For that to happen, OWS will need to achieve at least four things. The first is to survive the winter, literally and metaphorically, going into hibernation rather than withering and dying. And in this regard, Mayor Bloomberg’s clearing of Zuccotti Park is likely to prove a boon to the Occupy forces, allowing them to stop expending so much energy on defending space and more on movement-building. The second, as Gitlin puts it, is “dealing with the crazy”—avoiding instances of violence and property destruction that would taint the movement’s image in just the way that Republicans and their media allies are attempting to. The third is that the protesters will need to put the conceit that the movement is leaderless behind them. For OWS to attract new adherents, it must have a clear and compelling voice, amplified by the media. The movement has many candidates who could step up and fill that void, if only the rank and file will permit it.
Fourth and finally, OWS will need to navigate the fork in the road between radicalism and reformism. “I don’t think it’s an either-or,” says Marom. “People who only want reforms are probably just handicapped by cynicism. And if you don’t want reforms as a revolutionary, then you’re not a revolutionary, because people need the foundations on top of which to survive. And people need to win things, to feel like it’s possible to win.”
Of course, the sense of possibility that progressives might win was what fueled the election of Obama. And their frustration is what has created the context for OWS—and raises the specter that it might alter the landscape the president must traverse next year in dramatic and unpredictable ways.
“Obama didn’t build a movement, he built an electoral machine,” says Marom. “If he had built a movement, he would not be where he is right now. But the fact that he was elected, that so many people came out in the streets for him, that people cried when he won, was an expression of the fact that they wanted what they thought he was, which is an alternative. He wasn’t it. He can’t deliver it. This political system can’t deliver it. This economy can’t deliver it. But there are millions of people who genuinely want it. That’s amazing and inspiring to people like us, who are just, like, ‘Okay. This is for real.’ ”