The Do-It-Yourself Occupy Movement

Friday night I went down to the first assembly of Occupy San Diego, which included a rally at the Civic Center and a march to Children?s Park, where some people were intending to camp out. Press reports put the number of people in attendance at 1000 to 1500. There was a lot of chanting–?Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!? ?What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!?–and many signs proclaiming that ?We Are the 99 Percent,? and demanding that we ?Tax Wall Street!? and so on.

I don?t know how many readers were schooled in the political demonstrations of the 1980s?anti-intervention in Central America, anti-apartheid, and the like?as I was. But several differences struck me (besides the obvious one that most people were a lot younger than me!). Back then the demonstrations were usually the products of coalitions of left groups, unions, church people, and others planning events in major cities, sometimes with satellite demos in smaller locales. They involved months of debating about the lists of speakers and organizing to get people to turn out. They had stages, agendas, and sound systems. Occupy San Diego had a much more do-it-yourself feel. It seemed to sweep into town quickly. I imagine that news of it spread on the various social networks. Bullhorns were the only sources of amplification, and a drumming circle was the only event once we arrived at the park.

Another difference was in the ideological diversity. The array of Marxist groups peddling their papers were absent (gone?). Instead people were carrying signs for Ron Paul and other right-wing populist causes such as abolishing the Fed. There was a marginal union presence, and a few representatives of the Democratic Socialists of America, Progressive Democrats of America, and the Green Party were on hand, along with a small group of anarcho-syndicalists waving red and black flags.

Perhaps the most striking difference, however, was that it was primarily an expression of anger and disgust at class politics in America. The recurrent theme was that politics was of, for, and by corporate America and that this movement represented an alternative to that. I can?t predict what will become of all of this. Can Do-It-Yourselfness sustain a political movement? It seems doubtful to me. If not, what will it morph into? Or will it just fade away? But it struck me that that if the Tea Party exemplifies a traditional sort of right-wing populist response to elite control in America, the Occupy movement is a welcome youthful manifestation of a traditional left-wing one.