This is the personal blog of Rick Staggenborg, MD. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Take Back America for the People, an educational 501.c3 nonprofit established by Dr Staggenborg.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012


As media attention to Occupy dwindles to a faint echo in the background, many people are asking themselves what happened and whether the dream of revolutionary change it inspired can still be realized. Finding the answer requires us to thoroughly and unflinchingly critique its successes and failures in light of historical precedents provided by previous efforts to effect radical change.

You say you want a Revolution? Well you know, we all want to change the world.

Many of the lessons learned in the 60s in the struggle for the rights of women, Blacks and the Peoples of the United States and other nations were nicely summarized in the Beatles’ classic song Revolution. Ironically, the song was not calling for political revolution but suggested that individual transformation was enough to change the world. Sadly, that has proven not to be the case. Once the immediate crisis of the Vietnam war passed, the urgency of the need for individual and national soul searching seemed to pass with it. We are now paying the price for having not demanding democracy at the time, when so many had seen through the lie and so many had died to expose it.

You say you got a real solution. Well, you know, we'd all love to see the plan.

Efforts to unify to fight an oppressive system that is crushing the life out of the middle class, destroying American society and perverting the American dream into a nightmare from which many U.S. citizens have yet to awaken will not succeed without a comprehensive strategy. The most fundamental flaw in the Occupy movement was the stubborn insistence of the leaders of this "leaderless" movement that having a specific agenda would be counter to the spirit of Occupy.

You ask me for a contribution. Well, you know, we're all doing what we can.


The Occupy movement has been largely led by youth who for the most part have little or no understanding of the lessons to be learned from revolutionary movements from the 1920s to the 1960s. Many of us who had lived through the last such effort in the 1960s tried to be heard but were ignored by those who each had their own agendas but no plan to realize them. The movement was doomed from the start by the essential split between those who understand that societal change is a process and those who naively expected that somehow they could unify the 99% and transform American society by demanding it, while simultaneously calling for abandonment of the electoral process.

This rigid mindset is as fruitless as that of American society in general, the majority of whose members are so deluded by their own assumptions about what is "politically possible" that they can't see the need for revolutionary change. The problem is not so much the dysfunctional political process itself as it is blind adherence to a failed approach that assumes that only by working within the existing political power structure can the people of the United States acquire the power to change it.

Party loyalists believe that despite an increasingly uphill battle to elect candidates who will put their interests over those of the 1%, somehow they will make progress if they just work harder for the politicians now in office who got there in the current system. They have no higher aspiration than to elect more candidates from their own party in the blind hope that somehow they will do the right thing if they have a large enough majority, despite the fact that both parties have come to put re-election of its members over all other interests. The primary reason that Congress has about a ten percent approval rating is that its members are beholden to their corporate backers and the rich. That guarantees ineffective reform of campaign finance at best, until we can make a candidate's stance on the issue the deciding factor in congressional elections around the country.

The debate about whether Occupy supporters should be reformers or revolutionaries missed the point that both are required to create fundamental change that will stand the test of time. In a society whose dominant response to Occupy ranged from apathy to ridicule to violent reprisal, revolution will first require constitutional reformation of the electoral process, which in itself would require a revolutionary change in political consciousness. This can only happen if voices are encouraged to emerge from the anarchy of Occupy which can compellingly articulate the values that bind Occupiers to the rest of the 99% and the need to unite behind an effective strategy of political reform with the goal of creating a revolutionary change in the US government.

Loyalty to the Democratic and Republican Parties is a major reason for resistance to change. As long as party stalwarts continue to treat politics as a war between conservatives and liberals, they cannot achieve the consensus necessary to force their representatives to respond to the demand to work together to serve the interests of the 99% and not those of corporations and the rich. When the terms conservative and liberal are used in their traditional meanings, it is clear that neither major party can be said to be truly either, since neither tradition has historically held corporate power over government to be a fundamental value. While the Republican Party may have abandoned this principle long ago, Democrats have to do more that pay lip service to checking corporate power to regain the trust liberals used to invest in their party. As long as they assume that winning elections depends on putting corporate interests over those of people, they will not serve those who elected them but those who paid for their campaigns.

In its effort to distance itself from a corrupt political system, Occupy missed a crucial opportunity to marry libertarian support for Occupy with liberal ideals that could have served as the basis of building the mass political movement with the potential to Take Back America for the People. We cannot afford to miss such opportunities to forge links between the self-identified Left and Right if we are serious about wanting revolutionary change.

You say you'll change the constitution. Well, you know, we all want to change your head.

When Adbusters proposed the idea of Occupy they suggested that the movement focus on campaign finance reform through constitutional change and the curbing the power of the banksters. This sensible idea was almost universally ignored by those who responded to the call to Occupy America in favor of an amorphous form of protest billed as direct democracy, where any idea supported by a general assembly was afforded equal weight to any other.

It is obvious that both of the major political Parties have become so dependent on campaign funding by corporations and the rich that the only way to alter or abolish the corporate monopoly on political power is to demand that politicians of all parties and independents support a constitutional amendment that would end the of ability of the wealthy and powerful to buy the loyalty of candidates for Congress. This is the essence of the Pledge to Amend campaign, which aims to make support for such an amendment a litmus test in all congressional elections by 2014. Until Occupy or its successor can find unify around this core issue that is at the root of all the others on its agenda, it will continue to be dismissed as a protest  rather than a call for a peaceful democratic revolution.

The revolutionary movement in the 60s was unified by opposition to a war that personally affected every member of the generation then coming of age. When the US government called for war this time, a small proportion of American youth would bear the burden for all of us. This encouraged Americans suffering the consequences of an economy wracked by corporate excess to put aside concerns about the wars to focus on surviving the resulting economic calamity. In the process, those who were seduced into the idea that by fighting a “war” on terror they were serving the interests of freedom were also largely forgotten.

Had Occupy heeded the lessons of the Vietnam protestors they would have put more emphasis on the fact that all wars in the modern age are fought for corporate Empire, tying the issue of another unpopular war with the economic and social costs of living in a nation whose government is one of, by and for corporations. Had Occupy focused on the connection between corporate power over the US government and war, lack of access to health care, the destruction of the environment and the economic crisis bringing the US to its knees, it would have gained rather than lost momentum in its first year. If individuals and groups working on all these issues come to recognize the purpose in rallying behind the issue of constitutional reform, Occupy can yet realize its potential.

But when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out.

Occupy has failed so far because the anarchists and the black block faction demanded that their goals of instant gratification and the use of property destruction be accorded the same or more respect as the ideas of those who they disparaged as reformers rather than revolutionaries. This was the same split that fractured Students for a Democratic Society, which was for a time co-opted by self-styled leaders who demanded that others follow their dictates. A modern parallel is the stubborn insistence of well-established groups and associations of groups such as Move to Amend that only by following the strategy of the few who claim to speak for the movement can we realize our mutual goal of constitutional change.

In suppressing dissident voices in the amendment movement they claim to lead, a small number of self-proclaimed leaders have missed the opportunity to play a part in influencing the Occupy movement. They failed to realize that eventually, those who endorsed their efforts would realize that the “leaders” did not necessarily speak for them because their goal was to build a network of followers who would not question their decisions on strategy and tactics. They not only failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam but did not grasp the opportunity to ride the wave of Occupy in rejecting the simple notion that no individual, group or association should be allowed to co-opt a revolutionary movement.

The answer to the question "can Occupy succeed?" is a resounding yes, but only if those who refuse defeat can stop demanding that others follow their strategy, listen to each other and develop a plan that the movement can rally around. First and foremost, we must refuse to accept that violence against people or property can ever achieve their goals, as the frustrated revolutionaries who gave in to violence in the Vietnam era learned to their everlasting regret. Violence was met by overwhelming violence by the government they sought to overturn. As we have seen, the threat of state violence to crush nonviolent resistance to a system that serves only the interests of those in power is just as real today.

The first American Revolution was born in violence because the colonists had no choice. In this era, the fact that the struggle must take place in occupied territory demands that we avoid violence. In order to assure that those who fought and died for the ideal of freedom did not do so in vain, we must also realize that radical change must begin from within the system if we are to replace it with one in which liberty and justice for all is a reality and not just an empty promise.

Don't you know it's going to be all right....

The American Revolution could not have succeeded in defeating the forces of British fascism in the 1700s if the colonists had not realized that their common enemy was an unholy alliance of corporate and state power. When a critical minority convinced a doubting majority of the necessity of overthrowing the government, Americans recognized that they had to put aside their differences in order to defeat the might of an Empire built on the idea that a privileged elite had the divine right to rule them.

The dream of democracy was born when the Enlightenment for the first time awakened people to the idea that they could create a government of, by and for the People. Because Americans were willing to talk to each other they were able to develop the consensus needed to stage a successful revolution. It was in putting the interests of all over individual interests  that the American character was defined. If we can return to that ideal, we can still realize the dream of democracy and assure that the last, best hope for Mankind does not perish from the Earth.

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