Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Wall Street - pathetic farce, or potential force?

I've been watching the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests as they've spread across the country and around the globe. They're a curious mishmash of genuine feeling and ridiculous stupidity, of reasoned resistance and mindless anarchy. I've been hoping that they might grow into a Left-wing, or progressive, equivalent to the Tea Party (something which is desperately needed, IMHO); but so far, I'm not seeing it. All they appear to be is a shapeless, formless amoeba wobbling across the political, social and economic landscape, seemingly made up of the usual 'useful idiots'. That's a great pity, because the movement originally held out - and still holds out - the promise of being something genuinely useful and game-changing in US politics.

The problems of the OWS protests (and protesters) have been very well summed up by others. Here's a selection of useful commentaries - largely from their opponents, it's true, but the points they make are no less valid for that. If the OWS people would only listen to and learn from these folks, they'd be a heck of a lot more effective.

  • As Dave Ramsay points out, "A lot of people on Twitter are saying I totally agree with the OWS demands and goals. The only problem is that I have no idea what their demands and goals are. And neither does anyone else. If all you ever do is stomp around, yell and hold up signs protesting a million different things, sure you’ll get some attention, but over time, you’ll just look foolish. You end up coming across like a three-year-old having a temper tantrum. This is what’s happening to the OWS movement. They’re being discredited because no one has stepped forward and really stated what it is they’re after. The whole group is just coming across like a bunch of jacked-up, jobless, wannabe hippies. That’s not going to change anything in this country. You’ve got to state your goals clearly if you want to accomplish something."
  • Many of the protesters are so busy arguing with each other, and resisting attempts by leaders (some elected, some seemingly self-appointed) to organize and structure the protests, that they appear to have forgotten why they're there.
  • OWS protesters are not representative of the political views of the majority of the US population. As the Wall Street Journal points out, "Occupy Wall Street is a group of engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation. Among the general public, by contrast, 41% of Americans self-identify as conservative, 36% as moderate, and only 21% as liberal."
  • Worse than that, at least some OWS protesters appear to be abysmally ignorant of some of the most fundamental elements of the problems they're protesting. As New York Magazine asks, "Are You Smarter Than a Wall Street Occupier?" Based on their survey, the odds are pretty good that every reader of this blog most certainly is! It probably doesn't help that in some centers at least, it's emerged that many OWS protesters are allegedly being paid to walk around with signs and chant slogans. Some reports have mentioned this, and at least one blogger has already identified this happening in her home area. Paid protesters are rather less likely to know the facts about what they're 'protesting' than those who actually care about the cause(s) concerned.

I think the approaches to OWS are perhaps best summarized by the following opposing perspectives. The first is from a supporter, Douglas Rushkoff, writing for CNN.

... unlike a political campaign designed to get some person in office and then close up shop (as in the election of Obama), this is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet.

Occupy Wall Street is meant more as a way of life that spreads through contagion, creates as many questions as it answers, aims to force a reconsideration of the way the nation does business and offers hope to those of us who previously felt alone in our belief that the current economic system is broken.

But unlike a traditional protest, which identifies the enemy and fights for a particular solution, Occupy Wall Street just sits there talking with itself, debating its own worth, recognizing its internal inconsistencies and then continuing on as if this were some sort of new normal. It models a new collectivism, picking up on the sustainable protest village of the movement's Egyptian counterparts, with food, first aid, and a library.

. . .

The members of Occupy Wall Street may be as unwieldy, paradoxical, and inconsistent as those of us living in the real world. But that is precisely why their new approach to protest is more applicable, sustainable and actionable than what passes for politics today. They are suggesting that the fiscal operating system on which we are attempting to run our economy is no longer appropriate to the task. They mean to show that there is an inappropriate and correctable disconnect between the abundance America produces and the scarcity its markets manufacture.

And in the process, they are pointing the way toward something entirely different than the zero-sum game of artificial scarcity favoring top-down investors and media makers alike.

There's more at the link.

If that touchy-feely screed makes you want to tear your hair out in frustration at its impracticality and vaguely other-worldly feeling, here's a different perspective from David Galland of Casey Research.

While it may be a conceit, as a young person arrested in the Oakland Induction Center riots, circa 1967, I like to think I know at least a little about grouping together in order to take it to the man.

So, based on my experience, how does OWS stack up?

In a word, pathetic. For three reasons.

1. Lack of a solidifying (or even coherent) purpose.

. . .

Occupy Wall Street appears to be little more than a gathering spot for the misguided, ill-informed, disgruntled and disenchanted. That is not to say that there aren't some legitimate gripes represented among the motley. Rather it is that unless and until they actually decide on a specific objective, their chances are slim of accomplishing anything more than encouraging copycat groups in other countries to riot for more targeted purposes – for instance, in Italy to protest government austerity measures.

As to who is encouraging those other groups, look no further than the television vans around the park perimeter. I strongly suspect some producer somewhere decided that OWS could be made into good drama for the nightly newsertainment, and so it came to pass. Given the lack of vigor in the park, it wouldn't surprise me at all if said producer had to periodically nudge the lumps with the toe of his boot and encourage them to make some noise for the cameras.

2. What leaders they have, appear to be both idiots and ideologues. A leader leads, as in getting the masses to act in concert in order to achieve a specific goal. Given the Tower of Babble gibberish so clearly in evidence, it's clear that no one near the top of the flock has a unifying vision or the ability to rally the troops in cohesive action.

If you want to understand just how painfully moronic the purported thought-leaders of this movement are, you only have to take a few minutes to watch this YouTube video. (I have to warn you, however; this may cause irreversible brain damage.) The speaker is none other than uber-greenie Bill McKibben.

. . .

3. If You Aren't Getting Arrested, You Are Doing Something Wrong!

. . .

The protestors, which number only in the dozens, are encamped in a small park in a fairly non-descript and unimportant corner of Manhattan. They are literally surrounded, in order of scale, by the police, the media (in nice, cozy vans), and Falafel vendors (it's hard not to love the contradiction between the signs saying "Down with Capitalism" and the Falafel vendors doing land office business selling the protestors their grub).

In other words, like the "Free Speech Zones" now mandatory for anyone caring to express an opposing opinion as presidential motorcades rush by, the Occupy Wall Street folks have allowed themselves to be corralled within the boundaries of a designated protest area, approved by the powers-that-be as suitable for the malcontents.

. . .

If I learned one thing back in the Sixties, it is that (once you decide on an objective) you need to assemble in the spot that most forcibly gets your point across – by disrupting business as usual – until the government has no choice but to arrest you, after which you return to same scene and repeat until someone gives. You win if the other guy blinks.

. . .

But what I'd really do is to forget Wall Streeters; they are mostly only symbiotic parasites stuck in the guts of the Washington overlords. And so, speaking only hypothetically here (because one would never advocate an open uprising against one's own government), were I leading the Occupy Wall Street mob, I'd have them on the next bus to the Golden City of Oz. And once there, I'd hand out chains and padlocks for the mob to lock themselves, like early Christmas ornaments, to the gates of the White House and to the front of the congressional hive.

. . .

If you sense a certain disappointment in my remarks, you would be right.

For starters, the protestors provide such tangible proof of the failure of the US educational system. Things have gotten so bad, so politically correct, so politicized, so degraded by teacher bias, so removed from the hard sciences, so enamored of the big lies, that the vast majority of rank and file down at Zuccotti appear almost devoid of reason – and therefore rationality – about what it is they are doing.

Secondly, I'm disappointed because if there was ever a good time for a protest – against the sovereign states with their constant meddling in their economies, in starting wars, tampering with justice, interfering with the personal pursuit of happiness, and regulating business out of business – it is now.

Unfortunately, if there is a unifying theme even remotely present in the OWS movement, it is that the government needs to meddle more, not less.

If I wasn't so lazy, or maybe indifferent, I might suggest a counter-demonstration with a simple slogan.

Stop Meddling!

Concise and straightforward. Better, from the standpoint of organizing, it opens up a wide vista of potential protest locales. The Fed, the FDA, the Congress, the Treasury, the White House, the State Department, the Department of War… why, the list is (sadly) almost endless at this point.

And it wouldn't start on Wall Street, but about 227 miles south.

Again, more at the link.

I'm more on the side of David Galland than that of Douglas Rushkoff; but I'm still hoping that some form of workable leadership will emerge to energize the OWS movement into a political force for change. Right now, it's nothing of the sort . . . but it doesn't have to stay so ineffectual. We really need a Left-wing equivalent to the Tea Party; people who are fed up with politics as usual, who are willing to kick out incumbents who are slaves to party-political and lobbyist influences and replace them with representatives who will be what their title suggests - representatives of the people, not special interests!

I may not see eye-to-eye with the political views of many on the Left, but I think I'd have far more in common with a left-wing Tea Party equivalent than I'd have with either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. For a start, there's so much we'd agree on! Just think about it:

  • Fed up with bloated, inefficient government programs? Check.
  • Fed up with the banksters and their predatory, thieving, dishonest ways? Check.
  • Fed up with the War On (Some) Drugs and the erosion of our civil liberties that's followed in its wake? Check.
  • Fed up with corruption, whether in politics, or big business, or big labor? Check.
  • Fed up with Big Brother, as evidenced by the TSA and all the other alphabet-soup agencies? Check.

Serious, thoughtful people on both the Left and the Right agree on all those things! I see the OWS protesters inveigling against them, and I hear the Tea Party saying almost exactly the same things! Why aren't they talking to each other?

I can see a really useful, practical alliance in US politics between pragmatic people on the Left and the Right. We don't have to agree on the solutions. We only have to agree on two points if we're to work together:

  1. The present problems of our country have been caused by doing things the same old way, for far too long.
  2. The only way to fix those problems is to get rid of every politician who continues to do things the same old way, and replace them with those who'll be more responsible to and representative of those who elect them.

Given those two points of agreement, much becomes possible. What about, for example, an agreement within a state that, in constituencies with a predominantly Leftist electorate, the Rightists will vote for the independent, OWS-aligned candidate instead of the "mainstream" Democratic or Republican party candidate? That alignment of independent votes might well be enough to get the independent candidate elected. What if, in the predominantly Rightist constituency next door, the OWS-aligned voters agreed to support the independent, Tea Party-aligned candidate instead of those aligned with the mainstream? We'd end up with a lot more independent-minded candidates in Washington, who aren't tied to old loyalties and rivalries. It's unlikely they'd agree on much, at least at the beginning; but I'm sure they'd work better together than the mainstream parties do right now, because they'd be starting out with a common recognition that the old ways are broken, and can't be fixed. They'd be willing to try something new.

That may be the only hope to fix this country's politics before the 'Old Guard' flushes us all down the sewer of history . . . and that's why I really, truly hope that the OWS protests grow into something more sustainable, more organized, more intelligent, and more pragmatic. Therein lies hope.

(I also hope they can avoid being taken over by establishment politicians and the Democratic Party. That way lies disaster. The same applies to the Tea Party movement. If it's taken over by conservative politics-as-usual, it's doomed.)



KurtP said...

The problem with a Democrat Tea party is that everyone who was a Dem and turned off by the hyper-partisan and socialist lurch to the communist side has already left them.

All the Democrats have are the ones that don't see anything wrong with the way Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and hte iWON ran rough-shod over everything that made America- America in their first two years as a governing body.

Anonymous said...

Just based on what I've been reading and seeing, the first problem in getting the OWS folks to talk to TEA Party people is getting through the fog of foolishness thad the media have been spreading about "TEA Party bad, OWS wonderful." The second and probably more difficult part would seem to be getting past the cadre of hard-core communists and government-union people in order to reach those OWSers who might be willing to listen if someone then cleared the fog of foolishness.

However, any desire I might have had to express any sympathy for OWS et al vanished when the various "leaders" and "spokespeople" refused to repudiate the American N@zis and anti-Semites that have made themselves painfully obvious.


Ryan R. said...

Maybe, just maybe, the talking will keep going from here... But it's a start. Compromise can very well be the glue that holds America together... If only we can reach it.