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Occupiers Have to Convince the Other 99 Percent

Posted on Oct 24, 2011
AP / Eric Gay

Brighton Wallace takes part in an “Occupy Austin” protest at the Austin City Hall in Texas.

By Chris Hedges

(Page 3)

Murray Bookchin wrote: “Radical politics in our time has come to mean the numbing quietude of the polling booth, the deadening platitudes of petition campaigns, carbumper sloganeering, the contradictory rhetoric of manipulative politicians, the spectator sports of public rallies and finally, the knee-bent, humble plea for small reforms—in short, the mere shadows of the direct action, embattled commitment, insurgent conflicts, and social idealism that marked every revolutionary project in history. … What is most terrifying about present-day ‘radicalism’ is that the piercing cry for ‘audacity’—‘L’audace! L’auduce! Encore l’auduce!’—that Danton voiced in 1793 on the high tide of the French revolution would simply be puzzling to the self-styled radicals who demurely carry attaché cases of memoranda and grant requests into their conference rooms … and bull horns to their rallies.”

Macdonald argued that those who wanted change had to base all actions on the nonhistorical and more esoteric values of truth, justice and love. They had to retain Danton’s call for audacity. Once any class bows to the practical dictates required by effective statecraft and legislation, as well as the call to protect the nation, it loses its moral authority and its voice. The naive belief in human progress through science, technology and mass production, which this movement understands is a lie, erodes these nonhistorical values by placing faith in state power and fantasy. The choice is between serving human beings or serving history, between thinking ethically or thinking strategically. Macdonald excoriated Marxists for the same reason he excoriated the liberal class: They subordinated ethics to another goal. They believed the ends justified the means. The liberal class, like the Marxists, by serving history and power capitulated to the state in the end. This capitulation by the liberal class, as Irving Howe noted, “bleached out all political tendencies.” Liberalism, he wrote, “becomes a loose shelter, a poncho rather than a program; to call oneself a liberal one doesn’t really have to believe in anything.”

In line with the occupy movement, we must not extol the power of the state as an agent of change or define progress by increased comfort, wealth, imperial expansion or consumption. The trust in the beneficence of the state—which led most liberal reformers to back the wars in Vietnam and Iraq at their inceptions, as well as place faith in electoral politics long after electoral politics had been hijacked by corporate power—ceded uncontested power to the corporate state. Liberals and liberal groups, such as MoveOn, which urge us to appeal to formal structures of power that no longer concern themselves with the needs or rights of citizens have become forces of disempowerment. 

The only effective tool for change will come through movements such as those that stand in direct opposition to state power and seek through the sheer force of numbers and civil disobedience to discredit and weaken the corporate state. The corporate state cannot be the repository of our hopes and dreams. And the liberal establishment has, by making concession after concession, merged itself into the corporate apparatus and has nothing left to say to us. It is part of the elaborate and hollow political theater that has replaced genuine political participation. The dismantling of our radical social and political movements in the early and even middle part of the 20th century in the name of anti-communism left the liberal class, as well as the wider society, without a repository of new ideas. The utopian fantasies of globalism and naive acceptance that the dictates of the marketplace should be permitted to determine human behavior became not just the creed of the corporatists but finally the creed of liberal apologists such as Thomas Friedman and most professors in university economic departments. And the strength of the new movements is that they have exposed this lie. 


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What we are witnessing in parks and squares across the United States is not simply widespread revulsion over the greed and cruelty of corporate capitalism, but the articulation of a new and potent radicalism. This radicalism challenges the right of corporations to poison our ecosystem and turn greed and self-promotion into the highest good at the expense of human life. If this movement can cross class lines, if it can articulate its vision to those in marginalized communities, especially poor people of color, it can tap into a force and power that was never part of the New Left. It can make possible the shaking of the foundations and, let us hope, the toppling of the corporate state.

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By traynorjf, October 24, 2011 at 7:35 am Link to this comment

Many, maybe a majority, of the white working class, those with less than college
attendance, are functionally illiterate and generally ignorant people. They
function more at the tribal or clan level. That does not mean they lack
intelligence or perception. They probably see OWS as an intraclass thing,
something that does not affect them. I am speaking as someone who was born
and raised among them. My age, 80, may certainly skew my opinion, but I think
I’m more right than wrong in this. They have seen, in the past, protestors going
home after it’s all over, donning suits and ties and leaving to join the very classes
that oppress them, the ‘suits’.

To win them over they must be presented with concrete proposals and dollars
and cents arguments in support of these proposals. Philosophical and political
rhetoric will not do the job.

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By EUA Baker, October 24, 2011 at 7:00 am Link to this comment

“Marginalized people of color have been organizing, protesting and suffering for years with little help or even acknowledgment from the white liberal class. With some justification, those who live in these marginalized communities often view this movement as one dominated by white sons and daughters of the middle class who began to decry police abuse and the lack of economic opportunities only after they and their families were affected”

Chris Hedges, the sentiments in the above passage are correct. Grace Lee Boggs had it right when she said everyone has to look in the mirror to discover the values and culture that have led to the current predicament in America. Seeking for abuses in the system MUST begin with looking into the mirror to understand the cultural values that have created the environment in which greed and self-interests took over our humanity and love of country.

For a long time, white Americans measured prosperity in terms of how better they are doing relative to everyone else. Ronald Regan, Bush Senior, Bill Clinton, and Bush Junior preached this with the help of a tiny, but satanic group in the wall street and banks. It worked for a while, and the majority in this country became used to the idea. The lives of many in many minority communities were sacrificed to the satanic deities of selfish greed and self-interested and tribal policies. As a result, the plutocrats and their beneficiaries became what they preached and practiced. As they hoarded and consumed more, they wanted more and more money to sustain their insatiable greed. Jobs were outsourced for higher profits through NAFTA and other public policies. Taxes were cut for the plutocrats for higher profits. Income dwindled in the white communities. Pensions, benefits, and healthcare followed and whites could no longer enjoy what were denied to the minority communities.

The point is that when you allow the denial of liberty in one section of the society, the slaveholders will master and perfect the skills with which to deny liberty to anybody, including you. The present situation is a consequence of your past learned values and culture of supporting inequality and abuse in other communities and nations. The chicken, they say, is now coming home to roost.

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By OzarkMichael, October 24, 2011 at 6:16 am Link to this comment

“Since it is patently clear that plutocrats and democracy cannot coexist, the project is to rid us of the plutocrats, while there’s still time to save our world. Once that’s understood, the rest is in the details.”

Putting the ‘war’ in class warfare. Decapitated head on a pike… wave that sign around, message comes through loud and clear.

Even though such sentiments are expressed by the far-Left on a regular basis, it has been suggested by OWS apologist Anarcissie that a ‘decapitated head on a pike’ was not done by a protester, but by an agent of reactionary forces.

Yet we read it here, right here, every day.

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By OzarkMichael, October 24, 2011 at 6:07 am Link to this comment

convince the other 99%? I thought they already were 99%.

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By payson, October 24, 2011 at 5:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The American liberal class has failed.  Wealthy liberals prefer to throw fundraisers
for trendy causes rather than “get their hands dirty” and protest a system that
enriched them as much as conservatives. 
Conservatives are winning the culture battle because wealthy conservatives can
pick from any number of social issues to rally poor and bigoted citizens to vote for
their side.
Wealthy liberals, on the other hand, can’t rally anyone because their emptiness
and hypocrisy have been revealed.  We have entered the post-rhetoric stage.  Do
what you can, however little, as long as you are doing something.

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By the worm, October 24, 2011 at 5:42 am Link to this comment

Thank you a thoughtful, provocative and inspiring article.

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By David J. Cyr, October 24, 2011 at 5:41 am Link to this comment

QUOTE, Chris Hedges:

“They [the power elite] have so far been unable to blunt the fundamental truth the movement imparts: We have undergone a corporate coup.”

That corporate coup undergone was a collaborative effort.

Voter Consent Wastes Dissent:

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By exploitedtimes, October 24, 2011 at 5:13 am Link to this comment

@ Ardee,

Thanks for comment. I appreciate the acknowledgment of excessive idealism and naivete, and would characterize the claim of having ‘helped’ to ultimately end the Vietnam War via protests as delusional, with respect.
Further, I would ask how many of those anti-Vietnam protesters with whom you participated have since joined the ranks of the corporate security state, whether directly or indirectly, and choose to shrug off their protest past as youthful folly, for the chance to become another cog in the corporate machine?
My bet is close to 99%.

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By thethirdman, October 24, 2011 at 5:05 am Link to this comment

This is exactly why liberals have such a difficult go at things.  Even when trying to
do the right thing, they attack the very men and women who lend the greatest
strength to their cause.
One could see this from the very begging of OWS with their silly line jumping
policies based on degree of social oppression.
Despite varying depictions, this country is still very white and very middle class. 
We have many faults, but no effectual movement can shit on this demographic and
hope to change much of anything.  Republicans learned this lesson decades ago. 
Ardee is very correct when he highlights just who had the greatest impact on
ending the Vietnam War.
Why is Hedges trying to stir this pot?  He should be using his talents to unite not

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By madisolation, October 24, 2011 at 5:03 am Link to this comment

Glen Ford’s column at Black Agenda Report echoes Chris Hedges’ thoughts. Ford wrote:

“The idea that the plutocrats can be quarantined from power, while remaining plutocrats, is absurd. And no, there is no difference between Warren Buffet, the Koch brothers, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, the Walton (Mal-Mart) family and the late Steven Jobs. Their very existence is an insult to any legitimate concept of democracy. Every one of them would kill a million people to preserve his billions. They already do.”
“Since it is patently clear that plutocrats and democracy cannot coexist, the project is to rid us of the plutocrats, while there’s still time to save our world. Once that’s understood, the rest is in the details.”

Report this

By exploitedtimes, October 24, 2011 at 4:56 am Link to this comment

Thank you Chris

Even though there are thousands in the movement and hope it will grow, the fact is the size of the Occupation is far smaller than even 1% of citizens. Just as utopians scream we must reduce carbon output when we’ve shown zero capacity to even approach leveling off, the horse is way in front of the cart. The 99% figure is much closer to representing those in the corporate rank and file who fear losing the livelihood their corporate state provides them. So currently it is just as fantastic to propose carbon reduction in the midst of an historic population explosion fueled by carbon as to suggest 99% of anybody is independent or against the corporate state. Corporations control the lives of the majority, and they control the economic fear that is the corporate strength. The corporate state has all the money and it has all the security. Fear of losing a corporate paycheck is what is keeping the actual 99% safe beneath the corporate umbrella and away from the still infinitesimal minority - a minority that has yet to experience the wrath of the security state its majority has passively built over the decades. But whether the majority has been consciously complicit or not, the apparatus of the state exists insidious and its purpose is to oppress. This oppression has not yet begun, and that’s the scary concept.

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By ardee, October 24, 2011 at 4:00 am Link to this comment

The antagonism between the New Left during the Vietnam War and the working class and the poor, whose sons were shipped to Vietnam while the sons of the white middle class were usually handed college deferments, was never bridged.

The protests that helped to ultimately end that war were comprised, almost exclusively, of white middle class college age kids. As one deeply involved in that movement I speak from first hand experience. I do not deny much of what Hedges notes in this rather lengthy, truthful, yet somehow divisive piece but the facts remain.

One might understand that Blacks and Latinos were far too busy with the struggles to survive and gain equity in the economy to participate in the anti-war demonstrations of the sixties and early seventies, yet those whites who were hurt least by that war worked tirelessly to end it.

When Hedges speaks of the radical left and its descent into violence he immediately contradicts himself by declaring that the majority of protestors were under the spell of Kerouak, Ginsburg,Burroughs and LSD. I believe the author fails to contextualize the movement and the times in which it occurred.

As a former SDS member, as one present for the initial reading of the Port Huron Declaration in fact , I would note that we were more than somewhat idealistic. Most of us honestly expected that a revolution was imminent, that the people would rise up to join us as the truth of our position was so obvious. Taken by the standards of what followed we were certainly naive to say the least.

Certainly, for this movement to flourish, for its message to take hold, for the changes it proclaims as necessary to become fact, the entire spectrum of the American middle and working classes must be represented. As a movement in its infancy, as one born, yet again, out of the conscience of the middle class, Hedges’ seeming pessimism is too much and too soon, at least in this person’s opinion.

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By waytoomanybottlesofrum, October 24, 2011 at 3:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The reason that the New Left emerged and jettisoned the working class and class politics altogether in the 60s is, I think, the economic boom of the post-war years. Many people were becoming upwardly mobile, they understandably didn’t want to go to Vietnam, they preferred drugs and rock and roll, and they wanted to differentiate themselves from the the blue collar types above whom they had risen on the status ladder. So they used high-minded moral absolutism as a shield against criticism of their hedonism and status climbing.

And I am one of those who thinks the middle class is just now getting pissed off because they are being subjected to (a small slice of) the repressive treatment that has befallen poor people for ages. Even just a three years ago I encountered many suburbanite wannabe rich who believed people could rise to the heights of “success” (the normative view of success, where lots of money and a high-status job are the criteria), believed the poor are just stupid or morally corrupt, and who supported the police state tactics used to keep them in line. In fact, I’d wager that a huge chunk of the middle class still thinks this way, even the downwardly mobile portion. It’s hard to admit that they aren’t morally superior; it’s difficult to discard habitual arrogance and identify, however, partially, with people they thought of as dishonest trash for decades.

However, I support the Occupy Wall Street movement, as it doesn’t seem like a middle class clique of impotent feel good politics. The protesters are very serious, not like the silly (deliberately ineffective) boutique activism of so many spoiled, insulated do-gooders who “want to get involved.”

There seems to be a kind of melding of the forgotten class politics with some of the forms of New Left political expression, like drum circles. This, I think, is a positive development, because the New Left was not entirely wrong; their focus on the inner life went too far, but it is reasonable and healthy to seek self-expression in moderation, just as being too civic-minded leads to sterile fanaticism. Also, even while many of the social climbers of the New Left projected a false concern for the hardships of racial minorities as a status symbol, they also helped elevate the importance of racial, ethnic, third world, gender, and sexuality issues in public debate and public consciousness.

The merging of these concerns, in their genuine forms, with the old socialist-influenced politics of class, is proving very effective. The divisive identity politics of the New Left must be avoided, so as to avoid driving a wedge into the movement. Likewise, the new class consciousness must not be co-opted by ambitious, self-serving social climbers the way that racial concerns were co-opted in the public debate by affluent white liberals. It would be tragic if the first uptick in class consciousness in the public debate to occur in decades were watered down into a passive-aggressive status game played by affluent social climbers seeking to carve out an avante-garde niche as a way to accrue status.

However, I doubt that can even happen. Society is not going to recover to the prosperity and stability of the post-60s years (a prosperity and stability purchased by credit shenanigans and by ignoring shifting fault lines beneath the surface). If this renewed class consciousness were co-opted and betrayed, I think the United States and much of the old industrial world (North America and Europe) would blow its stack and erupt into revolution. I sense an extreme desperation among many people for this renewed class consciousness to remain on the scene and to remain authentic. The disappointment and desperate rage that would follow its co-option by affluent social climbers would quite likely burn down the country.

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By cclauson, October 24, 2011 at 3:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great article, as usual.

I totally agree with the premise of the article.  This is a divide I’ve witnessed amply way before OWS.  In my home city (Seattle), there’s no shortage of upper middle-class (mostly white but not exclusively) people who are involved in socialist/revolutionary politics and activism, but seem to be at a complete disconnect with the people whose welfare they’re interested in in the abstract.

I love OWS, and I love the fact that they seem to be doing something about the current state of affairs where it appears no one else is, and they’re actually doing so pretty successfully, but I’ve constantly wondered to what extent this dynamic is present.

One red flag that I’ve seen repeatedly, reiterated in this article, the last article, and elsewhere (I believe the OWS website), is that the movement seems to be running with systematically attacking white males.  There are a few reactions I have to this: (1) when I saw this for the first time, my thought was “Oh! so it’s basically bunch of guilty white liberals!”—the reason is that this is usually where I’ve seen this in the past (2) the article I think correctly attacks identity politics as being futile, but I don’t see the distinction here (3) the article I think correctly identifies bridging the gap between upper class protesters and working people as an obstacle, but I doubt the attacking white males/white liberal guilt tact is compatible with this goal.

Again, I love OWS, they seem to doing a great job, and totally have my support, but this is a concern I have.  I don’t know of another place to air it, so I thought I’d post it here.

Thanks for the article.

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By waytoomanybottlesofrum, October 24, 2011 at 3:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve despised the New Left since I was a kid, and I come from a family that was variously white working class and white poor/homeless. My family’s and my political leanings have always been toward the far left, with labor and economics as the primary issues, not the boutique PC thought police garbage advocated by the New Left idiots. From my experience, dislike of the New Left is rampant among the white working class. It comes from a sense that the working class - and class politics in general - was jettisoned as a concern by the New Left, and they used phony concern for minorities and women as a moral shield for their self-serving motives. As you note, Mr. Hedges, racial minorities are overall in worse shape now than forty years ago, and most of the “women’s liberation” movement was merely about getting women into the corporate workforce and socializing girls to be go-getter believers in the yuppie rat race.

I would guess that much of the proclivity among some of the white working class to support extreme right-wing politics does not ultimately stem from genuine sympathy with their ideology, but rather from revulsion with the double talk, hypocrisy, and betrayal of the New Left. Some Republican sympathizers among the white working class are authoritarian personalities, but many are also just willing to listen to any voice that beats up on the hedonistic 60s flower power left, as the right-wing talking heads do. Because the New Left has been the dominant faction on the left for decades, and has defined itself as THE LEFT (disregarding the existence of labor politics), not-very-well-educated members of the white working class equate the left with the New Left and so turn to right-wing politics. The right-wing pundits also have a stake in painting all leftist politics as the boutique PC hippie crap of the New Left, because doing this keeps the more ignorant members of the white working class fleeing to the right wing. Hence the portrayals of Occupy Wall St. as a bunch of throwback 60s hippies by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh etc.

It’s terrible that Joe Bageant died earlier this year, since his voice was surely one of only a few that could have helped bridge the divide between so many working-class whites and leftist politics. You, Mr. Hedges, are the only other social critic I can think of who can articulate the betrayal of the working class and poor by New Left liberals and cause those working-class whites who despise liberals, and who have been conditioned by the New Left and by the Neocon Right to equate all leftist politics with New Left liberalism, to reconsider the political categories with which they have been inculcated as a way to render them passive or else recruit them as foot soldiers for the Neo-Fascists. If a New Left PC liberal nincompoop appeals to the working class for support - of any race - then the working class by and large rejects the appeal with scorn.

The withdrawal-into-narcissism continued past the Baby Boom generation into Gen X, where it incarnated as New Age spiritualism. I am unsure where it manifests in Gen Y. The Old Left - the labor left - was very direct and focused mainly on economic inequalities. The thinking behind those who advocate a spiritual response to the growing challenges of life - a “change of consciousness” - and who say that we invent our own realities, therefore life is never bad if you just look at it the right way, has always struck me as bizarre: a passive-aggressive mechanism for coping with a society that is obviously becoming increasingly unfair. People who turn toward narcissistic personal responses to growing structural injustice are mainly just afraid to call a spade a spade - afraid to denounce authorities for their callousness and selfishness - so they internalize the pain and become hostile toward those who remain civic minded.

The goofy mysticism needs to go. It needs to be replaced by hard-headed, clear-thinking rationalism married to a sense of justice.

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By Human all too human, October 24, 2011 at 2:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why bring up the stack jumping again?  And why no mention of what was discussed in the posts to your article that featured Ketchup?  Seems weak to me and it seems like you’re just baiting.  Yeah, that kind.  It seems like you have spent a lot of time at OWS?  Then how has this not occurred to you, or for that matter, to anyone else;

  These General Assembly discussions are similar to debates.  In a debate it is a serious advantage to speak after others, rather than before and this has been even more true in all the General Assemblies that I have witnessed, which have been many. Anyone who is taking advantage of stack jumping is putting themselves at a disadvantage. 

Human, all too human…

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By Robespierre115, October 24, 2011 at 2:31 am Link to this comment

Excellent piece by Hedges where he says many truths that need to be said. For example in California’s Central Valley, possibly the key agricultural zone of the United States, the working class which has been suffering extreme hardship, state repression and unemployment (more so than the big urban areas like L.A.), you get the sense that they are very doubtful and even hostile towards OWS for many of the reasons Hedges outlines here. This includes the poor, white working class who are still very skeptical of the movement (I’m writing as a Californian, maybe others have had different experiences).

The movement must remain completely radical, this is class war, I was afraid some of the classic undertones of before were appearing again when some protesters wanted to use Steve Jobs as some sort of revolutionary icon, but luckily that hasn’t caught on too much from what I’ve seen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we should start paying attention to the movements of our neighbors in Latin America and what they have achieved. Fight on brave proletarians!

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