Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lessons From 'Letter From a Birmingham Jail'...

Occupy Wall Street seems to be the quintessential 'organic' movement.

It's lack of a central 'leader' or a formal 'agenda', seems to make it the real world equivalent of thousands of Howard Beals crying 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!' There's room for that in a democracy. As I said in yesterday's post, it is the way movements (really revolutions) begin and if they are persistent they result in change. 

At some point - and I think regarding OWS it may be too early for this - someone emerges who, while maybe not called 'the leader', per se, certainly becomes the tactician. He or she, understands that there are tools that must be employed to get a message out that resonates with sympathizers and responds to the opposition and the critics. He or she orchestrates and focuses protest, channeling anger so that it  neither fizzles out or spills over into unproductive or counterproductive rage.

To think that OWS will fade with the winter cold, is simplistic, if not downright naive. All movements (or revolutions) ebb and flow. We will probably not know how real a movement this is until next summer. And then what we may indeed see is some emerging 'leader', or tactician who knows how to strategically harness and focus their energy. 

Again, it is similar to the Civil Rights Movement...

Take for example the Birmingham campaign for civil rights in 1963. It was beginning to wain until the strategy of getting children and youth to march was adopted. It wasn't necessarily a well thought out strategic maneuver. Kids were what movement leaders had because not enough adults would risk getting arrested. 

It got the nation's attention.

Also getting attention was Dr. Martin Luther King's decision to get arrested by defying a court ordered injunction against marching. It was intentional. It was strategic. It wasn't accidental that it took place on Easter weekend. 

While in jail, eight white clergymen had their criticism of the movement printed as an open letter in the local paper. Again, King counters with a tactical move, what we've come to know as 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail'. It becomes an apologetic for the aims of the Birmingham campaign in particular and the movement in general. You can read 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' here ,  here and here.

And this video gives a very interesting 'story behind the story' insight on King's missive.


I can't say for certain whether Occupy Wall Street will follow the historical pattern. My belief is, if its a real movement it probably will. Ultimately forcing change comes with promoting a vision of the world that is different from one's current reality - not just being angry about your reality.

Perhaps its not enough for Occupy Wall Street protesters to have their 'camp-ins'. But it's definitely not enough for us to keep asking 'What do they want?' We know what they want. They want what we want - a country where soaring inequality doesn't leave us behind.

Why not write your own letter?

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