Our VoiceCulture

Another Lesson from #OWS: why we need to pay attention to our opponents


Guest Blogger • Jan 18, 2012

by Christina Antonakos-Wallace

Over the last four and a half months, the Occupy Wall Street movement has grown from a small protest in New York’s Financial District to an international movement targeting systemic economic injustice across industries and institutions.

For the first time since the US Economy crashed in 2008, large groups of people came together to take a stand against the sector of society most responsible for the crisis. Of course, deregulatory government policies created the conditions rife for such a crisis. However, there has been incredible power in people coming together not just to rally for or against a politician, but also to name the systems, companies and individuals actively consolidating wealth for the rich while bankrupting the majority who continue to escape accountability.  OWS thrust the increasing wealth inequality into the national discourse where it was all but absent.

The success of OWS exemplifies the need to identify not only the problem but also the opposition. Too often, progressives do not know enough about who and what we are up against. This is certainly true for many of us in the racial justice and immigrant rights movements. There are always so many issues and crises to address. We may feel we don’t have the resources, experience, or time to get to know the opposition. Moreover, let’s be honest, it’s not fun to learn about institutions actively promoting hatred and bigotry, nor are they transparent about their agendas.

But not knowing our opponents does our work a serious disservice. We may stay general, and talk about the pervasiveness of racism instead of effectively identifying targets; or focus on an immediate crisis instead of the underlying problem. While racism is indeed pervasive in the USA, it also has strong ideological advocates actively promoting their ideas, just like the companies that are actively profiting off other’s suffering. Many ideologically racist organizations have developed a strategy of camouflaging their rhetoric within the framework of environmentalism, or concern for the working class (see below). Under such guises these organizations are throwing their weight around across the country with little opposition.

One such example is Iowa during the recent Caucus Season. Anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA ran the 5th highest number of ads – 164 in total – (only following ads bought for or against the candidates themselves). The ads attacked legal immigration, using a multi-racial cast to talk about unemployment. Manipulative to say the least. The intention is to push Republican politicians to take “strong” anti-immigrant positions. Now NumbersUSA is at it again in South Carolina, where they plan to spend $100,000 running similar anti-immigration adds.

Unknown to many, however, NumbersUSA is part of the Tanton Network, a group of organizations with strong ties to white nationalism. Number USA’s leader, Roy Beck, spoke at the 1997 conference of the white supremacist organization, the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Imagine how powerful it would be if Iowa and South Carolina residents knew that the commercials they were viewing were actually created and sponsored by an organization with ties to white nationalists? If nothing else, progressives and immigrant rights activists would be equipped to take strategic action. Acting on this information could help us shift the conversation away from whether a politician is “strong” on immigration, to the white supremacist ideology underlying our current anti-immigrant policies.

The last four months have proven how much momentum identifying and challenging the power players who are operating behind the scenes can garner. As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to grow and learn from long standing social movements (including racial justice and immigrant rights movements) let us take the opportunity to learn from OWS: it’s time we pay attention to our opponents.

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