I can’t possibly ask the left to be self-critical if I’m unwilling to critique myself.
Yesterday, two things happened that made me realize my initial analysis of Occupy Wall Street had been both unfair and too harsh.
First, I received an email from a friend challenging my critique of Occupy Wall Street. She wrote, “I just want to support a possibility. I don’t want to critique a green shoot as it is bursting from the dirt.” She’s right. I hope to use my voice and analysis to catalyze movements for justice, not quash them — no matter what form they take. My initial response to Occupy Wall Street, while intended to be far more positive than critical, was nonetheless too snarky and too cynical and for that I apologize.
Second, yesterday I finally witnessed how this movement has grown not just to occupying Wall Street but occupying the consciousness of millions of Americans who are fed up with Wall Street-fueled greed and inequality. To the credit of the leadership of those at the loose core of Occupy Wall Street, they willingly transformed themselves and enabled themselves to be transformed to represent a much broader swath of America.
I stand by my original points that optics matter and that movements leadership should prioritize those who are most often harmed by the status quo and locked out of the process of creating solutions. Millions of individuals and communities beaten down by economic mismanagement are finding their soul and voice in Occupy Wall Street, and the movement is open and wise enough to stretch and grow in response. And yesterday, peacefully marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, the mobilization went from a picture of a few ragtag protesters occupying the financial sector to a portrait of humanity being occupied by the most powerful police force in the nation defending the interests of capital.
Even the New York Times coverage reflects the shift in optics.
Millions of Americans are sick and tired of an economic system manipulated by big business to suit their narrow, greedy ends. Social movements spring from an unpredictable serendipity of leadership and timing. The Occupy Wall Street protesters have wondrously crystallized and catalyzed the frustrations of a nation. They deserve our gratitude and praise. And yes, they deserve constructive feedback, too — but only if it feels constructive, not undermining. Hopefully, like social movements, we can all learn and grow — myself included.