Hold Fast: Opposing the Nihilism of the Right

By Kate Luce Angell

When Occupy Wall Street became news 10 years ago, I was a recently divorced mother of two young kids. My financial situation had dramatically declined since I became a single mom, and at times I had been worried that I could lose my shared custody of my young son and daughter if it got any worse and I had to move back in with my mom. I had parlayed some poorly paid freelance work into a tenuous part-time position in marketing but I was hyper-aware that it could all go away, quickly—including any ability to pay my mortgage, buy groceries and provide for my children.

Occupy was something that gave voice to my anger at the abject terror I felt at the prospect of losing everything I cared about simply because I’d gotten divorced and I couldn’t pay enough for it. It gave me a movement to invest in that spoke to every systemic wrong in the world. And most important—it inspired hope in me that things could change.

Occupy did change things. Organized labor has made gains; progressive candidates across the country have won elections and a majority of Americans now believe that economic inequity, climate change and police brutality are major problems that must be addressed. But for every step forward, the right has tightened its grip. We’re looking at the real possibility of a one-party, authoritarian United States emerging over the next few years. Laws are being enacted that criminalize even common forms of protest—including the tactics and strategies we used 10 years ago to move the needle of public awareness.

Things seem pretty hopeless, and they may get worse before they get better. But besides organizing and fighting like hell, there are a few other things we need to do.

  1. Don’t give up. It’s what they want. We’re being attacked from all sides, at all times, by the brutish nihilism of the right. The magniloquent, endless lies; the gleeful corruption, from petty to total; the commitment to dehumanizing anyone who displays compassion or appears different; the insistence on taking us all down with the ship if it just “trolls the libs”—as the writer Adam Serwer has said, “the cruelty is the point.” Hope is a radical act in these times. And I don’t mean the hope of watching others get their “just desserts,” but of seeing justice served, people’s lives improved, a better world for ourselves and the people who come after us. The hope that things can change. It’s what drew many of us to Occupy in the first place and we need to hold on to it. It’s what makes us who we are.
  1. Believe—but not everything. Nihilism and despair don’t serve us—they only serve the opposition. Holding on to our core principles and beliefs are crucial, especially while the right has descended into a fact-free mass delusion. But conspiracy theories and paranoia aren’t confined to the right. While we all have every reason to doubt what we’re told, it’s more important than ever that we don’t fall victim to false information. Truth matters, and it should matter to us—plus we’ve already seen first-hand during this pandemic that distinguishing between fact and fiction is a powerful survival tactic. Truth is on our side.
  2. You are the most potent weapon in this fight. Take care of yourself. Activism of any kind is exhausting, and self-care is a radical act when the world around us treats us as disposable. But activism requires activists—Occupying requires people to occupy. We need to value ourselves, both our minds and bodies, as key tools for change. It’s easy to get caught up in the urgent, catastrophic need around us and feel guilt for resting or taking a pause, but burning out doesn’t help anyone. As the folks at the Nap Ministry say, “Rest is resistance.”

Ten years ago, I would not have believed how much worse things would get over the following decade. But I also could not have predicted that we’d win some of the victories we’ve seen, or that so many of us would remain committed to the same vision. Many, even most, of the people I knew from Occupy Pittsburgh have gone on to continue the fight in different ways—by organizing, by volunteering, by contributing or supporting others. And now there are people too young to have seen the camp in the People’s Park who have joined that fight, too. Let us hold fast—to our work, our belief in justice, and our hope for change.

View of Occupied People’s Park—Sixth Ave. and Grant St.
On Oct. 15, 2011, 4000+ people–made up of social justice organizations, unions, churches, activists and everyday citizens marched through Downtown Pittsburgh chanting “Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out” and “We Are the 99%.” Demanding social and economic justice, the march led to a 117-day Occupation of the public park at Sixth Ave. and Grant St. Arguably the longest Occupation in the world, Pittsburgh’s was the only Occupation to have successfully seized land from a bank—which BNY Mellon had previously seized from the public. During the Occupation, passersby
honked their horns in support and shouted encouragement while citizens across the region donated money, food, clothing and more in support of Occupiers. After 10 years, Pittsburghers continue working to obtain social and economic justice for the 99%.