Shameless Idealism and the Occupy movement

I want to try to articulate something about the Occupy movement, and it may come out kind of scattered. People have been asking (both open-ended and directly to me) since this all began, “What is the goal here?” Early on this was indistinguishable from the unserious “what are the demands” line, but now the question seems to have evolved. It’s different also from the question of immediate, practical goals, like surviving the winter, or the questions of addressing inclusivity or racial justice. It’s the real question of, what do I dream for this movement? Do I feel brave enough, confident enough to put that down into words now, after several more weeks of growing momentum? Well, maybe, though it might still be unsatisfying to some. But here it is.

I want this to go on for a long time. I want us to never stop. Until when? Until we get everything.

Now maybe you’re thinking, that’s ridiculous. You can’t possibly hope or expect that this movement will lead to getting everything you want, from a truly progressive taxation system to breaking up of TBTF banks to permanent security of social welfare programs. And my response is, so what? That’s what I want, and I have tremendous moral authority in demanding it.

You might say, Shareef, you’re never going to get all that, you might even end up going home with nothing. So what? We’ve been asking for too little and going home with nothing anyway for so long, why would I do my dreams of the world I want to live in the dishonor of asking for anything less?

You might say, Shareef, that’s all that is: a dream. It’s never going to happen. To which I reply, you know what else will never happen? Working folks of all political stripes in this country will never rise up en masse in protest of the oligarchy. Protest will never be reinvented in a way that confounds our existing political and media power structures. Fuck your never. I want what I want.

The Occupy movement aligns with a lot of ideals that the Left has held for a long time, but it doesn’t belong to the Left. And that’s fine. Political ideologies shouldn’t exist just to carve out identities and tribes, but because their proponents actually hold them to be good for society and the world. Of course on the Left we’ve long thought that our ideas should have broad appeal to 99% of people, and this movement is borne of all of our shared outrage, if not strict agreement upon the solutions. But these distances between us are miniscule compared to the chasm between Doing The Right Thing and whatever the fuck our so-called leaders have been doing for decades. I don’t think I’m alone in having lost faith in the conventional channels of power. At best we find our leaders hapless to Do The Right Thing; at worst we can’t believe we were so naive to think they ever meant to do it in the first place. So don’t ask me what my demands are; you know what you were supposed to have been doing all this time. Don’t tell me you’re ‘on the side of the protesters’; if that were true, none of this would even be happening. We’re out here because we would be fools to buy any longer that anyone in power has our interests at heart.

The public trust has been violated, not once but many, many times. Let us not even dream of forgiving that for a long, long while. And if anyone in power should wonder when we’re going home, here’s my answer at least. We’re not. Not until we get everything. Now if you’re worth a damn, by all means try to prove it to me, but I’m through holding my breath. We’re going to go ahead and build a better world with or without you.

One last thing. As the movement has continued to grow, the comparisons to Egypt have grown more frequent. There are those who roll their eyes at this claim, but this reflex towards skepticism (and often towards inaction) is one that many of us are reconsidering and unlearning, myself included. Yes, obviously there are huge differences, but just yesterday Egyptian activists chose, independent of any direct influence from Occupy Oakland or any other branch of the American Occupy movement, to march in solidarity with our struggle. Clearly they have no hangup about identifying with us.

No, we’re not trying to overthrow the regime of a personal dictator. But we are railing against the progressive undermining of our government and society by the corporatist campaign that’s been waged, mostly successfully, over the past half-century, which is a different kind of tyranny. Are we afraid to call this a revolution, and ourselves revolutionaries? If so, is it because of our global privilege? Do we perceive ourselves as being insufficiently downtrodden to warrant revolt, or do we think we’re too ‘civilized’?

Maybe these are just projections of my own insecurities, but I’m determined to cast them off. Naomi Klein said that we should treat this as if it’s the most important thing in the world, because it is. I’m through pretending not to have a dream.

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