Occupy Wall Street: It’s a Tremor, Not a Quake. Yet.

October 14th, 2011 - by admin

Tom Hayden / LA Progressive – 2011-10-14 02:18:55


LOS ANGELES (October 12, 2011) — The “Occupy Wall Street” movement is barely being born and the mainstream media already is in the delivery room, asking questions about its demands and plans, pontificating on whether it’s “good for Obama” or an “alternative to the Tea Party,” etcetera ad infinitum.

The newborn movement needs breathing space. And basic stuff like port-a-potties in Zuccotti Park, which I visited Thursday night. In Los Angeles yesterday [Tuesday, October 11], with the encampment outside City Hall’s windows, the City Council held a three-hour hearing on a resolution to support Occupy Wall Street/LA and specifically urge the police not to intervene.

The non-binding resolution was introduced by Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and amended by Councilmember Richard Alarcon, will be voted on Wednesday by the full Council. The movement is “bringing new life into the progressive movement,” Rosendahl said. “I was there in Chicago in 1968 when I was 18, and in the McGovern campaign, in ’72, and this is the kind of movement we need.”

The Council itself is divided by personalities and districts, and the City has done regular business with many Wall Street firms. Just last year, the Council majority voted 10-2, with Rosendahl voting no, to grant development rights at the controversial Playa Vista development to Goldman Sachs, changing a previous allowance of 100,000 sq. ft. for commercial space to 2.6 million sq. ft. for luxury development, a step which gave the Wall Street giant a $145 million windfall on its property and creating a project larger than Chicago’s Trump Hotel and Towers. [LA Weekly, April 10, 2010].

On the other hand, just this week local LA labor and community groups finally succeeded in preventing an eviction and renegotiating lease terms with a bank. It was the result of a months-long campaign, and the outcome was influenced by the climate of Occupy LA.

Small events like this are occurring all over the country and, from the local energy generated, a national protest agenda may surface. Sometimes the demands of social movements grow after the movement is initiated, after the police and establishment responses are measured, and depending on how much public support materialized. In time, the whole can become more than the sum of its parts.

Franklin Roosevelt did not campaign for the presidency on a New Deal program. The elements of that program – Social Security, the Wagner Act recognizing collective bargaining, the WPA, anti-sweatshop regulations — arose separately in response to separate battlefronts, and were implemented piecemeal after many compromises. The driving forces were the men and women occupying factories, going on strikes and generally raising hell.

That’s what wrong with trying to impose overly specific demands at this point.

What the nascent movement needs at this point is spurts of growth. Otherwise it will be a tremor, not yet a quake.

The Wisconsin movement has been the biggest tremor so far. If it was taking place in the shadow of the New York Times, it would be world news. But the Wisconsin organizing moves forward despite the modest media coverage. During a nine-month protest in freezing weather there, the state capitol was besieged by protestors of all backgrounds in numbers surpassing 100,000, again and again.

Then they channeled themselves into necessary recall campaigns against Republican senators, making huge inroads in Republican districts, leaving the Republican governor with a wobbly majority of one. This week they announced their drive to recall Gov. Scott Walker. Beginning on a wintery November 15, they will need to collect 540, 208 valid signatures in just sixty days for a recall election next spring.

Wisconsin differs from “Occupy Wall Street” in substance and dynamics, if not in spirit. It was provoked by a direct attack on collective bargaining by a newly-elected Tea Party governor, setting off a mass movement to preserve long-held labor and democratic rights in the homeland of American progressivism. The movement’s unique character has included police and firefighter support for the demonstrations, even the daily occupations and sing-a-longs in the Capitol rotunda.

The possibility of real union support for Occupy Wall Street is spreading after AFL-CIO president Richard Trumpka’s endorsement of the occupation, which was followed by New York unions throwing themselves into massive New York demonstrations last week. Similarly, the powerful Los Angeles labor federation is supporting those encamped around City Hall, and Chicago unions took part in marches of several thousand people last week.

If and when the police are ordered to disperse the protestors, massive confrontations may ensue, changing the focus of the debate from the economy to more familiar law-and-order themes. The Wisconsin protests took extreme care to avoid violence, property damage or behavior that could force the police to intervene.

That isn’t likely, at least not so far, since many police unions share the anti-Wall Street protests’ emphasis on labor rights and better public sector budgets.

For a sense of the coming together of labor and students, starting in Wisconsin, everyone should download, listen to, and sing along with Tom Morello’s “This Is a Union Town”:

“Today the policeman’s a union man
Brother firefighter’s my friend
And the kids locked up in the Capitol
Are fighting to the end
And we’re not gonna break tonight
And we’re not gonna bend
Some say the union’s down
But I asked around
And everybody said
This is a union town, a union town
All down the line …”