For In These Times’ December 2013 cover feature, “Generation Hopeless?”, the magazine asked a number of politically savvy people, younger and older, to respond to an essay by 22-year-old Occupy activist Matthew Richards in which he grapples with what the movement meant and whether Occupy’s unfulfilled promises are a lost cause or the seeds of the different world whose promise he glimpsed two years ago. Here is Andrew Bashi’s response:
Revolution is more evolution than rapid resolution.
The Vietnam peace movement was fueled by a widespread understanding of the egregious violence our state was perpetrating abroad. The violence it could possibly unleash at home was not a figment of imagination. It was rooted in the videos, photos and firsthand experiences brought back from Asia. Likewise, the Civil Rights Movement was rooted in some of the most egregious forms of violence, slavery and apartheid. A powerful Klan and rampant racism made day-to-day life horribly difficult and often deadly. There was little shock when state violence was used to suppress all forms of Black resistance. It was a reality Black people faced every day.
Richards states that Occupy “faced a set of challenges no other U.S. social movement has had to face” including “an unprecedented amount of police repression.” This statement illuminates the reality that Occupy was fighting a system that few of its members had interacted with adversarially, leaving the organization naÏve as to the nature and intensity of state repression. Whiteness had shielded them from state violence. Today, after coming to terms with the immense work ahead, they consciously concede their defeat.
Giving up after understanding this reality is the true tragedy of Occupy. The issue is not that there is no hope; it is quitting when the thirst for instant gratification is not met. The idea that for some reason, despite the longstanding truth that justice often comes only after decades of struggle, things should be different for “us.”
The foundation of activism and organizing must be that long-lasting and sustainable change comes from altering consciousness. It lies in our ability to convey our vision as a possibility. And that even where we may not see our vision become reality, each contribution toward making it real is worthy of our effort. This understanding transforms a group of individuals into a movement.
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