Originally posted at DennisLoo.com:
Yesterday (February 9, 2012) David Carr at The New York Times wrote an article about Occupy entitled: “The Occupy Movement May Be in Retreat But Its Ideas Are Advancing.” He points out that Obama’s SOTU address took up the rhetoric of Occupy and quotes an Occupy participant, “Brendan Burke, a protester, said the president’s State of the Union speech ‘was all our message. It was great. I mean, he didn’t mention Occupy Wall Street, he doesn’t have to. The conversation in the culture has changed now, over four months, and it’s a blessing.’”
As I’ve written previously, OWS did win a major victory that will last into the indefinite future: it has changed the conversation by substituting the 1% v. 99% frame for what was there before – “I’ve got mine, don’t you envy me?” This is enormously important and points to the significance and power of social movements such as Occupy and how paltry or useless by comparison hitching your wagon to electoral campaigns is. Obama would not have made economic fairness the centerpiece of his SOTU if Occupy had not happened and if instead progressives had devoted themselves to lobbying the White House and the Democratic Party.
The 1960s’ social insurgencies changed the conversation in a similar fashion:
In the 1960s, liberal elites argued that concessions (e.g., the War on Poverty) needed to be made to the insurgents lest a conflagration result. Conservatives argued that concessions would only fuel the fires of insurgency and a crackdown was what was needed. The Sixties insurgency breached the public agenda ordinarily generated by elites. A society-wide debate raged over whether the key social problem was crime or social injustice.
The crime issue, as authored initially by conservative elites in the Sixties, was challenged largely successfully by social movement activists who argued forcefully that social injustice, not crime, was the central social problem of the day. This is one of the key reasons—probably by far the most important reason—that the public did not adopt the elite discourse that crime and social protest were one and the same. The Sixties’ insurgencies created significant splits—for a short time—within elite ranks. The insurgencies’ influence prevented crime from emerging at the top of the MIP [Most Important Problem in the Nation] polls during the Sixties, because the public was split in its views and its loyalties, with the majority faction favoring the insurgencies. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, p. 113)
While the ascension of the 99% vs. the 1% motif is very important – you can’t mobilize people and you can’t change things if you can’t create a competing interpretive frame to the dominant one – at this point the only thing that the Democrats are doing is, on the one hand, trying to co-opt the movement with their rhetoric, with their actual actions on the policy front to be negligible, and, on the other hand, forcefully suppressing the Occupy Movement’s protests. The recent violent crackdown on Occupy Oakland is a sterling example of this, as was the prior co-ordination by the White House and DHS of the evictions of the Occupy encampments and Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act. Obama is at his best when he can sound superficially wonderful. But that is where it stops. He is not going to do anything more than sound superficially good if he has anything to do with it and he isn't absolutely forced to do otherwise.
It's worthwhile going into more depth on this last point.
See DennisLoo.com for the rest of this article.