Since the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, voices from across the spectrum, both friendly and otherwise, have accused it of vagueness, incoherence, and demanded it produce some kind of program for the public to inspect.
At Jacobin, our concerns are slightly different. We have lamented the absence of political debate within the movement. Preoccupied (ha ha) with the day-to-day tactic of running an occupation, stymied by an increasingly unwieldy General Assembly process, its participants have so far allowed the movement to drift along not just without a program but without even a sustained discussion of whether to have one, what it would mean to have one, and what a program would look like if they decided to adopt one.
That’s why we organized a public debate and panel discussion in Manhattan last Friday about Occupy Wall Street and left politics and strategy. Held at Bluestockings, a radical bookstore on the Lower East Side, the event was packed, the audience overwhelmingly young, and the atmosphere electric: just that morning, thousands had gathered to lock arms and defend the occupiers from Bloomberg’s threat to evict them, and the mayor’s last minute decision to back down had been cause for jubilation.
From anarchism to demands, from the consensus process to “what next?” we covered the gamut of topics. When the discussion was over, Doug Henwood, who was on the panel, commented that it had been the most contentious left-wing gathering he’d ever participated in (and Doug’s participated in a lot). One audience member who spends a lot of time at Zuccotti Park made an insightful observation: he said that the mood of agitation was due to the fact that the issues discussed had lingered in the air so long without ever being fully aired.
From our point of view, that means this event was a success. And yet, in the process of airing disagreements that had previously been glossed over, we also felt the discussion revealed a disturbing lack of politicization and political sophistication within the movement. What that portends, and what should be done about it, are topics for future debates.
But anyone concerned with those questions, and with the future of the Occupy movement and its meaning for radical politics, will want to watch this video.
(Note: the video is unedited; jumps are caused by tape-switching.)
Jodi Dean is a political and media theorist working in Geneva, NY. Her most recent books are “Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies” and “Blog Theory.” She is currently finishing the book, “The Communist Horizon,” forthcoming from Verso.
Doug Henwood is the editor of Left Business Observer, host of Behind The News, contributing editor at the Nation, and author of “Wall Street” and “After The New Economy.”
Malcolm Harris is the managing editor of The New Inquiry, a contributing editor at Sharable.net, and blogs for Jacobin. He edited the collection “Share or Die: Youth in Recession,” forthcoming from New Society Publishers in the spring. He has been active in OWS since the first planning meetings.
Natasha Lennard was formerly on staff at Salon and Politico. She currently freelances for the New York Times. She has covered OWS since before September 17.
Chris Maisano is a public librarian in Brooklyn, rank-and-file activist in DC37 Local 1482, and chair of the NYC local of Democratic Socialists of America. He is a contributing writer for Jacobin.
Moderator: Seth Ackerman is an editor at large with Jacobin and a doctoral candidate in History at Cornell. He has written for Harper’s, In These Times, and other outlets.