Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Radical Inclusion: Why Occupy Wall Street Works

After being down at Times Square with Occupy Wall Street I was high as a kite. There is nothing like being part of thousands of Americans acting as a "human mic" to rebroadcast the words of an African immigrant talking about her struggles in America.

Just to be clear, I don't claim to speak for OWS at all. First of all, I'm too busy to be an occupier, second of all, as Taibbi says, if anyone claims to, "don't buy it." But I do think I know why OWS is so successful when other movements of the left haven't been: the movement is radically inclusive in a way that the left hasn't been for decades.

Going all the way back to the Weather Underground movement and further, American leftists have had a weakness for exclusion, forming movements that say to all around them, "I am more revolutionary/oppressed/radical than you!" The result is that potential allies are classified as enemies. The American right, seeing the opportunity this provides, has used this exclusion fantastically well to turn a large group of Americans against the Dirty Fucking Hippies and in support of the billionaire bosses that are ripping them off.

With the fantastic slogan "We Are the 99%," OWS has turned that around. To the angry Rush Limbaugh-listening Tea Partier, OWS says, "We're on your side, even if you hate our guts." To the union cop who is macing them and bashing them with a nightstick, OWS says, "We will keep fighting for you."

This does not mean that OWS doesn't stand for anything. Most of the movement's desires should be clear to anyone who's half paying attention: more progressive taxation, regulation of the finance industry and punishment for the criminals in it that crashed the world economy, action to stimulate the economy and policies that reduce income inequality. Because that's what's good for most Americans, even if they don't realize it yet.

But just as important as that is the message that we're all in this together. As long as the left maintains that message, people will come to realize it's true.