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Friday, December 2, 2011

Better Get Organized: Lessons From Tahrir Square

Over at Digby’s David Atkins has another great piece up titled Lessons from Egypt:  Occupy the Democratic Party.  Essentially, Atkins (who, not coincidentally, is involved with the Democratic Party in California) points out that despite the fact the Egyptian revolution was largely set off by the liberal parties and youth activists who occupied Tahrir Square, the big winners in the recent Egyptian elections were Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis.  The reason for this, Atkins explains, is simple:  the Islamists were better organized.

There is a lesson here.  No matter how well-intentioned the revolutionaries and no matter how successful the revolution, at the end of the day organizational power will step in to win the day.  It always does.  That organizational power can be a force for good or for ill.  But especially in democratic societies, the ability to leverage organized support for specific ends will always trump anarchic mass sentiment.  (emphasis added)

Here, Atkins is touching on something that has long concerned me about the Occupy movement:  the insistence that a lack of formal organization is one of its fundamental tenets. 

Over the summer I read Hacker & Pierson’s Winner-Take-All-Politics, which chronicles the subversion of the US political system over the last 30 years until it now functions almost exclusively for the 1%; if there is one lesson I took away from that book it is that in modern politics nothing is more important to achieving one’s goals than is effective organization.  The 1% are highly organized and they know precisely where to apply the sharpest pressure to our body politic to get what they want; for the Occupy movement to imagine that a loose agglomeration of ordinary citizens – completely and willfully disorganized – can ever hope to match the political effectiveness of the 1% is simply naive. 

If they truly want to effect change, if they truly want to accomplish something concrete that might materially improve the lives of the 99% on whose behalf they march, then the Occupy movement eventually is going to have to organize itself in some way.  And, in order to be politically effective, they are going to have to organize themselves either within the Democratic Party or – and this would be much, much better – outside the Democratic Party but associated with it and pulling it strongly back to the Left.

I pay a lot of attention to the Occupadores and it causes me no small amount of heartburn when I hear some of them say things like “the entire system is corrupt,” and then suggest that they would rather not even vote than sully themselves by taking part in the corrupt political process that now exists.  I remember heaving a sigh of relief only about a month ago when I read that -- after much discussion in Occupy Wall Street's General Assembly -- OWS had voted not to make abstaining from next year's election its official political position.

But don’t get me wrong . . . I understand their frustration, really I do; like everybody else who voted for him, I did hope that once he was ensconced in the White House Barack Obama would at least try to do something other than “business as usual.” 

Nevertheless, we cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  I lived in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, and had Ralph Nader not insisted on running as the “Purity Party” nominee (or whatever the hell it was he called his ticket) we would have been spared 8 years of Dubya.  Hell!  We might even have been spared 9/11.  Don’t forget that it was the outgoing Clinton National Security team that warned the new administration to focus on Osama bin Laden; had Gore won the election that team might have remained in place and might even have prevented the greatest American tragedy since December 7, 1941.

Just imagine what the 21st century would look like without 9/11.  No wars in Afghanistan, or in Iraq.  Our civil liberties still more or less intact.  An American soul not permanently stained by half its citizenry arguing that torture is okay “when we do it.”  Thousands of lives, immeasurable treasure not thrown away.  All of that possibly avoided but for a vanity campaign pandering to the self-righteous and proclaiming that there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between Nobel Prize winning environmentalist Al Gore and . . . George W. Bush.


Steve M. had a great line yesterday in a post asking Does Obama Have His Nader Now?:  “if you respond to the awfulness of Democrats by ignoring the unspeakableness of Republicans, you’re going to repeat 2000.”  And if the people calling for a new American politics are determined to sit the game out until the rules get changed to their liking, we’re going to end up repeating the last thirty years.

We can do better.

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