September 17 was marked as the anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. While the dismissal of the movement as a spent force by its opponents including corporate mass media is only to be expected, it seems that the feeling that this movement has reached the limits of what can be achieved with its past tactics is shared by sympathetic observers.
Matt Taylor at The Daily Beast offers an analysis that is to a large extent an establishment point-of-view, but makes some valid points as well:
As Occupy Wall Street protesters geared up to mark their first anniversary in Manhattan on Monday, they found themselves operating almost alone, without much of the outside support from celebrities, labor unions, and other progressive groups and leaders that had helped to create a palpable sense of momentum last fall.
But it would appear that, some tepid local union supporters in the city notwithstanding, the broader progressive coalition—including organized labor—is sitting this one [the anniversary] out, having seen the Occupy movement descend into internal squabbling in recent months over how, and whether, to engage the political system directly.
“Occupy was so concerned about not being co-opted that it deterred people from trying to fill any leadership or organizational gaps that emerged,” a senior labor official in Washington told The Daily Beast. “If Occupy were stronger now, labor’s support for it would be greater. From an earned-media standpoint, Occupy got off of its message of critiquing the economy and got bogged down in process. And it’s not obvious how to support it now.”
“The movement has had a hard time coming up with a second act,” said Michael Kazin, a social-movement historian at Georgetown University. “The May 1st demonstrations largely fizzled, with the usual suspects coming together. If there’s any guiding ideology of the leaders of the movement, it’s a kind of soft anarchism, and that’s not going to capture the country.”
The concern about co-optation by the political parties or other outside groups has always been central to internal dialogue. For instance, when MoveOn.org, a liberal political-advocacy group with close ties to the Democratic Party, and Van Jones, a former White House official, tried to invoke the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street while essentially asking activists to help reelect President Obama, many veteran Occupiers recoiled.
[S]o long as Occupy remains a symbolic phenomenon that exists only to sustain its own subculture—to speak to its own members—it won’t be able to tap into the broader economic anxiety that is still festering across a battered, wary electorate.
The message is, of course, that OWS should get serious by having a clear hierarchical structure and getting into electoral politics. OWS rightly reject this idea as counter-productive, but it is unable to produce a credible alternative. The anarchist mindset is completely justified as a rejection of electoral politics, but at the same time it is a paralyzing force since it allows the movement to avoid (an to some extent even requires avoiding) proposing a democratic governance system that would serve as a tangible alternative to electoralism.
The missing ingredient is sortition.
Sortition is a clear-cut item that can be pursued as both a demand and as a means of organizing the very movement that makes that demand. It creates an organization without creating an established elite – it is a demand and a tool that can be effective against the established forces without allowing co-optation or betraying the essential elements of the legitimate anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian sentiment that gave birth to the anarchistic ideology. A mass movement demanding that national power is handed over to a group of randomly selected citizens and which at the same time is experimenting with that same power structure internally will be a revolutionary phenomenon the likes of which the world has not seen in thousands of years.