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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn
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Epitaph to a Dead Movement


It was very hard not to be swept away by the Occupy movement, which established itself in New York's Zuccotti Park last September and soon spread to Oakland, Calif., Chicago, London and Madrid. And indeed most people didn't resist its allure. Leninists threw aside their Marxist primers on party organization and drained the full anarchist cocktail.

The Occupiers seemed to have a complicated way of communicating with each other — finger gestures were important. And as with all movements involving consensus, everything took a very long time. Was there perhaps a leader, a small leadership group, sequestered somewhere among the tents and clutter? It was impossible to say and at that point, somewhat disloyal to pose the question. Cynicism about Occupy was not a popular commodity. But new movements always need a measure of cynicism dumped on them. An Occupy gathering was like being in church. Questions of organization were obliterated by the strength of the basic message — we are the 99 percent; they are the 1 percent. It was probably the most successful slogan since "peace, land, bread."

The Occupy Wall Street assembly in Zuccotti Park soon developed its own cultural mores, drumming included. Like many onlookers, I asked myself, "Where the hell was the plan?" But I held my tongue. I had no particular better idea and for a CounterPuncher of mature years to start laying down the program seemed cocky. But, deep down, I felt that Occupy, with all its fancy talk, all its endless speechifying, was riding for a fall.

Before the fall came, there were heroic actions, people battered senseless by the police. These were brave people trying to hold their ground.

There were other features that I think quite a large number of people found annoying: the cult of the Internet, the tweeting and so forth, and I particularly didn't like the enormous arrogance that prompted the Occupiers to claim that they were indeed the most important radical surge in living memory.

Where was the respect for the past? We had the nonviolent resistors of the '40s organizing against the war with enormous courage.

The '50s saw leftists take McCarthyism full on the chin. With the '60s, we were making efforts at revolutionary organization and resistance. Yet when one raised this history with someone from Occupy, I encountered total indifference.

There also seemed to be a serious level of political naivety about the shape of the society they were seeking to change. They definitely thought that it could be reshaped — the notion that the whole system was unfixable did not get much of a hearing. After a while it seemed as though, in Tom Naylor's question: "Is it possible that the real purpose of Occupy Wall Street has little to do with either the 99 percent or the 1 percent, but rather everything to do with keeping the political left in America decentralized, widely dispersed, very busy, and completely impotent to deal with the collapse of the American Empire ...

"Occupiers are all occupied doing exactly what their handlers would have them be doing, namely, being fully occupied. In summary, Occupy Wall Street represents a huge distraction." Then the rains of winter came. Zuccotti Park came under repeated assault; the tents were cleared from the park and from St Paul's Cathedral. By early this year, it was all over.

People have written complicated pieces trying to prove it's not over, but if ever I saw a dead movement, it is surely Occupy.

Has it left anything worth remembering? Here, surely, the answer is yes. With Bob Diamond squirming before British members of Parliament, and politicians jostling to apportion blame for the Barclays scandal, memories of the 99 percent and the 1 percent are still very much in currency.

Everything the leftists predicted came true, just as everything hard-eyed analysts predicted about the likely but unwelcome course of ecstatic populism in Tahrir Square also came true. I do think it's incumbent on those veteran radicals who wrote hundreds of articles more for proclaiming a religious conversion to give a proper account of themselves, otherwise it will all happen all over again.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



4 Comments | Post Comment
A dead movement? One could say the same thing about the mind of poor Mr. Cockburn. Maybe he's rethinking his stance on global warming as the weather stats mount up across the world. Maybe. The synapses are not firing with the greatest acuity these days...
Comment: #1
Posted by: Masako
Sat Jul 7, 2012 6:18 PM
This is SUCH a disheartening article (imho). The perspective is so bleak. I do not agree that the movement is dead. Nor do I believe that the Occupiers are completely playing into the hands of "the 1%," though I do agree that those "In Charge" will use whatever means they have to subvert and destroy the movement. The Occupiers must be aware of this at every level in order to succeed. I believe that the OCCUPY movement is in its infancy, and that revolutions do not happen in one season or one year. It will take 40 years for the seeds of change that are being planted by Occupiers all over the planet to flower. At least that. It will take more than an occupation of one park on Wall St. to bring down what I call" Mordor." It is far too early to pronounce OCCUPY a dead movement. Certainly, there is naivete. There is also a LOT of ".... but what are they really saying? What do they really WANT? What are they protesting about?" In my reality, there is no question. People are starting to get it that they are the fodder for a machine that never meant to serve them, all over the board. People are getting free. I am not ready to give up. The revolution has only just begun. Nations are being galvanized, and in front of our eyes, radical change IS happening, all over the planet. The Beast is flailing its already dying but terribly dangerous tail, and many more will perish in the attempt of humanity to attain real freedom and planetary peace. I will not believe we have already lost. Leaders WILL EMERGE out of the incredible diversity. Hopefully they will not ALL be assassinated, or mocked and scorned into obscurity by an arrogant, scornful Press.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Annie Waugh
Mon Jul 9, 2012 9:28 AM
Interesting piece with a lot of truth, but I question the author's certainty that the OWS movement is dead. For one, OWS has inserted a whole new populist vocabulary into the national conversation that had been dead for a long time. There was a time when any mention of fairness or income inequality was immediately drowned out by accusations of "class warfare," which spineless democrats quickly retreated from. We're still waiting on policy, but the rhetoric from Obama has shifted tremendously since last September, and has taken a much more populous angle on the economy. So even if the occupiers aren't camping out this week, their work is still apparent.

That being said, I was at the Occupy National Gathering this past week. It wasn't as big of an event as organizers would have liked, but to me, it showed that the movement is still alive and organizing the framework necessary to push it to the next level. I'm not saying that WILL happen, but to me, it's too soon to say. I've been to a lot of protests and other events that are clearly dead: people are frustrated, out-of-touch, and/or burnt out. Occupy events, though smaller than ideal, don't look anything like that. People are optimistic, patient and creative. There's plenty of fun and satire interspersed with the difficult discussions, which makes me think this movement can sustain itself for a long time. IF something external happens in our country that revives populist anger (such as another recession or a Romney presidency?), Occupy has the online and physical network in place to channel that anger into something more tangible. If not, well, it will probably fizzle in the next year or two.
Comment: #3
Posted by: thischris
Mon Jul 9, 2012 11:10 AM
Great article, it is a dead movement devoid of any sensible, coherent ideas and was marred with violence, rape, and general disregard for cleanliness and the lives of those unfortunate enough to live close to where the filthy, classless, OWS protestors were squatting their dirty bodies.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Thetruth
Fri Jul 27, 2012 8:07 PM
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