A Historical Perspective on Occupy Wall Street

by Neal Meyer

For In These Times' December 2013 cover feature, “Generation Hopeless?”, the magazine asked a number of politically savvy people, younger and older, to respond to an essay by 22-year-old Occupy activist Matthew Richards in which he grapples with what the movement meant and whether Occupy’s unfulfilled promises are a lost cause or the seeds of the different world whose promise he glimpsed two years ago. Here is Neal Meyer's response:

Matthew Richards ends his essay on Occupy Wall Street on a disturbing note. He writes, “Now that I’ve already done my best to fix the world and it didn’t work, I’m at peace with the fact that it is no longer my job.” Richards was 19 when Occupy started. After two years of organizing he has already burned out.

But Richards’ sense of defeat is understandable once we recognize that he gets his history wrong and that his perspective on Occupy’s potential is off.

 

Richards starts by claiming that Occupy was “doomed to fail” because the obstacles it faced were greater than those of any other movement in U.S. history. But activists throughout history have been censored, deported, blacklisted and even murdered. The obstacles Occupy faced were not significantly greater than any other movement, and the successes of past movements prove that these obstacles are not insurmountable.

He also calls Occupy a failure because it couldn’t “take down Wall Street” and end the two-party system. Anyone who thinks that four months of protest could accomplish any of these tasks is destined to be disappointed.

Richards’ despair grows out of a lack of historical perspective and a faulty analysis. These problems point to a major hurdle that holds today’s social movements back: the lack of robust political organizations that can support and educate activists.

In the past, radicals could rely on organizations like the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Black Panthers and many more to be schools in the history and theory of movements. Political organizations were well suited to this task because they brought activists and intellectuals together. They required intellectuals to write and teach history and theory that would be useful to activists. They also allowed activists to share their insights with intellectuals and each other.

Richards is right to feel disappointed by the breakup of Occupy. But the lesson I learned is that our task now is to rebuild organizations that once supported movements. Many of us have already begun the work of building left-wing organizations and media projects, like In These Times, to serve this purpose.

The struggle against exploitation and oppression is a long one. We need activists like Richards to reflect and prepare for the next fight, not drop out. Only by building organizations that serve as communities and schools for activists can we make this happen.

 Join us for the next YDS conference Feb.14, 2014, in New York City.  Use search function on this web page.

 Neal_2.jpgNeal Meyer is national organizer for the Young Democratic Socialists.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.

 

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
· 36 rsvps

DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
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Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 6 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.

Instructor:

Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org> 607-280-7649.
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  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
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You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 69 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.