As I too watched with outrage the footage of police spraying unarmed, peaceful protesters this weekend, and the incredibly powerful silent walk of shame endured by UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, I got to thinking about this movement's agenda.
Lack of Agenda is a Myth
We have all heard that criticism leveled at the Occupy movement—that it can't define a clear, coherent agenda.
But as Chris has already pointed out today in his continued musings on Occupy as Constitutional Convention, that's bullshit. The intentional ambiguity of Occupy is both a deliberate strategic move, and an inevitable reflection of the problems that it is tackling.
It's not the protesters who can't define their agenda. It's the media, the authorities, and the outdated, vertical organizational structures they represent that can't comprehend it.
The Future Will Not Look Like the Past
In most successful political movements gone by, there were specific, if ambitious, outcomes that were being called for. From equal rights for all, to ending (a particular) war, to overthrowing (a specific) regime—these are demands that involve change, however dramatic, that still occurs within the confines of the status quo. And as such, the media was better placed to discuss these movements without having to question its own legitimacy.
To some degree this explains the meteoric rise (and subsequent fizzle into irrelevance) of the Tea Party. It was a movement with a simple message and a clear, if ineffective, agenda: get rid of Barack Obama; elect tax-cutting, corporate friendly politicians; and we can all go back to living the American Dream.
Systemic Change Will Require Emergent Solutions
On the other hand, Occupy is expressing a larger, more challenging political truth that resonates with people from all sides of the political spectrum: the system as we know it is fundamentally broken. The problems we face cannot be fixed by a little more (or less) Government intervention or taxes; nor by a reformist approach to corporate responsibility. Rather we need systemic change for a systemic problem.
Luckily, that change is already emerging all around us. And it will not be led (nor controlled) by any one entity or any one person. From community-owned power stations to Plenitude Economics and job sharing; from sharing as a driver of economic innovation to a rejection of top-down, centralized fossil fuel projects like Keystone XL; from clothing companies asking customers to buy their clothes used on eBay to African entrepreneurs building clean energy economies in their villages; from crowdfunded alternatives to mainstream banking to "SPIN" farmers making a real living cultivating their backyards; the innovation we are seeking is coming from 7 billion different directions and in 7 billion different forms. (What's 99% of 7 billion?)
The media can't get a simple soundbite or a clear list of demands because this is not a simple problem and there is no simple list of demands. The challenge of the Occupy movement is to identify the leverage points in Government, in culture, and in our economy that can speed up that change. And that process of identification is well underway.
Adapt or Fade
Just as the traditional news media has found itself increasingly challenged by a decentralized network of participatory media, so too the financial and political pillars of yesterday are finding themselves in a new and discombobulating environment where participation is more powerful than control; where access is more important than ownership; and where collaboration and cooperation is replacing competition.
Those individuals, organizations and governments who seek to understand and adapt to this reality will survive and may even thrive. Those who attempt to hold on to outdated structures will find themselves increasingly marginalized. My money says that it's the same people who moan about a "lack of agenda" who will find themselves struggling in the economies, and politics, of tomorrow.
As the Occupy Movement works on plans for a national, collaborative convention to define its goals, it is demonstrating in its very structure that it understands the collaborative future that is emerging.
That bodes well for its success.