Does OWS Have a Future?

The question mark that hangs over our movement.
Does OWS Have a Future?

Stanley Rogouski

Mike Emery is a sociology student at the University of Maine. This article first appeared in The Maine Campus.

Tuesday marks the four-month anniversary of the Occupy movement. Perhaps it’s time to ask the question: Is it working? In four months, has progress been made toward realizing the movement’s goals?

As much as I would like to be able to answer with an emphatic “yes,” reality is much less encouraging for Occupiers, who haven’t been able to maintain a consistent focus.

On July 13, 2011, Adbusters bloggers proposed an occupation of America’s financial center, slated to begin on Sept. 17. “[W]e want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months,” the post read.

So far, so good.

“Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices,” according to the post.

And that “one simple demand” is the problem.

That original proposal was based on the Egyptian uprising and the Arab Spring in general. The organization proposed that OWS should demand “a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”

Such a commission could have had a great and immediate impact on American politics or made proposals to lay a foundation for future reforms, like the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Instead, the idea was abandoned.

On Sept. 29, the 13th day of the Occupation, the General Assembly at Zuccotti Park issued a declaration listing 23 grievances against major corporations. Nowhere did this declaration call for a Presidential Commission, or for any action, except to suggest direct democratic participation and an admonition to “[e]xercise your right to peaceably assemble.”

We have seen peaceable assembly in the months since; we haven’t seen political action.

Compare this to the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt. Protests began on Jan. 25 and on Feb. 11, President Hosni Mubarak resigned. The revolution continued, and democracy is still at risk. Nevertheless, in less than a month, the Tahrir protesters did something that the OWS protesters haven’t yet done: They gave their country an opportunity for real change. They achieved their first major goal and then moved on to continue fighting.

The Occupy movement has tried to keep organization loose – the various local Occupy protests are linked in name and in spirit but have no obligation to support a particular political agenda. This has led to political fragmentation, as each group of protesters agitates for their own particular reforms. Some of these reforms have stayed on the target of reducing corporate influence in American politics, while others branch out unnecessarily.

For example, among the 23 grievances listed by the General Assembly at Zuccotti Park, there were references to corporations blocking renewable energy, mistreating animals and perpetuating colonialism. A flyer for an Occupy UMaine rally in November stated, “The Greedy Government & Corporations should be feeding & clothing the hungry, homeless, & struggling hard working American families.”

While I applaud the various groups of Occupiers for trying to keep these issues in the spotlight as long as the Occupy movement has it, the lack of focus on one singular, powerful reform has allowed Occupy opponents to paint the movement as one of radicals and hippies, letting inattentive members of the public gloss over the fundamental idea of the protests: Corporate influence in government perpetuates unhealthy levels of inequality.

Every other complaint, every proposed reform, stems from this issue.

As we’ve seen in Egypt – where protests and grassroots political action continue almost a year after President Mubarak’s resignation – a political movement doesn’t have to stop when it achieves its first goal.

Social activism is a task that never ends. As it stands now, the Occupy movement is showing us that without focus, a social movement with its heart in the right place and international support can squander its political potential.

Mike Emery is a fourth year sociology student at the University of Maine. His political columns appear every Wednesday in The Maine Campus.

What do you think? Does our movement have a future? Can we brainstorm/network through winter and come out swinging in the Spring?

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57 comments on the article “Does OWS Have a Future?”

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Why have someone who has no understanding of the Occupy movement (this is painfully obvious) post? Well, I guess you have no on-the-ground connection and continue to act like you do, so it fits. Mike, put up or shut up.

Keep with the s...

Why not send in a counter-piece to Adbusters that articulates your position? Let's keep with the spirit and not put people down.


If the movement celebrates what works as well as criticizing what doesn't, it will be more difficult to paint it as out of touch.


Posts like this leave us hopeless. No mention of how awesome the first Oakland strike was! Smoke more weed Mike and you should have dropped out of school if you really wanted to understand politics.


I see a refocus happening this winter. The first few months may have been an epic venting of all political frustration built up over the years, but we have the systems of resistance in place, and the lulls of winter may provide reflection for the new direction to come. We don't have a dictator to overthrow here, like they did in Egypt. We have to oust a much more ambiguous source of power that is only abstract in the minds of most people. Mubarak was easy to rally folks against because he was the physical embodiment of everything they saw as wrong with their system. OWS has gone after the same in this country. But the Egyptians were not successful because they listed grievances and had marches and actions opposing Mubarak's stance on this issue or that. They were successful because they finally said "you are not in power anymore, we are." We don't have the luxury of a dictator in this sense. The best we can do is say "hey, greed, you are not in power anymore. We are." And what is the source of that power if not the stranglehold of money over our process of self governance?


The Occupy Movement has spread worldwide and to countless sectors. This article from Reuters lists some of the accomplishments of the Occupy movement. Vibe is an app mentioned in the article that protesters used to communicate with during events. The results may not be as tangible as ousting a dictator, but the implications are far greater. Politicians here on out who don't support the 99% won't be supported by the people.


The writer envisions Occupy! as a political reform movement working within the established structures to influence politicians to create change - and that's what *none* of the Occupy/Indignado/Arab Spring movements are about. They all recognize the current structures as beyond reform or repair, and call for replacement, not reform.

As for the "average Americans", they don't care who their rulers are or what the laws are, as long as they have a relative degree of comfort - enough to eat, a place to live, and lots of sports TV and videogames. They have no opinions, they repeat the talking points they hear on talk radio. They don't count, and have never counted - 235 years ago, all they cared about was getting their crops planted and harvested and sold - now, it's keeping their jobs and income, so they avoid any politics.

Occupy! will have more success the longer it keeps going, 4 months is nothing, think about 10 years...


The revolution is never easy, stay the course. Do not be a part of the instant gradification generation.


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