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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

OWS's Fifth Anniversary

Anniversaries that are multiples of 5 are sometimes considered to be milestones. On Saturday, September 17, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) had its fifth anniversary. The following are my impressions of that occasion.


The day started more slowly than scheduled. Things were suppose to start at 10:00 AM, but it wasn't until it was sometime after 11:00 when there appeared to be life in Zuccotti Park. Certainly OWS doesn't have the presence it once had. It doesn't have the masses of people. What has happened is that the movement has splintered off into several groups with some communication between the groups. So there was a somewhat coordinated effort to work together on this anniversary. There was a "press conference," which was not really a press conference. And then there were some small group discussions. I believe that there was suppose to be a demonstration march, but I had left too early to witness that.

One of the small group discussions focused on the impact of OWS and where it was going. Some cloudy memories spoke out on the past and there were reports of pockets where Occupy is still operating. Some would like to attribute at least some of Bernie Sanders' success to Occupy, but that would be hard to measure even though Bernie did borrow some of OWS's lingo.  The reason for the difficulty, as one protester noted to me, is that OWS started as a leaderless movement while Bernie's campaign was far from that.

With OWS's faint presence, some would like to discount its real contribution. OWS's real contribution was that it provided all of America with an opportunity to change. And in the end, that is the best any group could do. In fact, if we measured the effectiveness of the OT prophets by any other standard, we would be forced to admit that most of them were abject failures.

Yes, OWS's real contribution is that it offered America an opportunity to look at our political and economic systems in a new light. OWS tried to push the 99% into embracing more participatory economic and political systems and it did so, in part, by example. Here we should note that participatory systems are bottom-up democratic systems. OWS's own participatory way of decision making would be unfeasible for most of America because OWS was more of a homogeneous group than America is. At OWS, decisions were made by consensus where a single block could table a whole proposal. Thus, proposals had to be crafted and then modified to get the full approval from a small range of people. 


Obviously, America consists of a greater diverse group of people than those who were initial part of Occupy. Thus, to take a concrete approach to imitating how decision making at OWS was practiced is simply not feasible. But if we abstract from that, what we see is that making proposals where a consensus is sought is more than feasible, it is desirable. Such a decision making process would certainly prevent the kind of polarization we see in our nation now. What we have now is fuller realization of the values of our Capitalist economic system on our political system. For our economic system is built on top-down decision making and revolves around competing and conquering. In some cases, there is a take no prisoner approach in the kind of competition practiced in our economic system. This allows each business or company to ignore externalities when pursuing and maximizing profits. And this ignoring of the externalities was effectively pointed out by the Declaration Of The Occupation Of New York City (click here). In addition, ignoring externalities is causing much suffering and havoc around the world.

That most of America, approximately 98% of the 99% was not convinced by OWS to increase its own participation in our economic and political systems was not necessarily a reflection on OWS because such does not imply anything. Again, we could reflect on how we would measure the effectiveness of the OT prophets since most of them saw their messages being rejected and saw themselves being persecuted. We should also note that trying to get people to change is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks one can undertake. However, if change eventually comes to America so that it embraces more participatory economic and political systems, then it is likely that OWS contributed to that venture.




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