The Movement is Learning

After reading about about the most recent round of talks between government officials and the students in Chile who have been boycotting both high schools and universities for over five months . . .

. . . something impressive struck me:

It appears the global movement against neoliberal policies at all levels is learning from its previous mistakes.  What I am referring to here is largely based on my own experience of being deeply involved in the protests at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 2008 (yep, the Obama year) and our experience in both Denver and Minneapolis (where the conventions were held) of promises being broken by the government.

The formula is in fact rather simple:  First, establish an event/movement that has the potential of pulling a diverse and motivated group of individuals who will be willing to commit for an indefinite period of time.  Second, stage an event of some sort with clear objectives beforehand that has as its goal putting the power structure in a position where it is forced to negotiate.  Third, execute and extract promises from individuals licensed to make a binding federal promise.

The problem is that for the past two decades (and one could argue, much longer) that has been the end of the formula and that this formula often ends in complete neglect of the promise.  The thought process of the State seems to be “diffuse the situation of thousands of motivated and organized people by promising them something a few weeks or months out, let them all go back to their lives, and then ignore the promise as there is no chance that the media, which is on “our” side, will call us out on our plain-faced lie.”

It appears, however–based not purely upon Chile but also upon the “Occupy Wall Street” campaign that is entering its third week in New York City, for example–that the movement is learning that a forth step is necessary.   In the article on Chile it is defined as “concrete action”–meaning that the movement itself will not stop its disruptions until AFTER the promise has been IMPLEMENTED.  Assuming that a movement has the momentum to sustain such an endeavor, this seems absolutely brilliant.

One other thoughts:

The “Occupy Wall Street” campaign has done something interesting that most people are just confused by but that I find strategically brilliant so long as the movement maintains its commitment to this stance.  When asked by the media “what are your goals” (this question is the first and last question that is ALWAYS asked of mobilized people) the movement has been replying in a unified voice “we are working on that, we will get back to you.”

You see, this question may just be the simple lever which often disarms otherwise well organized movements.  The reason for this is that once the answer to this question is “officially” given by the movement, the media is then enabled to mount its own full frontal assault on the “absurdity” of the movements objectives by sifting in through the lens of neoliberal rationality.

The point here is that the goal for movements in the twenty-first century is the disruption itself.  The systems which are being mobilized against (the entire educational system in Chile, the New York Stock Exchange/Wall Street institution in the USA) are literally impossible to unsettle via a concession here or a concession there.  In order to have the potential to bring about systemic change, which is what all post-Seattle movements are ultimately attempting to do, these institutions need to be disrupted over time and with changing tactics of disruption so that the State apparatus is unable to “fix in” on any particular mode of operation.

Movements of the twenty-first century need to add a forth step (at least).  It appears this might be happening on a global scale, which is heartening.