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Forum Post: Yeah, shutting down the ports is good, but...

Posted 10 years ago on Dec. 16, 2011, 2:35 p.m. EST by primitivetimes (73)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

The talking points had been established well in advance, but they were reinforced while listening to talk radio on my way to the Occupy Oakland west coast port shutdown. The occupiers are hurting the ones they claim to represent, so goes the refrain - a convenient and welcome one for those already aligned against OWS, an honest one for the workers directly affected. The host, taking pains to self-identify as an OWS sympathizer, decided to take a hardline stance, stubbornly challenging every pro-port shutdown caller with the question: "Would you be willing to reimburse a worker's $400 in lost wages?"

No caller could come up with an effective response, either dancing around the question or coughing up a desperate "it's for the greater good" rationalization. Code Pink offered its own answer at the rally, collecting donations to cover the lost wages. The majority of the callers, however, were against the shutdown, once again exposing the main dilemma OWS continues to face - the delicate balance between moral certainty and public relations.

Make no mistake, the shutdown was justified. Rather than putting a significant dent in the pocketbooks of the 1%, it was a symbolic show of strength - a reminder and a warning of what a determined, mobilized faction of society is capable of. In order to realize fundamental change, we must engage the apparatus of the 1%, and naturally, that apparatus is maintained by the 99%. It's a wildly clever design. Any effort to reform it will automatically hurt the workers being exploited, and in fact, will be reprimanded by them. If workers - both at the ports and everywhere else in the world - had more time to reflect, perhaps they would be able to see past the short term impact of a day's lost wages, and contemplate why that should be such a hardship for them, given how hard they work to maintain the fortunes of the 1%.

But you can't blame them for this. Reflection isn't encouraged in the system built by the 1%, maintaining the apparatus is, which is why the biggest hurdle for OWS up to this point has been communicating its message. It's a nuanced message that speaks of the deep-seated corruption and calculated, exploitative nature of our current global economic system, and the need to replace it. Yet people are too busy maintaining that system to pick up that message, clinging to the hasty assumption that incremental, less fundamental change is all that's required.

So it's music to the 1%'s ears when they read a story with a blue-collar worker admonishing occupiers for depriving them of his wages, or a city official guilting occupiers about having to dip into reserve funds, or a business owner linking a slow month to protest activity, or a citizen bemoaning the loss of access to public space to OWS. Again and again, these same people, just like the radio host, will often say something about how they agree with many of the tenets or the overall message of the Occupy movement, they just disagree with this one tactic. They agree with the goal, but don't appear to want any of the messiness that goes along with achieving that goal, failing to realize that the only way to truly change the system to make it more favorable to the 99%, is to truly change the system. It requires rocking the foundation, rebuilding the structure, questioning everything, and adopting a new lexicon. Continuing to petition the overlords, continuing to debate on the 1%'s terms, and continuing to appeal to the same default lingo of jobs, wages, growth, etc., only plays into their hands - reinforcing and perpetuating the misguided value system that led us to this point. We don't need the 1%'s jobs, we can provide our own. We're not the ones who care about incessant growth, the 1% are. We need to stop playing on their turf, and cultivate our own.

Nevertheless, as morally certain as we may be, it's the public relations side of the dilemma that deserves more attention at this time. OWS needs to understand that being right is not always enough, and that at this point in the movement's development, the top focus must remain rallying the ambivalent 99% to our cause. We may understand the finer points of the argument that justifies the port shutdown, but to the worker, it isn't relevant at this time. Rightly or wrongly, all he's thinking about is his lost wages. He's not dwelling on the working conditions of the sweatshop workers that likely produced the goods on those containers, and how improving their conditions might improve his. Similarly, most people reading about the port shutdown or listening to a talk show discussing it aren't reflecting in-depth. They too are busy maintaining a different section of the 1%'s apparatus, and as a result, will typically gravitate towards views that make sense on the surface, and break down only after further inspection. The port shutdown hurts workers. It's a logical, easy to latch onto position, and since further inspection usually never occurs, that's the position they stick with.

Whether we like it or not, this is the reality OWS is forced to contend with. So how do we respond? By coming up with logical, easy to latch onto concepts of our own. Concepts that are unambiguous, uncontroversial, and don't require further inspection to grasp. Continuing to protest banks, lobbyists, Wall Street, the White House, and both wings of congress are all solid options. However, the true next step in my opinion should be in the arena of solutions. For the majority of people who have grown accustomed to haphazardly consuming their news from the default outlets, the stories that cut through the clutter most effectively are positive and solutions-oriented. So it's time for OWS to start solving problems, independent of the current system. It's time to create the alternative, and to start being for things, not just against things.

Instead of spending the whole day protesting outside JP Morgan, spend half the day doing that, and the other half at a homeless shelter, providing the much needed manpower and brainpower to make progress on their behalf. Instead of spending the whole day railing against the Keystone XL pipeline, spend half the day doing that, and the other half going door-to-door, educating citizens on the various ways of making their homes and neighborhoods self-sustainable, enabling them to keep their money and sever their personal feeding tube to fossil fuel conglomerates. It will be harder to brand occupiers as un-American, directionless, solutionless slackers if stories like this become the norm.

Eventually, and hopefully soon, OWS will have a plurality of support among the masses, and the majority will understand why a port shutdown is in their interest. At that time, sustained strikes, boycotts and shutdowns will be an option. For now, however, lets set that tactic aside. For now, public relations is more important than moral certainty.

Permalink with photos: http://www.primitivetimes.com/2011/yeah-shutting-down-the-ports-is-good-but/

More posts on the Occupy movement: www.primitivetimes.com



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[-] 3 points by TechJunkie (3029) from Miami Beach, FL 10 years ago

The fatal flaw of this movement is on display in this quote:

Make no mistake, the shutdown was justified. Rather than putting a significant dent in the pocketbooks of the 1%, it was a symbolic show of strength - a reminder and a warning of what a determined, mobilized faction of society is capable of.

You say that the shutdown was "justified" (even though it had no clear message or objective) because it had symbolic meaning. You feel that symbolic gestures to express your ideology are more important that when another person loses hundreds of dollars of real-life (not symbolic) money because of your actions.

That makes you into a threat, not a good guy. Al Qaeda kills people in the west over symbolism and ideology, but those people really truly die, and that's why people don't like terrorists. Our real-life world is more important to us than your ideological fantasy world, and your symbolic gestures are far less important to us than hundreds of dollars. Especially right before Christmas.

So by your own admission and logic, the shutdown was not justified, because it had a negative overall effect, with virtually no gain. The fact that so few people involved with the movement can even understand why it's a problem to engage in actions with negative consequences is a second enormous problem for the movement.

[-] 1 points by primitivetimes (73) 10 years ago

I believe the shutdown was justified on moral grounds, yes, but that doesn't mean I think it was a good idea. It wasn't. And yes, it was also symbolic, but I didn't mean to imply that the symbolism was somehow more significant than the moral reasoning that made it justified. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

The reason I think it's justified morally is because the system does not benefit the majority of people. (The entire economy, not just the port workers). As a simple example, port workers enable the huge profits of the CEOs of the companies whose products they ship, and they work a lot harder than them too, yet they barely make enough to live on, have no worker rights, etc. This should change, and I believe most people, and certainly most port workers, agree with that. However, shutting down the port did cause a very real negative effect on the port workers, which, unfortunately they can't afford because of their substandard wages which are dictated to them by the 1%. Because of that, I'm against the port shutdown and as a supporter of OWS, I think we need to adopt other tactics to affect change.

[-] 1 points by TechJunkie (3029) from Miami Beach, FL 10 years ago

This is exactly how I feel, I agree:

However, shutting down the port did cause a very real negative effect on the port workers, which, unfortunately they can't afford because of their substandard wages which are dictated to them by the 1%. Because of that, I'm against the port shutdown and as a supporter of OWS, I think we need to adopt other tactics to affect change.

I would like to support OWS. I sympathize with a lot of the overall concepts. But I can't support people who aim at more attacks on infrastructure. I would like to support people who are looking for solutions but I can't support people who are looking for ways to create problems, who don't even see why that's a bad thing.

[-] 1 points by primitivetimes (73) 10 years ago

The thing is, a main point of OWS, and one I agree with, is the entire system is the problem. The profit motive is exactly what leads to exploitation and the consolidation of power you see today. We say we value fairness and decency, but then we also say make as much money as you can. This allows those who really do lust for power to gain influence, change the rules, and make it harder for everyone else. Most people DONT lust for power, and there's nothing wrong with that. They're not lazy, they just want to contribute and take care of their families, and we should have a system that encourages that, too.

This is why I'm more open to things like port shutdowns and strikes. If we recognize the whole system is rotten, and not serving the interests of the 99%, we have to take action and remind the 1% who it is that enables their profits. And yeah it will be a little inconvenient- change always is. But the whole point is to bring that exploitative system to a halt and replace it with a better one that truly respects and recognizes the contribution of these workers. However, it has to be initiated and fully supported by the workers themselves, which is why I didn't support the latest shutdown.

[-] 1 points by TechJunkie (3029) from Miami Beach, FL 10 years ago

Shutting down the whole world would hurt the 99% a lot more than the 1%. If that's where this movement goes, then I will definitely be opposed, because how is it going to help anybody for Occupy to simply become yet another problem instead of a solution?

[-] 1 points by primitivetimes (73) 10 years ago

I don't think shutting down the world is an option, but strikes and shutdowns are, as long as they are initiated by the workers. It's their right to stand up for their interests, just like the 1% do. I also think one of the main obstactles for any real change will be the tendency for people to automatically react to immediate short term loss, such as lost wages, as opposed to seeing the bigger picture. The system is fully designed by the 1%, and maintained by the 99%. As a result, any attempt at serious change will have an effect on people, but the whole point is to change the system and make it better for everyone. It's like a fisherman complaining he had to spend the day to buy a better fishing rod, losing the 1 fish he would have caught that day with his crappy rod. Well, the whole point of getting a better rod is to catch more fish from that point forward. It will take work, and yes, some sacrifice to achieve it. But again, I don't think we necessarily disagree here, because as I said, any strike or similar action has to be initiated by the workers, not imposed by OWS. That's wrong. OWS can, however, offer its support to any group which does decide to take action.

[-] 1 points by gsw (3400) from Woodbridge Township, NJ 10 years ago

I agree. I support OWS. The port shut downs, if they weren't supported by the affected workers, then the general public would not be able to see the connection to the targeted one percent. They just identify with lost wages. In Tacoma OWS did not shut down the port as the union was not in support of it. Flyers were passed out. I think OWS should focus on a few clear issues where they can affect change, and where the population is already in support, as they develop their philosophy for how to make the whole economic political system support the good of the people. One issue the majority seems to agree is: increase of taxes on wealthy. Occupy congress, occupy congressional phones, email, mail, etc. until congress implements the will of the people. Then move on to issue 2, campaign finance reform, get the lobbyists and billionaires and all the money in the campaigns out, and have some sort of equal playing field, where the campaigns are all paid from some common fund, getting equal amounts. And as the above persons said, being seen on the side of good causes don't hurt: supporting the downtrodden through some OWS events. And why can't OWS have a news website to post clearly, research-based "news" and where they can boast some positive impacts on society. OWS has the philosophy. Now they need to have some actions with clear beneficial outcomes for society. I am sure there are progressive churches and other established groups they can partner with. The message needs to be more down-to-earth for busy Americans, the 99 percent who are trying to get by, and do not believe intellectuals and politicians, and the rich, have any stake in their day to day struggles to put food on the table. Todays news said almost one half Americans are in poverty http://www.thenewstribune.com/2011/12/14/1945704/census-shows-1-in-2-people-are.html#storylink=misearch http://www.thenewstribune.com/2010/09/22/1351514/making-sense-of-poverty-numbers.html#storylink=misearch http://www.thenewstribune.com/2010/05/28/1204005/percentage-of-high-poverty-schools.html#storylink=misearch

We need to keep things clear and simple for the masses who have been massacred financially by the 1 percent in the past 30 years. Strikes that negatively impact truckers and workers, kind of goes against the message. But if OWS has daily "marches"and rallies, on the capital steps, that should make the news and not be so controversial, as long as there are clear doable steps that are being advocated for, and can be achieved with legislation and pressure on legislators to see OWS is not going away. Occupy tutoring needy kids in schools. Many parents are trying to survive, and they don't have many resources left for their kids, unfortunately.

[-] 0 points by Jflynn64 (337) 10 years ago

People have families and need to work to provide. This isn't a fairyland where people can sleep in tents and smoke pot.

[-] 1 points by Julian (57) from St Lucia, QLD 10 years ago

Less Chinese slave labor goods entered the country, I think it was a good thing. America shouldn't have to import anything.

[-] 1 points by elpinio (213) 10 years ago

Costing dockworkers money. Way to go.


[-] 1 points by primitivetimes (73) 10 years ago

Well, they did disrupt the flow of commerce for a short time. Whether you call it a shutdown, or slowdown or whatever, probably doesn't matter.

I don't think OWS is dictating, or educating, anyone how to live. It's a movement, with its own interests and opinions, just like any other movement, working for a better system. You don't have to agree with its vision or tactics, but I don't think it's about dictating to anyone. What about the tea party? I understand they support less government in our lives and an unrestrained free market, so are they dictating and educating us about that point of view too?


[-] 1 points by primitivetimes (73) 10 years ago

My friend, we have a philosophical difference. Where you see an "unrestrained free market," I see "corporate control," where there would be nothing stopping a corporation from dumping toxic waste into the ocean, forcing people to work 80 hours, paying them even less, etc. etc. Corporations exist to make profits. If there is no regulation, there will be nothing stopping them from having complete autonomy over our lives. You can demonize the government if you want, and believe me I do, because nowadays both parties are completely owned by corporations and lobbyists. However, government is at least elected by the people, so if we have a crappy government, we have only ourselves to blame.

The last poll I read about the Tea Party a few weeks ago showed it was significantly losing support, think it was something around 20 percent of people who agreed with their views. To be fair, OWS also does not have high support, around the same I think. But I agree with you, a lot of the OWS tactics have been counterproductive and unfocused.

[-] 1 points by fairforall (279) 10 years ago

"For now, public relations is more important than moral certainty ".

Isn't there a way to get attention without hurting 99%'ers?

[-] 0 points by primitivetimes (73) 10 years ago

Yeah there are plenty, that was the point of the post. We need to focus more on those things. But I will say, if we really do want to completely change the system to make it better for the 99%, that will involve getting rid of the current system, which, naturally, will be inconvenient and not without some hardship. Civil rights wasn't a neat and tidy process, economic justice won't be either.

[-] 0 points by DunkiDonut2 (-108) 10 years ago

You are simply making yourself worse. Rich people are in their mansions in south america.

[-] 1 points by primitivetimes (73) 10 years ago

Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean?

[-] 0 points by DunkiDonut2 (-108) 10 years ago

Every thing you are doing,,, shutting down ports, blocking traffic, chaining arms to empty warehouses,,,, only harms "the people." The rich people can wait you out while vacationing in their villa's in south america,,, or the islands. The OWS way is about as stupid as it gets.

[-] 1 points by primitivetimes (73) 10 years ago

Ok, I think I agree with you. I don't agree with those tactics either, but I do support the OWS message. That's definitely a challenge for people in the movement- getting on the same page with tactics that connect with people and don't harm/inconvenience them. I will say, however, that even the most basic form of protest is somewhat of an inconvenience. Simply gathering lots of people in a public space obviously impedes foot traffic for everyone, but protesting is an important 1st amendment right that everyone is entitled to, regardless of their point of view. This country was founded on protest and we wouldn't have all the rights we have today without it.

[-] 1 points by elpinio (213) 10 years ago

Is this your manifesto? Way too long. Stupid to shut down commerce when you want jobs.

[-] 1 points by primitivetimes (73) 10 years ago

It's a blog post. Those can tend to be lengthy, but you're right, might be a bit long for a forum post.

One of the points of the post was that it's not the best idea for OWS to shut down commerce at this time, so I agree with you. However, another point I was making is that we need to stop thinking about jobs in the traditional sense. We should stop petitioning the 1% for better wages, working conditions, etc., and instead provide our own, with the intention of truly improving the lives of employees and customers, rather than simply profit. May seem overly idealistic, but I believe most people would be for it. It's only the small minority ie the 1% that care about endless growth and profit. I'm thinking particularly about things like worker co-ops and business alliances.

[-] -2 points by DunkiDonut2 (-108) 10 years ago

Apparently you dont understand. They dont want jobs. They want to ROB from the rich and give to themselves,,, hence,,, jobs is a nasty word. Then, after they spend what they took, they will need to figure out how to take from someone else, and someone else until their AINT nothing left to take. You cant give to people that dont understand the importance of personal property and responsibility. If OWS wins, 200+ years down the drain.

[-] 0 points by elpinio (213) 10 years ago

Don't worry. Bums and lazy arses sitting on the payment won't win against hardworking Americans.

[-] 0 points by alouis (1511) from New York, NY 10 years ago

Much food for thought here. Thanks.

[-] 1 points by primitivetimes (73) 10 years ago

Thanks for reading.