Occupy: Will splinter groups build the movement or dilute its potency?
Y no, nos vamos,
Y si nos hechan,
“We’re here, we’re not leaving, and if we do, we’ll be back.” It was a phrase chanted constantly and passionately by the 2000 citizens who marched on the Los Angeles Federal Building this past Thursday as part of Occupy ICE. They gathered to protest U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose policies marchers say split up immigrant families and keep undocumented workers living in fear.
Outreach from the Occupy movement to the immigrant population was seen across the nation this past weekend. “Immigrants Occupy” marches took place yesterday in New York, and there have been rallies over the past few days in support of immigration reform in Orange County, San Francisco, San Diego and Portland, Oregon.
Undocumented workers are without a doubt a part of the 99 percent, and there are many individuals without legal status in the U.S. that refrain from actively participating in these marches and protests for fear of legal repercussions.
“I know for a fact there are undocumented workers that are not here today because they’re afraid of ICE and being deported,” said protester Rey Ramirez, who is also involved in Occupy Clairmont. “These people are a part of the 99 percent and are even more taken advantage of than most: they are living in fear.”
Ruth, 29, is a member of the SCIU union and is a long-term care worker. Her brother-in-law was deported to Mexico two years ago, and she now takes care of her sister and niece. “We’re fighting for immigrant rights,” said Ruth. “I’m an American citizen, and we’re here to make a difference.”
As has been stated ad nauseam, this is a diverse movement with diverse goals, and, as winter wears on and public interest wanes, it is movement that could clearly benefit from a surge in numbers. Reaching out to the 12 to 20 million undocumented workers in the U.S. who likely strongly identify with many of Occupy’s goals could be a wise move.
Yet this march mirrors a larger trend within the movement: the cooption of smaller splinter groups with specific demands that orchestrate individual direct actions under the umbrella of Occupy. This march was far more organized than any I’ve seen so far, likely due to the support provided by those well practiced in direct action – trade unions like the SEIU United Services Workers West, and social justice organizations like ANSWER, an antiwar and racism coalition. The press release distributed at the march highlighting its agenda was on SEIU letterhead, and both organizations regularly champion the immigration reform issues being addressed.
Occupy’s new focus on diverse direct actions was born of necessity. The camps, when they existed, provided a focal point and home base from which to grow and disseminate ideologies. They also provided a clearer structure, and were a novel way of challenging authority that eventually resulted in both political and public attention. They also provoked dramatic police action, a narrative of the movement that, for better or worse, has been followed more closely than anything else that has happened within Occupy so far.
Now those camps are mostly gone, and in their place these smaller groups are continuing to champion individual causes. But while people marching in the streets for immigration reform is a valid and important action, it is something the media and the public have seen before. And while those marching on Thursday drew a strong connection between Occupy’s stated goal of ending the greed and corruption of the 1% – that ICE serves the desires of the corporate 1% by union busting, for example – it may be more difficult for the general public to make that connection.
Specific interest groups performing actions like the march this past Thursday likely aren’t hurting Occupy, but they’ll only contribute to the growth of the movement if they eventually find a way to come together and speak with one voice.