Last Tuesday, the chant “What do we want?” was easy to hear during the "March on Jobs," a downtown event where Occupy New Haven joined forces with community and union groups.
But when the sound of police sirens and horns from the drivers of cars drowned out any intelligible response, the answer to the question “What does ONH want?” remained unclear.
"We Are All Leaders"
By email last week to Patch, Micah White, the senior editor of the Vancouver, B.C.-based magazine Adbusters who co-conceived what has become the Occupy movement, pointed to the magazine’s first tactical briefing to its readers in July. While acknowledging the roots of the movement in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the briefing advised future occupiers to “zero in on what our one demand will be.”
One single demand never emerged, and, after the November crackdowns and a failed attempt at a manifesto earlier this fall, White and the magazine’s founder Kalle Lasn began to refer instead to the “plural voices of everyday America.” They urged a march to real democracy of leaderless, democratic crowds.
“Our group is absolutely horizontal and the term leaderless is slightly misguided. We don't have officials or figureheads, but we are all leaders. Our consensus and our commonality leads us,” said Occupy New Haven member Meghan McGaffin last week. “We are led by the ideal that all people deserve an honest government, a vote that counts, an opportunity to find fulfilling work, equal treatment under the law, and a safe place to live.
Branding the Occupy Movement
“Absolutely, they lose,” said Chuck Mascola, president and founder of the New Haven marketing firm Mascola Group, of ONH’s lack of one consistent message or demand. “People don’t understand what the objective is. If you consider the title ONH as their brand, which is a sub-brand of Occupy nationally—that’s where the problem began."
He termed the word “occupy” aggressive and off-putting, adding that he has been to Washington for large-scale events on other issues. “They wrap around a single theme. It’s pretty easy for people to figure out.”
“Occupy hasn’t done that,” the branding guru said.
"Crisis of Joblessness"
The event that comprised ONH’s direct action last week—and one that embraced the rush-hour timing White and Lasn now advise as a tactic for Occupy’s nonviolent events—addressed the grievances of an economy with insufficient jobs and the violence that some say joblessness begets.
“New Haven is having a crisis of joblessness and hopelessness,” said Susan Valentine, an organizer with the New Haven affiliate of UNITE HERE.
She took part in the march that drew hundreds of participants to the atrium of city hall before the group took to the streets downtown.
“The lack of jobs and violence in the streets—they’re connected,” Valentine said.
David Burack, a Connecticut native who worked in New Haven in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, concedes that the inchoate structure of the Occupy groups, which he suspects is by choice, has its advantages.
“If you cannot be pinned down, if you have no recognized leaders or organization or creed, platform or consistent set of demands, then you cannot be categorized, contained, defeated, and you have an open tent which can take in a lot more followers,” the self-described "bit of an activist" observed.
He credited the occupiers with consciousness-raising, terming the very fact that ‘class’ is now an acceptable part of today’s dialogue as a major step forward.
“But there is no escaping the fact that for a movement to be effective, it has, for better or worse, to become institutionalized, have a program and a strategy,” Burack continued, citing the Tea Partiers as an example.
He added that an agenda and an organization has to emerge “if the legacy of the Occupy movement is to be more than, ‘We occupied a bunch of parks.’”