Upon hearing the news that the Occupy Oakland encampment was to be cleared in the early morning hours by Oakland police, I held my breath.
From the killing of Oscar Grant III at a BART station on New Year's Day 2009 to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Oakland has had more than its fair share of recent news coverage that has placed it in a negative light.
Would there be more displays of the violence that made Oakland the de facto epicenter of the movement for all the wrong reasons? Or worse, would there be others added to the name of Kayode Ola Foster -- the 25-year-old man who was killed last week in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza?
Fortunately, outside of about 30 or so arrests, law enforcement officers managed to clear out the encampment without much violence.
But Oakland, as well as other Occupy efforts, must now move into the second phase if they are to have any lasting power. It was in the first phase where we recognize publicly the patient is sick; it is in the second phase when a cure must be provided.
The first phase drove home the point that the current economic structure of the country is out of balance. According to a recent CBS/New York Times poll, 66 percent believe wealth should be distributed more evenly. But this doesn't necessarily translate to overwhelming support for the Occupy Wall Street efforts. An ABC/Washington Post poll indicates 44 percent support the movement, 41 percent oppose and 15 percent are uncertain.
For the second phase to be successful, it must have something that was glaringly missing from its first phase: leadership.
It was novel in its inception that a decentralized movement without any identifiable leadership could galvanize the nation's attention. It temporarily allows us to celebrate one of democracy's great virtues. But if the movement is to be transformative, it cannot rely on encampments and anger, coalescing more around their opposition to something than their ability to state definable objectives that lead to much-needed change.
Without leadership, the decentralized movements across the nation are free to embrace the certainty of their own position -- opening the door to hubris. Hubris blinds those infected by its seductive grip to the value of realism -- falsely bolstering one's belief in the virtue of being uncompromising.
Moreover, without leadership providing a counter narrative, the movement is vulnerable to being defined by its worst examples. The movement may justifiably define itself as the "99 percent," but it does not appear that way when anarchists come from as far as Syracuse and Detroit to wreak havoc in Oakland -- hardly the action of 99 percent of the nation.
For as much as there is a need to move into the second phase, my nonscientific polling through the Occupy Oakland and San Francisco movements indicate few have given much thought to any next steps. Were encampments the end goal?
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, though heralded for its commitment to nonviolence, was not immune to those who, for their own agenda, advocated, and in some cases participated in, violence.
But there was leadership that offered a counter narrative to say to the world that such acts are incongruent with the overarching goals of the movement. Absent that type of leadership, the current sound bites that capture the feelings of freelance gadflies offering justification for violence and vandalism against those who would otherwise be considered part of the 99 percent systematically diminish the appeal of its core message.
Hearts and minds cannot be changed if the occupiers are content to cavalierly cling to their position as if it were impervious to the contrarian perspective, facts notwithstanding.
Substantive leadership could take the efforts of local elected officials to disperse the occupiers and transform it into a teachable moment that provides the movement its raison d'être to move to the second phase.
Without leadership that controls the message in a way most can understand, offering tangible solutions, providing guidance and sustaining morale when frustration consumes emotion, the Occupy movements will be vanquished into the flames of the first phase, leaving a few to brag about the several weeks their efforts to have a leaderless movement dominated the news cycle.
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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