By Jeff Johnson
Who besides Occupy will lead the fight against excessive corporate power? Who else will lead the march to force government to represent its own people? Here in Kansas City, as elsewhere in the nation, Occupy has stood up and demanded change.
Before Occupy, before these people began sleeping in the parks, there simply was no voice loud enough to challenge the corrupt system of the ruling elite. Since then, at least among the informed, the conversation has changed. The principles chanted by the Occupation, including here in Kansas City, are now part of the political landscape.
The protesters at Occupy KC do not plan to give up just to become so much political history. Talk to those that have been Occupying Penn Valley Park, sleeping in tents in freezing temperatures, or those that work in the Direct Action and Media workgroups, for example, and they will convince you of their intention to keep fighting till real change is accomplished. What’s more, the mettle of these Occupiers is such that, as time goes by and they realize that their efforts are going unnoticed or falling flat, they will change their tactics. They have every intention of remaining relevant to Kansas City.
The relationship between Occupy KC and the City of Kansas City has been nothing short of remarkable. No arrests. No real confrontation of any sort. An honest-to-goodness, mutually-respectful cooperation. That by itself should put Occupy KC on the map.
Recently, Occupy KC sortof adopted the Kansas City Community Centers, because they recognized a need. Not content to just demonstrate and organize, they want to contribute immediately in a meaningful way. If Occupy KC wins not even one more convert from all of their future protest actions, at least they will have sent volunteers to help out the underfunded and too often ignored program that is supposed to serve the vulnerable youth of this city. If that isn’t an indication of relevance, then nothing is.
Are you kidding? What difference can a bunch of naïve, preachy do-gooders make? The ruling class did not become the ruling class by accident. They have deliberately chosen their position, they have worked hard to arrange the rules in their favor, and it will take a lot more than illegal camping and monthly marches to reverse decades of the deliberate concentration of wealth and power.
Now, ideally, if these naïve do-gooders had to fight just the ruling class, they might have a chance, because, as one of their signs aptly explains, 99 to 1 are pretty good odds. Unfortunately for the Occupiers, though, their biggest challenge is convincing the 99% to join them.
The 99% long ago abdicated their role in government. They don’t even believe they belong in power. “What, tax the rich? That will scare the job creators!” “Participate in local government? No way. We’d miss the 6 o’clock news!”
No, Occupy KC doesn’t stand a chance against such wholesale helplessness. What’s more, the Occupiers are frequently their own worst enemy. Even if Kansas Citians were listening, Occupy KC consistently fails to articulate a clear message. Just some vague anti-capitalism rant. Useless to the working and the unemployed alike. Irrelevant to the poor. Irritating to the middle class.
Occupy KC is a piggy back protest, comprised mostly of permanent local activists, culled from various failed protests, jumping on the Occupy Wall Street bandwagon for their own agendas. Spend any time in their midst and you quickly realize they expend more effort fighting with each other than fighting their declared corporate enemies.
In short, the enemy is entirely too powerful, too smart and too prepared; the people simply have no interest in fighting for their fair share; and Occupy KC is doomed to self-imposed irrelevance at best, and to fatal infighting at worst.
The political irony of Occupy KC is that everyone in the 1% knows all about them, whereas vast numbers of the 99% have only the vaguest notion that Occupy even exists, and huge percentages have no idea what Occupy stands for. If Occupy KC continues like this, of course it will have no impact on the lives of Kansas Citians.
Not that they lack in potential. A bunch of really capable, intelligent, sincere people are associated with Occupy KC, and many influential people in this city are rooting for them. Heck, Henry Bloch sympathized with Occupy KC recently.
It’s just that, well, Occupy KC’s job is really hard. How do you communicate about complicated issues with masses of people who digest news in micro-bites? How do you compete with calculated misinformation spread by professional propagandists? How do you wage a war on monied politics with practically no money?
No easy answer. No answer at all really, yet. But it almost surely comes down to whether the Occupiers of KC can avoid excessive in-fighting , whether they can avoid costly confrontations with the city, and whether they can figure out how to unite effectively with other groups in Kansas City, on the Left and on the Right.
They must gradually increase their outreach, eventually to every neighborhood and every ethnic and socioeconomic group. They must focus, unrelentingly, on the common ground that all citizens who are not among the elite share: that power must be in the hands of the people; that everyone must pay their fair share; that those most helpless among us must be cared for; and that those in elected office should listen to citizens, instead of to money and privilege.
IF Occupy KC can bring such a focus to this community, it will achieve undeniable and lasting relevance.