You really need to read John Heilemann’s long reported piece for New York magazine on the Occupy movement’s strategic retreat for the winter. If you thought the movement had finally petered out, think again. That may turn out to be the case, but not if the leaders — yes, a cadre of leaders has emerged, Heilemann reports — have anything to do with it. Excerpts:
It’s perfectly possible that this perception will be borne out, that the raucous events of November 17 were the last gasps of a rigor-mortizing rebellion. But no one seriously involved in OWS buys a word of it. What they believe instead is that, after a brief period of retrenchment, the protests will be back even bigger and with a vengeance in the spring—when, with the unfurling of the presidential election, the whole world will be watching. Among Occupy’s organizers, there is fervid talk about occupying both the Democratic and Republican conventions. About occupying the National Mall in Washington, D.C. About, in effect, transforming 2012 into 1968 redux.
The people plotting these maneuvers are the leaders of OWS. Now, you may have heard that Occupy is a leaderless uprising. Its participants, and even the leaders themselves, are at pains to make this claim. But having spent the past month immersed in their world, I can report that a cadre of prime movers—strategists, tacticians, and logisticians; media gurus, technologists, and grand theorists—has emerged as essential to guiding OWS. For some, Occupy is an extension of years of activism; for others, their first insurrectionist rodeo. But they are now united by a single purpose: turning OWS from a brief shining moment into a bona fide movement.
Unlike the anti-war movement, OWS can already count on a basis of mass support: the widespread conviction in American society that OWS’s complaints about the economy and unfairness have substantial basis in the truth:
Capitalizing on this support is the central issue facing OWS, and its ability to do so will depend on myriad factors, including the behavior of plutocrats, politicians, and police. (In terms of presenting shocking and morally clarifying imagery, the recent pepper-spraying incident at the University of California, Davis, struck many as reminiscent of Bull Connor’s goons dousing civil-rights protesters with fire hoses in 1963.) But it will also depend on which of two broad strains within OWS turns out to be dominant: the radical reformism of social democrats such as Berger, who want to see a more humane and egalitarian form of capitalism and a government less corrupted by money, or the radical utopianism of the movement’s anarchists and Marxists, who seek to replace our current economic and political arrangements with … who knows what? “My fear is that we become the worst of the New Left,” Berger says. “I don’t want to live in a fu*king commune. I don’t want to blow s*it up. I want to get stuff done.”
Lots of fascinating discussion in the piece about OWS’s struggle to relate itself (or not) to the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. It’s easy to see how they could turn Obama 2012 into Humphrey 1968. If there’s an economic collapse this winter — I’m looking at you, Eurozone — and OWS has managed to use its Valley Forge wintry exile to get smart and get organized, 2012 could be a pretty eventful year.