineered in a modern, complex, transnational economy.

And that's not a clueless kid writing, its an economist. Criticizing the Occupy Wall Street protesters for not immediately presenting a plan to solve these problems is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, it's hard not to see it as disingenuous given the palpable scorn that accompanies many of the dismissals.

These mostly young people took to the streets to say: Enough! I don't know how anyone could be expected to do any better. But I was really taken watching this video where the OWS protesters are interviewing Chris Hedges - they had so many questions for him. They were asking how to reach more people, how to be more effective, what their goals should be. This is what progressives with expertise should be doing: Listening to their questions (they're producing considerable content online and their live streaming daily) and trying to provide answers. The Left should be debating about the pros and cons of possible concrete solutions that could be proposed.

The progressive intelligensia potentially has an important role to fill. Thus far, the Left has dropped the ball, but obviously it's not too late. It's pretty clear that these young people are just getting started.

Update: Casa Cogito takes up the challenge. Bravo Sean!

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.


  1. Great post, and great point. I was here earlier today and started to write a comment, but realized I was going to go way long. So I went back to my place and wrote a post instead. You can see it here:

    Also, when I came back here to leave this comment I saw that you've cross-posted this at DKos. I'll probably edit what I did over at my place a little and cross-post there as well.

  2. I agree the Professional Left needs to stop throwing rocks from the sidelines and get into the game. After all, what point is all that training and scholarship if it's not applied to real world situations?

  3. @Doug Henwood - in addition to what I've written above, what has occurred to me is this:

    I worry that if the intelligensia for the Left doesn't have ideas ready to go - well, that's how movements can get hijacked.

    The Right has always been better at the Left of - as Milton Friedman said - having the ideas ready when "the ideas lying around" are important.

    On this Keynes and Friedman are agreed - it's not "vested interests, but ideas" that matter.

    So, I'm basically paraphrasing David Graeber - he wrote an article on this that I cannot for the life of me find. He basically laid out ideas for how intellectuals could be useful to direct action movements: they can help articulate things more clearly; they can provide helpful information; they can LISTEN and answer questions. Basically, they can provide their services - their expertise - to be used how the democratic movement sees fit.

    Of course, the concerns are - these "experts" will try to hijack the movement. It's better not to have anything concrete - that's the trap. How much central organization is required to produce such demands. Etc.

  4. This is such a good point. OWS is about a beginning movement that should embolden sophisticated thinkers to provide their wisdom and guidance to a true and useful solution. Maybe they are just a little embarrassed they haven't had the balls to hit the streets themselves and rough it like the young people are willing to do fro everyone else.

    Lets take this energy for change and start forming a real think tank with progressive ideas and energy united!!

  5. Sorry for being a week late but I just found your blog.

    If you are serious about:

    "Why isn't [the Left] reaching out to the protesters, offering to answer questions, to provide expertise?"

    I am a member of an international, virtual, think tank
    and we have been wanting to get "real" ... get our ideas and analysis into the Public discourse ... for some years now.

    Consider this a reach out.

  6. @Anonymous - please contact me at taryn dot hart at gmail dot com.