Occupy: Will It Be Reform Or Revolution?
Reform or revolution: that is the question. That is the question that plagues, whether they realize it or not, activist groups agitating for social change in the United States and around the world.
Movements like the Arab Spring are focused on revolution. Social movements in the United States limit their power by concerning themselves only with reform.
In the United States, activists are divided into movements with specific goals, such as promoting environmentalism or winning rights for the LGBT community. Although there is overlap with regard to group membership, the fact is that the groups fighting for each separate issue are automatically divided, because they attempt to work within the currently existing system by focusing on separate issues that require only changes in separate governmental policies or societal attitudes, policies and attitudes that are specific to each movement. The goals they work toward are won through specific avenues of advocacy, education, or through other means, also specific to each movement's goal. In this way, the movements in the United States are divided, and the existing system cannot be changed because of that division.
The different movements, such as those working toward LGBT equality, women’s rights, or any of the other major causes, through desire to change societal attitudes and governmental policies, demonstrate that the existing economic and governmental system is damaged, if not broken. The system has not been able to respond well to calls for social equality, and rather than working with the system, it seems that what is needed is a revolution.
By believing the government will change its attitude toward a particular issue with enough pressure, the system is able to contain social movements – by purporting to allow dissent, the government limits the power of the movements that could gain many more victories were they united under the goal of total restructuring of society.
But, in order to radically change a system that is not working, unity is of necessity a prerequisite. By focusing on reform, by focusing on improving the system with regard to its policy toward a particular issue, the movements for change in the United States are automatically divided because they are not operating under the larger, more inclusive goal of restructuring society.
The Occupy movement had this unity. Occupy has been criticized for not having a specific goal, but why do they need one? As soon as they advocate for a certain issue or policy change, the group will, one, fracture and, two, the goal of larger social change will be unachievable.
This is why it is important for Occupy to refuse to limit the scope of its movement by defining a certain “want,” because as soon as it limits itself it will lose its power as a transformational force, and revolutionary change will be delayed yet again.