In Search of Occupiers

by Robert Maynard

There has been a lot of media attention given to the movement dubbed “Occupy Wall Street”. A couple of overriding questions have been “Who are they?” and “What do they want?” In an attempt to answer this question, former Clinton pollster Doug Schoen had his polling company create an Occupy Wall Street survey based on 198 face-to-face interviews conducted in Zuccotti Park on October 10th and 11th. Here is who they are:

3.Party: With which political party do you identify? {Open Ended}

5% Anarchist

1% Constitutionalist

32% Democrat

4% Former/disillusioned Democrat

6% Independent

6% Libertarian

6% Socialist

3% Working Families Party

33% Do not identify with any political party

4% Not sure

Here is what they want:

17.What would you like to see the Occupy Wall Street movement achieve? {Open Ended}

35% Influence the Democratic Party the way the Tea Party has influenced the GOP

4% Radical redistribution of wealth

5% Overhaul of tax system: replace income tax with flat tax

7% Direct Democracy

9% Engage & mobilize Progressives

9% Promote a national conversation

11% Break the two-party duopoly

4% Dissolution of our representative democracy/capitalist system

4% Single payer health care

4% Pull out of Afghanistan immediately

8% Not sure

In short, while there is a diversity of political alliances and goals, there is a focus on influencing the Democratic Party. Beyond the presence of Democrats, there have been comments about the “Strange Bedfellows” that the movement attracts.

This raises the question about the “Occupiers” in Burlington’s City Hall Park, who are acting in solidarity with the larger Occupy

Occupy Wall Street: The Problem

Wall Street movement. While marching up and down Church Street on Sunday the 23rd, they carried signs opposing nuclear power and calling for the shut down of Vermont Yankee, expressing anti-war sentiments, declaring that Capitalism IS the Crisis, etc. In short, Wall Street is not the only target.

It was hard to get an idea of what, if any, organizational influence was behind the group. The groups billed itself as a spontaneous leaderless movement. A look around City Hall Park, however, did give a clue as to organized ideological influence. While there was a small table of literature on the details of the march itself, there was also a far larger literature table manned by the International Socialist Organization. No other tables were there.

The ISO seemed to be largely unopposed in putting their own ideological spin on the movement. That should prove to be a problem for those who want to see OWS’s concerns taken seriously by the public at large. Besides a wealth of literature pushing Marxist theories and the cause of revolution, there was a double-sided flyer that defined their view of what the problem was that OWS is confronting and what the solution should be. The front side listed “The Problem”. The problem is our capitalism system, rooted in private property and profit. “The other side discusses “The Solution”, which is to collapse the system.

They addressed the criticism that their demands are not coherent and saw that as a strength. The point is not to “issue demands”. Those who are in charge of the current system, which is corrupt at its core, are the ones answering demands demands. The argument is that, “We want nothing from the powerful but their destruction”.

The flyer also dismisses the idea that they should insist on “non-violence”. It then insisted that protesters “Demand Nothing. Occupy Everything” and that they “Occupy Space for its Own Sake”. The argument is that “Occupations are a good start. They create space for us to come together and experiment with new ways of relating to one another outside the flow of capital. Done well, they can temporarily halt this flow. If they are large enough or daring enough, they can generalize into open revolt, breaking with the old order to build something new.” (Emphasis added)

In dismissing the idea that the movement should insist on “non-violence”, the flyer argued that: “All effective tactics will be equally opposed by the State, whether they are legal or not. Denouncing allies who use ‘unapproved’ tactics is more alienating than the most radical actions.” (Emphasis added)

The ISO is not alone in their efforts at providing ideological direction to the movement. They have an event on Thursday, October 27 at 7pm in UVM’s Lafayette 108. Among the co-sponsors are the Vermont Workers Center, the Vermont Progressive Party and several local labor unions. The event is entitled “Wall Street to Waterman: Social Justice and the Labor Movement Today”.

The question that should be asked of those sympathetic with the OWS movement is whether they agree with the material being distributed and sold at the occupation of Burlington’s City Hall Park by the ISO? If they do not agree, why are there not other tables offering an alternative viewpoint? Do groups like the Vermont Workers Center and Vermont Progressive Party agree with the propaganda being put out by the ISO? If they do not agree, why are they co-sponsoring events with the ISO? If groups like the Vermont Workers Center and Vermont’s Progressive Party do not distance themselves from the ISO, should Vermont’s political leaders distance themselves from them? Inquiring minds want to know.