Keeping Occupy independent

December 8, 2011

Author and Fordham University professor Mark Naison looks at the attempts by Democrats to channel the Occupy movement into working for their candidates.

NOW THAT Occupy movements are being evicted from public parks in cities throughout the country, almost invariably by Democratic mayors, many Democratic Party organizers and some labor activists are hoping the movement will fade away and concentrate its energies on electing progressive candidates for office and putting forth a progressive political agenda.

In my opinion, that would be a grave mistake. There are a bevy of important issues that, given current political alignments and the power of money in American politics, cannot be translated into a viable legislative agenda. It will take years of disruptive protest--strikes, boycotts, walkouts, sit-ins and occupations--to place them on the national agenda, and the only force in American society capable of employing those tactics for a sustained period is the Occupy movement.

Here are some key issues that neither party is willing to take on that the Occupy movement can influence if it keeps growing and becoming more diverse in the next five years:

Occupiers rally in Lansing, Michigan
Occupiers rally in Lansing, Michigan

1. The student loan crisis and the escalating cost of a college education. There is no way, without major disruptions of university life and pressure on the banks, that student loan debt can be erased or significantly reduced, and tuition at public colleges frozen or lowered. Until universities cannot carry on their normal business without making dramatic changes in loan collections and tuition charges, you can be sure elected officials won't touch these issues with a 10-foot pole.

2. The legalization of drugs and the release of nonviolent drug offenders from the nation's prisons. Given the powerful interests fighting any dismantling of the prison-industrial complex--ranging from prison guards unions, to elected officials in communities where prisons are located, to corporations who benefit from cheap prison labor--it will require massive social movements to force states, localities and eventually the federal government to end the irrational arrest and imprisonment of people who sell drugs no more dangerous than alcohol or prescription medications.

3. The dismantling of a domestic police state apparatus which uses advanced weaponry and intrusive surveillance technology to suppress dissent and control and intimidate minority and working class youth. The weapons that were used against Occupy demonstrators in Oakland, at Zuccotti Park and at UC Davis have been used for many years against minority youth to prevent them from inhibiting the gentrification and resegregation of American societies and to assure order in schools and communities stripped of resources. Libertarians, civil rights organizations and a growing Occupy movement can create an alliance to undermine the domestic police state. The two major parties will never do it without immense outside pressure.

4. A moratorium on foreclosures and the passage of legislation to allow arts groups, youth groups, affordable housing organizations and advocates for the homeless to occupy abandoned commercial and residential space in America's towns and cities. Such actions will only be taken if Occupy groups and their allies make foreclosures difficult, and begin occupying above-mentioned properties in such numbers that it will be counterproductive for authorities to evict them. There is no way elected officials will take such steps without being presented with a "fait accompli" by protesters.

5. A radical reformation of the tax system that places the burden of taxation on the 1 percent and reduces taxes on individuals and small businesses. There is no way, given current political alignments and the vast power of corporate and Wall Street lobbies, that such a revolution in the tax code could be legislated. But five more years of disruptive protest could change that. Occupy movements have to create a scenario where the only path to restoring social order would be a revision of the tax burden to benefit ordinary citizens.

These five policy areas are hardly the only ones which would require years of protest to attain--I am sure people reading this could identify issues in education, environmental protection, job creation and U.S. military policy that would require movements of equal force to implement.

But I have identified these five areas to show how far away we are from any real political change in this country through the two major parties. We need grassroots social movements of such force that it will reinvent what is possible in mainstream American politics. The Occupy movements have started such a process. It would be a shame if they prematurely embraced the electoral process, rather than pushing protests activity to much higher levels.

First published at With a Brooklyn Accent.

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