It’s time to listen to the 99%

October 16, 2011 11:12 am

I would like to declare my clear and unequivocal support for the 99% movement. It’s wrong that a detached elite has such a disproportionate voice. Politics should be conducted in favour of the majority who are cut out of political dialogue by the actions of a self-regarding minority. Unless things change then people are going to get really angry – if they aren’t already. It’s time to leave behind the 1% who want to spend their Saturday afternoons in protest after protest, direct action after action, while the right continue to do their worst to our economy and society. I’m 100% for the 99%.

Let’s just take a look at the inspirational source for Occupy Wall Street, Occupy LSX and all the rest. A rally of somewhere in region of 20,000-50,000 gathered in Madrid on May 15th earlier this year to protest against the country’s political leaders and their incompetent economic management. The date became the signature of the movement – 15-M. 100,000s have participated in in 15-M one way or another – in protest, through social media, through direct action. It’s very impressive. If this doesn’t change Spain then nothing will.

And yet, on May 20th, in the midst of the intial wave of protests, there were local and regional elections in Spain. Surely the left would romp home? Only it didn’t. Mariano Rajoy’s rightist People’s Party surged to victory, beating the Spanish Socialists – PSOE – in every region. And the protests continued. Jose Luis Zapatero has called an election for November 20th. Surely 15-M was too early in its life to affect national politics but this time it will be different? Well, the situation has changed somewhat. Things are even worse now for PSOE. Now under the leadership of Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, PSOE are trailing PP by up to 15%. The PP could well secure an outright majority in a few weeks – an even more brutal fiscal consolidation will follow.

This is the context in which supporters of 15-M feel able to claim: “the 15-M movement is redefining politics.” Apparently, 15-M, a new style of networked political organisation, has discovered that the Spanish people want ‘real change.’ They are right. The Spanish public want a fiscally conservative right-wing government. There seems to be a pattern to all this. We are constantly told how people want fundamental social democratic or socialist change but for some weird reason they keep voting for right-wing governments. Maybe the 99% are all secret Marxists who want full-blooded capitalism so that it collapses in heap of its own internal contradictions. Or maybe the 1% are the ones who are apart from the mainstream.

Networked society seems to be very good at getting people out on the streets – to protest, to riot, to occupy – but seems to be very bad at securing change within democratic societies. This is the difference between what we saw in North Africa and what we are now seeing in Spain, the US, the UK and elsewhere. When people have the vote they have a tool at their disposal already to make their voice heard. It’s just that the 1% don’t want to hear it.

More than anything else the problem with the modern left is that we’ve become very presumptive about what the 99% want. We are very good at nominating ourselves as their moral spokespeople. We know what people really want even if they don’t yet themselves. But, you see, the problem is that the media, politics corrupted by business and finance, the materialistic capitalist hell we’ve constructed, and so on, blinds people to their own interests so they need us. Saving the world is a thankless task but someone’s got to do it. Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah….Batman.

At a certain point a mass of support can make a difference. People power was an important aspect of the success of the civil rights movement (though it was far from the only critical element – political leadership was just as crucial.) And small acorns do sometimes grow into great oaks. So let’s set a measure. In its first week, Westfield Stratford welcomed 1 million customers. That is just one shopping centre in one week. If the Occupy LSX gets one million people out on the streets once a week for a month and people start to reject the Conservatives then I’ll change my view that all this is tremendous waste of time – fun though it may be. The reality is that the Conservatives – despite austerity and protest – are leading the polls (the real poll is the ‘would you prefer Labour/Miliband to Conservative/Cameron’ question which shows a 6% lead for the latter.)

In rebuttal, the networked activist cadre may choose to argue that more people support Occupy Wall Street’s than are opposed. Well, people are pretty angry with Wall Street. But that doesn’t mean American capitalism is about to collapse. I am guessing that you will find quite a bit of Tea Party support for the protests as it’s against the powerful. If you think the angry minority who comprise the Tea Party are going to get behind leftist reform of the American economy and society any time soon then you are in for a nasty shock. It explains why Barack Obama will face the fight of his political life next year despite being the candidate of reform.

Sorry to be such a stick in the mud. Actually I’m not sorry. This is too important to waste the energy for change. Capitalism isn’t working for the majority but revolution isn’t coming any time soon. I don’t know much about this politics malarkey but I do know one thing for certain: the way you change things is by getting people behind you not by huddling together in a righteous and self-congratulatory embrace.

The 99% are not behind the 1%. In fact, they are barely even aware of them other than in fleeting pictures on BBC News 24. Cars burn, police kettle, 1000s gather and, in the meantime, the right is in office or binding the hands of those who are. The left must listen to the 99% if they are to prevent the rightist march. Or it could just have a bit of a laugh and claim that is changing the world. And the world keeps on rotating rightwards.

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