Occupy Wall Street Now Unoccupied but Stronger
Occupy Wall Street or “Occupy Together,” as the broader movement beyond Wall Street has been called, became an international phenomenon faster than the Tea Party became a national force. Now, as the movement is being forced to unoccupy parks and other public spaces it is pressed to rethink its strategy. While the Occupy Wall Street movement’s detractors may see the banishment from parks as a sign the occupation is breaking up, forward-thinking occupants see it as a moment to change from one tactic that has been very successful as a way of launching and gaining publicity to other strategies that may be more effective for actually making change.
In the meantime, what is impressive about many of the movements around the country is how peaceably they have responded to the police who are tasked with arresting them. It is questionable that communities have a right to impose park closing times that discriminate against the Occupy Wall Street movement when such closing times did not exist before or to impose restrictions on demonstrations in the parks so long as occupiers are not setting up temporary residence. Many videos show the protestors behaving kindly and civilly toward cops as their arms are bound and they are arrested — hardly the rabble that some like Glenn Beck are claiming them to be.
It is time for Occupy Wall Street to adapt
Organizers — to the limited extent that the movement has central organization — are stating that the Occupy movement has already forced public debate in new directions and that the acts of public theater, such as besieging the homes of billionaires, are no longer needed. The movement now has international attention, so it can shift from acts aimed primarily at gaining attention to community involvement that more specifically spells out needed changes. In other words, during the first phase, the movement worked at broadening. Now it is shifting to deepening. It did so without any central intelligence telling it what to do. The movement is already organically adapting to the changes forced upon it by society.
Deepening the movement means getting more involved in existing community action groups and getting those groups to work for corporate and societal corrections. It means conducting more specific campaigns, such as encouraging runs (boycotts) on the most egregious banks.
Han Shan, one Occupier in New York said, “We poured a tremendous amount of resources into defending a park that was nearly symbolic. I think the movement has shown it transcends geography.” Now that the movement is not so focused on occupying ground for its symbolic value, it can concentrate its resources on other things. Some proponents had already suggested that the movement was now using too much energy just to hold turf so that holding the turf was almost becoming an end in itself. That is a problem common to any movement — the strategy can easily become the cause over time … as participants think, This is what we do.
Adbusters, the Canadian media organization that is largely responsible for orchestrating the Occupy movement, said that it is now time for the protestors to declare victory for having shaped public debate and to move indoors to strategize change. It is time, in other words, to switch strategies. And what good timing: with winter already hitting hard in some areas, occupation of concrete parks could become hazardous to life itself. City officials may have done the movement a favor by providing it with a dramatic transition to its next phase.
It is not the largest and strongest who survive the ages, but the ones most able to adapt. The Occupy movement is showing adaptability and peaceful restraint in many areas, in spite incidents in other areas where things have been a little less peaceful.
Occupy Wall Street gets rebirth
In moving people out of parks, police forces may be doing the Occupy Wall Street movement another unintentional favor. In recent weeks, crimes have broken out in camps as is likely to happen in any large group of people that lacks the social structures, as a group, necessary to police itself. Where you have many people, you have crimes. Detractors of the movement were trying to hang these crimes around the neck of the movement itself. Now that the movement is being forced out of public spaces in some cities, this problem automatically goes away before opponents of the movement have been able to make those incidents stick as a label.
Homeless people, who were not motivated by the philosophy of the group, naturally moved into any urban landscape that allowed encampment. As a result, drug use, some intoxicated violence, and squalor swelled around the encampments. The movement, itself, risked becoming identified with that, and detractors were only to glad to try to forge that identity. By moving on, the Occupy movement is freed of that association. As one New York professor pointed out, this association could have changed the group identity from “we are the 99 percent” to “we are urban pathology.” The evictions take all of that away and give opportunity for a freshening change.
That is not to say people should not resist eviction if they are not breaking any laws. Of course, where cities already have rules against encampment in parks, no free speech is being violated in evicting those who camp there. That is a camping issue, not a speech issue. The fact that one happens to be speaking while camping does not make outdoor camping in such places acceptable if it is not allowed at any time for reasons having nothing to do with speech.
What Occupy Wall Street detractors don’t understand
While in some places like Rome, the movement has led to violence and vandalism, most of the occupy movements around the globe have remained peaceful. The press, of course, needs drama, and naturally has focused on incidents that provided it. That’s not detraction, that’s press.
Those who love Wall Street and think it is capable of self-policing, and that it needs no regulation and who think that we should depend on the benevolence of billionaires by continuing their extraordinary tax breaks have focused on the violence to discredit the movement. It did not serve their own interest to calculate that most of the violence probably came from anarchists joining in on the parade of law-abiding citizens who are fed up with corruption and Capitol (as well as capital) cronyism. Anarchists like any good excuse to protest and create mayhem. But the Occupy movement was not made up of anarchists, even if some joined in.
Is Occupy Wall Street a peasant’s revolt!
In a sense it is, except that it is a peasant revolt joined by many who are well off, too, and who simply hate the injustice they are seeing.
Detractors are not interested in facts, only in scores against their perceived adversary. So, several commentators on FOX news have tried to create facts out of speculation by saying the people involved in Occupy Wall Street are unemployed because they don’t want to work. That simply isn’t true. What IS true is that the Occupy movements were often asked to locate in the same places the homeless already occupied, and detractors singled out the homeless as representatives then said the movement is full of people who do not want to work or are not capable of holding a job.
Another criticism early on was that the movement does not even know specifically what it wants. I think it was naive and absurd (and probably disingenuous) to expect a truly grassroots movement to have a well-defined agenda from day one. What the people in the movement know is that they are tired of crony capitalism where either Liberals or Conservatives bail out wealthy corporations while doing nothing that actually creates jobs. They’re enraged that so much damage was brought to the world by so few, all of whom live in the top five percent or work for those who do, yet almost no one has been brought to trial. They are weary and wary of the trillions of dollars flowing from the government (taxpayers) to private enterprise with almost no Congressional oversight. They know many things in common that they don’t like, and they don’t see enough being done about it. In many cases they see the wrong things being done, such as bailing out billionaires.
Detractors make the mistake of thinking the movement needs to be an ORGANIZATION with clear goals; but it isn’t that at all. It’s a MOVEMENT. It is people moving in rage against many social injustices. To expect it to be an organization is to expect it to be what it is NOT, as each region of people will define for themselves what specifics they are most enraged about. That will happen because they meet each other, talk, and find out what specific complaints they have in common. It is something that evolves through the process of these protests that bring outraged people together. The mistake is to think that not being a defined organization makes them less legitimate. Sometimes I think one of the problems mankind has is its desire to turn everything into and organization, which then becomes an institution. This is a MOVEMENT! It is people moving.
When there is great wrongdoing and massive failure, people have a right to be enraged, and they will eventually gather if nothing effective is done about it. The people of the Occupy movement are in the process of trying to figure out what has gone wrong and how to fix it. Now that they are moving beyond the initial phase of merely gathering, getting to know each other, and gaining attention and participation, they will begin focusing on specific changes. The specifics will come.
The ignorant claims of the Occupy Wall Street detractors
I have read such ignorant comments of late about the Occupy movement as…
“The protesters don’t necessarily know what they want, of course…they just know they don’t want what they have. Instead, they want some of somebody else’s…just like everybody else does. And they want the hired gun of the state to seize and deliver it for them…just like everybody else does…. So what’s their solution to a “fairer” distribution? More for everybody! Free education…universal healthcare.” (Joel Bowman publishes The Daily Reckoning, a blog listed on the blogroll of this website because it contains a lot of good thinking, but Joel must have been smoking pot this day.)
How is it this informed writer can state in one breath that the protestors don’t know what they want and then go on to state in specific terms what their solution is? Bowman belies his own argument as a mere uninformed opinion. He projects onto the Occupy Wall Street his own attitude that protestors are a shiftless lot. “They just want something for free.” Actually, one thing they definitely don’t want is for CEOs to keep getting free bonuses that they (the protestors) have to pay for as taxpayers who bailed out the failed CEO. They are not for this major reassignment of wealth through billionaire welfare.
Elsewhere I’ve read (or heard on video) conservatives saying …
- The movement is a “growing mob” (House majority leader Eric Cantor) or
- “shiftless protestors” (The Tea Party Express) or
- “pure, genuine parasites,” “bored trust-fund kids” (Rush Limbaugh) or
- is engaged in “class warfare.” “This is a coordinated movement on the part of unions and Obama supporters to distract the American people from the real problem.” (GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain) or the movement is made up of…
- people who need to “take a shower and get a job.” “There really isn’t a uniform theme here. They don’t know what they want.” (Bill O’Reilly) or
- “If you put every left wing cause in a blender and hit power, this is the sludge you’d get. It’s basically anti-capitalism, and they want to redistribute the wealth.” (Jesse Watters, FOXnation)
- “700 left-wing, radical hippie protestors.” “The people [in the movement] take a crap on cop cars and have sex in public.” “It’s a pig pen out there.” “They’re trust-fund babies.” “This radicalism is class warfare inspired by leading Democrats.” “Who gets the bailouts? It’s Barack Obama!” (Sean Hannity)
- “These are the spawn of the worst excesses of the ideological left…. This is manufactured chaos, manufactured crises. It has been since day one, and we’re seeing all of the ugly, wretched, criminal manifestations of it.” (Michelle Malkin) They have even been called…
- “nuts and lunatics and fascists” (Karl Rove),
- “demonic loons” (Ann Coulter), and
- “Radicals, revolutionaries, Communists and Islamists that are working together to destroy Capitalism and the Western way of life. They’re calling for the violent overthrow of the United States government.” (Glenn Beck)
Beck further stated that the only thing that can bring an end to this movement “will be the Night of Long Knives. It will be a purging of this country.” (Apparently a reference to the political murders carried out in a few nights by the Nazi’s in 1934.) He added, “Capitalists, if you think that you can play footsies with these people, you’re wrong. They will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you… They’ll kill everybody…. It’s terrifying!” Nothing like blatant fear mongering, but Beck’s hair-raising claims are disproven when he says in the same talk that his observations of these so-called facts of the movement all occurred while going on a nice walk with his little daughter through an area that was under occupation. If it was really that dangerous, why did he not have her in his arms while running in the opposite direction?
There is a lot of vitriol from people who try to find the worst elements in crowds of thousands of people and make them the representative images of the movement as a whole.
Where the Occupy Wall Street detractors have it all wrong
Where detractors are wrong is in thinking the movement will peter out if it finds no focus. Again, it is a movement of outraged people, not an organization. There is little chance of it ending soon, even if it is forced out of parks. I have wondered for two years why I did not hear outrage in the streets over the social injustices that I think 99% of any populace can agree on. We can disagree on what it takes to make a good economy, but 99% should be able to agree that any CEO who has presided over the bankruptcy of his company should not EVER get ANY bonus, much less millions of dollars in bonus money. That boards on Wall Street have allowed that to happen under their watch, clearly shows some strong political protest is needed to turn Wall Street’s entrenched group thinking around.
So long as social disparity continues at its present high level between the haves and have-nots, the have-nots are going to become increasingly enraged and enaged, and they will be joined by a great many haves who also have the human decency to act against injustice. If it is only liberals who hate injustice, then conservatives should be ashamed because good conservatives were raised on better principles than ignoring socio-economic injustice.
One would think that conservatives in the Tea Party would be joining Occupy Wall Street. It has, after all, not made any organized declaration of being Liberal or Democrat. You would think Republicans more than anyone would be against socialism. That is what you call it when the cost of errors is nationalized so that all tax payers become liable for those costs of failure and when banks and corporations are nationalized in terms of government control. Why shouldn’t conservatives join the chorus of voices outraged against the nationalization (socializing) of banking failures.
Yes, the person who is downsized out of a job, has her home foreclosed, must turn around and pay taxes that helped bail out the bank CEO who fired her and foreclosed on the house. That kind of thing should make good people angry… even if they are Republicans who worked for the bank. Yet, the most outspoken conservatives are siding against Occupy Wall Street, as if it is impossible in their mind that the titans of Wall Street could have done anything wrong that they need to be held accountable for … or as if protesting greed, wrongdoing, and transfers of wealth from taxpayers to bankers is the same as protesting Capitalism. I find it peculiar that Republicans are failing to recognize that these people are crying out against the very things they hate. Yes, a few of the Occupy Wall Street crowd are socialists. Most are simply mad that their wealth is being redistributed to the wealthy via government bailouts to billionaires who take part of those bailouts home as income.
Affiliating or siding with any particular party would be the worst thing that could happen to Occupy Wall Street — whether it became a liberal Democrat movement or a conservative Republican movement. As soon as it becomes either, it has lost the ears of half of America. People tune out anything the other side has to say. Of course, politicians love to tap into such movements to try to drain the social energy toward their own cause and support, so some liberals have tried to claim the movement is a liberal movement. If it is, it shouldn’t be. And for the most part people in the movement have tried to avoid being co-opted by either side. It is a movement, not an organization, and should be joined by any people who are enraged against blatant injustice. The transfer of trillions of dollars of wealth from the poor and middle class to the richest of Americans is something something average working Republicans and Democrats should both be angry about. So, join hands with a few people you don’t usually like for once.
Disgust over greed, corruption and ineffective government is neither liberal nor conservative. There is plenty of room to agree that that it is unjust to let capitalist tycoons benefit for their successes with individual bonuses and golden parachutes while socializing all the costs of their mistakes or corruption. It is the latter part that is the problem. There is plenty of room for liberal and conservative citizens to gang up on their governments to push for stiff and swift action against corrupt business leaders. Neither liberal voters nor conservatives benefit from corruption in business or government. There is plenty of room to protest how the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Obama Administration have all failed to do anything significant to turn the tide on unemployment in order to push them to do better. There is plenty of room for both sides to protest corporate greed where CEOs were drawing enormous salaries while laying off both Republican and Democrat workers and drawing even bigger bonuses while steering their companies straight into bankruptcy.
It is not the job of the Occupy Wall Street movement to create the strategies that will work. It is their job to shine a light on these injustices in order to push their politicians to do the work of creating solutions and do it much more effectively than has happened to date. That’s why the politicians make the big money … to do the heavy lifting. The movement is there to say, “You’re not doing your job. You’re not earning your keep, yet your spending mine to bail out the rich.”
And now let’s be happy everyone
Or, at least, filled with jubilee.
Perhaps there is only one answer to this entire global mess — after which we can argue about what kind of foundations a new economy needs. That would be an idea that comes from ancient Jewish beliefs called a “Year of Jubilee.” In the Bible God mandated that very fifty years all debts throughout the nation be forgiven. I think the problems throughout the world are so great and so complicated, that the best thing we could do may be to immediately declare international bankruptcy everywhere. Declare all debts forgiven. In other words, give the entire global economy a reboot and start from scratch.
The Occupy movements around the globe have much in common, and critics have not cared to look too hard if they cannot figure out what those commonalities are — unrest over unemployment and over governments that seem to do more for corporations than for the unemployed. Anger over tax burdens thrown on the unemployed in order to provide social welfare to rich corporations. The complete ineptitude of governments everywhere — liberal or conservative — to correct the problems and reverse unemployment, even as they aid large corporations.
Caveat: My feelings for Occupy Wall Street will change a lot if the demonstrations stop working within city laws by applying for permits to occupy park spaces or start damaging property, blocking streets, etc. Park rules are park rules. If permits are required for occupation, that is not a restriction of freedom of speech as one does not have to be in a park at night to be able to speak in the park and one would be limited from being in the park even if they had not intention of speaking or not. Nor are regular city rules an impingement on the constitutional freedom of assembly, as municipal laws that rule out camping do so for individuals as much as for groups of individuals. So, far incidents of breaking rules, harassing police, etc. appear for the most part to be limited to radicals who are will gladly use any protest as a chance for violent and disruptive sport and to occasional moments of individual tempers getting out of hand.
Further reading on economic disparity: Middle-class areas shrinking in US according to study