October 15, 2011

Occupy Wall Street!? I Say It's Like Slime Mold!

[I didn't write this. My 'rade Meizhu Lui did, for some folks in the organization we both belong to, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization / Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad. Whether or not you currently consider yourself a red, you will, I think, enjoy and benefit from reading this. Meizhu is co-author of the indispensable The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide.]

By Meizhu Lui

The Occupy! moment brings me back to one of my favorite topics: slime mold.

The individual slimes just wander around doing their own thing - until there is a catalyst, like a really great food source, and then they slime together and move as one. It's another form of social organization, different from, say, the traditional communist mode, which historically has seen organization as hierarchical, or with action generated from "centers."

Some of the biggest moments in recent US history have been more in the slime mold category, taking us all by surprise: Seattle, the immigrant rights marches of 2006, now Occupy!. People are doing their individual thing, and then bam! something catalyzes them into action. Of course, once the catalyst dissipates, as it will, the slimes all wander off again. Clearly that's what's going to happen here. I do not mean anything derogatory about slime. It is a legitimate and natural form of self-organization.

So what does this amorphous mass moving as one look like closer up? There are a few free floaters on the periphery swept up in the tide, but there are also many nodes within the mass, connected to the rest by the desire to follow that great smell!

I don't think we should worry much about the Democrats or whomever, who will try to do what they do, and frankly do what we also want to do: capture the movement and become its center and get more people following their line. It's not going to work for them, it's not going to work for us. And it is a victory of sorts that this is a movement the Democrats want to co-opt! If those in the streets have woken up the Dems to the massive anger at their coziness with the major players of the capitalist class in the financial sector who have now put their own short-term interests above their long-term ability to defend the system, that's a good thing.

So what do we, as revolutionary socialists, do? We concentrate on strengthening our "node." Since there is no wheel with a hub, nor will there be, our actions must be within the context of network organization. We should not get derailed by showing how wrong the other people in the Occupy movement are. We must recognize that for the foreseeable future, any mass movement will likely be like this. Over time, we will need to continue to stay in touch with those other sections, even those that are not fully anti-capitalist, and work and play well with them.

Part of becoming stronger is achieving a position of being respected and influential within a broad array of forces. It also means putting forward some clear demands that speak to the anger of the people. Ones that bail out those who got sunk by the latest crisis of capitalism.

Of course, we will concentrate on demands for those those sunk the lowest: people of color and those in the bottom rungs. We must make the case that a victory for 50% is not a victory. There's a difference in being in the first percentile and being in the 99th percentile, even if 99% are not in the same league as the top 1%. Many of those new to Occupy! are middle class, surprised and angry to find that they will not cash in on the American dream. Perhaps this is why people of color were not as excited; they've known that all along. If there is a victory for 50%, it would just be the same old.

Our demands must be ones that not only close the gap between the 1% and the 99%, but that close the vast racial gap. Given Freedom Road's position on oppressed nationalities, this can be a way we distinguish ourselves yet again. But this time, it's not that far off before our nation is majority of color, only a few short decades (2042 is the magic number). Can we be part of a node that can, as MoveOn does for liberal white folks, have the cred to put out a call that can be a catalyst for mass action among people of color? Let's take a long view, and let's not get disappointed when Occupy! stops occupying the public imagination.

1 comment:

Juliet said...

Very sound analysis.