THE GREAT WORK-AROUND
by Scott Thompson
Anumber of years ago, I took a job working for a company that imported traditional music from Scotland and Ireland. I was interested in the music and I had experience in sales, so the owner of the company made me the marketing manager. “Manager” was strictly a hypothetical title, as the entire company consisted of three people—the shipping manager, the marketing manager and the owner.
Anyway, I was in charge of contacting the retail stores we dealt with and letting them know about new releases every month. The only problem was, I didn’t know much about computers back then and my new boss had a bewildering method of explaining all possible alternative approaches to a problem simultaneously. So I tried to figure everything out myself whenever possible.
One of the problems I ran into was that most of the software I had wouldn’t do what I needed it to do, although it would usually do part of it. I had to figure out how to create an image in a program that couldn’t save images but could export them to a fax machine. Our online fax service could back-up any fax as an image for your files, so if I needed an image created in the first program I had to start the process of faxing it, back it up as an image from the fax service, and then I would have the image I needed and could cancel the fax I didn’t need. I eventually became something of an expert at making software do things it wasn’t designed to do. Later on I learned that this is called a “work-around”—finding a clever solution by getting around the problem instead of tackling it head on.
Except in the world of wishful thinking, we aren’t going to succeed in Occupy by tackling the powers that be in a direct confrontation. They have far too much power, far too much money, and far too much might. Millions of people make their living by acting as the strong arm of the status quo. Millions more are too invested in maintaining whatever level of security and prosperity they currently have to risk it all by challenging the power structure, not even if it takes away all their liberties one by one. Most of them won’t even particularly mind losing freedoms they weren’t really using in the first place.
On the other hand, most people expect government to provide certain services it either doesn’t provide anymore, soon won’t provide if austerity policies continue, or does not do a good job of providing. If we simply start providing those services ourselves through solidarity and mutual aid, we can simultaneously create alternative structures to replace the corporate power structures that currently exist, win sympathy from the general public, recruit new activists, and grow. If the structures we create work better in practice—which even the mainstream media has been forced to admit is the case with Occupy Sandy as compared to FEMA or the Red Cross—then they will increasingly be seen as having more legitimacy.
Over many years of this type of growth, our structures could eventually render the existing system redundant, irrelevant and self-evidently obsolete. If that day ever comes, those structures will not be able to sustain themselves any longer, and the world will see a revolution created by simply disregarding the existing power structure rather than by storming the presidential palace.
Think of it as the Great Work-Around.