While the Occupy phenomenon has helped put inequality on the political map, it’s important not to mistake it for a political movement. Of course, “Occupy” can mean different things in different places, but Matthew Noah Smith makes an important point in his essay “Reflections on Occupy’s May Day: All Play Doesn’t Work”:
I do not deny that Occupy is fun. I love participating. As performance, Occupy is valuable. While marching together, my friend turned to me and said, “Occupy is like the fountain of youth for unions and other organizations.” He’s right. Occupy’s energy made NYC’s giant May Day march happen—there is no way it would have happened in the absence of Occupy. The energy and open-faced joy of Occupy probably has reinvigorated many of those experienced organizers and left institutions that were, in some cases, struggling for energy as a result of both the recession and intense challenges from the Right.
All this fun does not take away from the fact that Occupy is, in the end, little more than theater. Theater is important. It can start a conversation. It can inspire those who have power to use it in certain ways. But theater can be distracting, and young activists could learn the wrong lessons from Occupy. People will come to believe that the theater that is Occupy is a substantive form of direct political power when in fact it is not. What happens when they become disillusioned when they discover that effective organizing means a lot of drudgery (like many other jobs)?
Read Smith’s piece at the Possible Futures site.