(This is the 3rd of 4 blogs on the relationship of OWS to the traditional working class.)
Young OWS protestors tell a variety of personal stories. Some are new college graduates who have spent sixteen years of their life preparing for professional careers that no longer exist. Some are high school grads who had jobs prior to the economic collapse and were the first to be laid off. Others have come of age since 2008 to find they belong to a permanent underclass with no hope of ever finding permanent employment.
In addition to the dispossessed middle class OWS protestors, there are a few that journalist Chris Hedges (http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_master_class_in_occupation_20111031/) describes as “revolutionists” – intellectuals opting of society for political reasons, who live in squats and eat out of dumptsers. The term “revolutionist” was first popularized by George Bernard Shaw in 1903 in the Revolutionists Handbook. Shaw (http://www.bartleby.com/157/5.html) defines a “revolutionist” as “one who desires to discard the existing social order.”
Because I was married to one in the 1970s, I am aware of the fine line between homelessness and “revolutionism.” Although it never occurred to my ex to join with others in discarding the existing social order, he utterly refused to subject himself to the exploitation of regular employment, even if it meant sleeping in fields and city parks.
The OWS occupations have also drawn in older, long time anarchists, socialists and single issue activists. Most have consciously incorporated their local homeless population, which includes a disproportionate number of unemployed and disabled veterans and former criminals. There are also a number of part-time and shift workers and full time students who participate as their schedule accommodates.
A Question of Privilege
I believe the ability of OWS to pull the traditional working class into their ranks will boil down to a single factor: their ability to be radicalized, i.e. discard the inherent sense of privilege that is fundamental to middle class identity. The post-war progressive movement has failed to attract working class activists mainly because it’s been dominated by middle class academics and professionals unwilling to relinquish their privileged status. They want a better and fairer society, but not too fair. They want social change, but not extensive change that would require them to relinquish their comfortable incomes and lifestyles. Owing to their inability to come to grips with their (largely unconscious) sense of privilege, they always find it easier to fight for third world peasants than the disadvantaged in their own communities. This is also why they repeatedly get sucked into pro-corporate propaganda about “personal responsibility” and find themselves moralizing to lower income groups about political correctness, as well as lobbying for lifestyle (anti-smoking, gun control, anti-obesity, etc) legislation.
In my view, OWS protestors have little hope of recruiting the traditional working class if they self-identify as middle class. Moreover the question of their class orientation will revolve around what they want OWS to accomplish. Are they mainly interested in achieving short term personal goals? Are they willing to settle for student loan forgiveness or a massive jobs creations program that enables the brightest and best qualified among them to enter a career path? Or do they have a vision for massive social change that will benefit everyone who has joined them in the park?
To be continued.Share and Enjoy: