I just learned yesterday that some people from the Occupy movement had disrupted the March for Life in DC last week, as well as an antiabortion rally in Rhode Island. And a few days ago, in Oakland, a handful of occupiers burnt an American flag.
Of course some on the Right are seizing on these isolated incidents to dismiss the Occupy protesters, as they have seized on other incidents in the past, like when a homeless veteran committed suicide in Vermont. That was indictment, all right, not of the movement that took him in, but of the nation that left him out, war-addled and desperate, living on the streets.
But what of these latest reports?
First, one cannot discount the possibility (probability?) of agents provocateur. This is not paranoid; there is a long history of government agents urging violent acts by dissident groups, from the days of the civil rights and antiwar movements to our own day, when time after time “Islamist terrorist plots” have been shown to have been almost entirely the creation of the FBI, working on impressionable young people. In regard to the Occupy Wall Street movement, it has the potential to shake the status quo to its core, and it serves the guardians of that status quo to provoke anything that could sully the movement’s image, anything that would repulse potential allies.
But whether or not these acts originated with the protesters they were stupid indeed. I doubt that many in the movement think burning a flag or disrupting an antiabortion rally good ideas. The strength of the movement has been in its diversity, its non-ideological tone. The moment it diverts its attention from the cause of economic injustice is the moment it loses its momentum.
I have been an advocate of the Occupy movement since it first appeared, and have gotten a good bit of criticism from my friends on the Right for this. After all, the thing began with anarchists, and there are not a few socialists involved. Some think that one should never make common cause with such folks, but I don’t see it like that. Indeed, if I had to choose- and thank God I don’t- a (democratic) socialist society would be more just than the predatory plutocracy that now exists. When you have a common enemy you overlook your differences for the time being.
In fact, humans are complicated, screwed up creatures, and someone can have great clarity about one evil, and be totally blind to others. And we all have blind spots. I for many years attended the March for Life in DC, and endured speeches about the sanctity of human life from men I knew had always voted in Congress for America’s aggressive wars. I have listened to Catholic bishops denounce those who had resorted to violence against abortion providers, talking about the evils of violence, sounding very much like pacifists, when I knew that they themselves had defended our wars of choice as “just”. Does that mean that they were wrong about the injustice that is abortion? Of course not, though it is popular on the Left to dismiss them for that incongruity, just as the Right dismisses the Left for defending abortion.
In fact, the “social issues” are used by both sides of the political paradigm to divide any potential rebellion. The Occupy movement, in concentrating on economic injustice, on war and empire, showed great promise. It would be a shame if it gets diverted into side issues, ones that can only drive away huge numbers of working and middle class people, who would otherwise be its natural allies.
Lets hope that the recent unfortunate incidents are an aberration, a symptom of the blind spots of a minority of activists.