Why should anyone care about the Occupy Wall Street movement? Aren’t they just a bunch of kids with nothing better to do than whine about the lack of a utopian existence? Isn’t that little gathering of peaceniks over with?
There are a lot of people who would like for it to be. Most municipalities have broken up the occupations citing a host of public health and safety reasons but there is no shortage of people who are willing to continue the protest.
I hung out with the Portland, Oregon office the other day (graciously provided by St. Francis Church) and they are busily planning their next steps. They’ve procured a bus and are outfitting it into a mobile occupation bandwagon. They hold meetings and like any group they have plenty of disagreements over what direction to take or what steps are necessary to get there. And despite the perception created by the media and other critics that #OWS doesn’t have a well-defined goal, they definitely have clearly defined issues. It’s just that they are numerous with each of them intertwined into the bigger scheme of things. The primary complaints are to protest corporate influence on democracy, address the growing disparity in wealth as well as the absence of legal repercussions behind the recent global financial crisis. Many critics view the endeavour as Quixotic folly; tilting at Manhattan skyscrapers, if you will.
But there is a good reason to take the movement seriously.
The people who caused this financial crisis will likely never suffer the consequences of their actions but millions of Americans are suffering from the repercussions of their greed.Yet the outrage seems to be missing or somewhat lukewarm. I can think of only three explanations: complacency, complexity, or just being plain busy with living. You might say…preoccupied.
It would be easy to attribute an atmosphere of complacency that seems to exist in the politics of today as providing these corporate looters carte blanche to control our policy, our elections, our budgets, our taxes, etc. But it isn’t so much complacency as it is resignation that the bureaucracy has become too big to question or challenge. It’s so ingrained just as the mobs were back in the Roaring Twenties that it’s just become an accepted way of doing things. Most people think it’s pointless to expect to be able to do anything to change it. These are the people who tend not to focus on anything outside their immediate sphere of influence. It’s simply not their concern.
Then there are those who find the problem too large and complicated to grasp. Besides, isn’t that what we elect representatives to do? The trouble is that there are entrenched interests who have been doing this so long that even the best of wide-eyed optimists get to D. C. only to be chopped off at the knees until they are so jaded that they just end up playing the same old games. And whether we like it or not, politicians these days rely on keeping those elected positions through donations. Those donations are mostly from monied or corporate interests since Citizens United.
Finally, most of us are just busy trying to get by. We’ve got bills to pay, babies to feed, soccer games to attend after school, deadlines at work, etc. Most of us don’t have the option to live in a tent in Zucotti Park (unless that’s the only place we have to live).
And those who are trying to wrest control of democracy from the majority are counting on that distraction to keep us from being engaged and outraged. The problem then becomes our complicity. The lack of an objection by the majority is a tacit agreement with the wealthy, connected minority. To put it succinctly, if we fail to object, they’ll do it again.
There are always consequences to our actions. I would argue that there are also consequences to our inaction as well. We can’t afford to let our complicity dictate the lack of consequences for Wall Street’s actions.
- Robert Teitelman: Stephen Bainbridge’s Corporate Governance After the Financial Crisis (huffingtonpost.com)
- Paul Krugman: ‘People Should Be In Jail’ Because Of Financial Crisis (huffingtonpost.com)
OWS has the potential to become something specitacular. I think they could benefit from a little more organization, however.
One reason why similar movements were so effective (such as the Grand Army of the Republic, or the Bonus Army) is because they were difficult to impugn. Attacking war vets is political suicide, and no matter how much the politicians in DC wanted them to just go away, they could not say so publicly.
It’s much easier to malign someone with a needle in their arm or a meth pipe on their lips. A camp that is well kept and orderly will elicit positive responses. One that is covered in trash will not.
This is not to say that the homeless or the desttitute shoudl be excluded from OWS. One can be both poor and politically active. It does mean however that anyone, homeless or not, that gets so blind drunk that s/he is hallucinating should not be present at a political rally. If the purpose for one’s presence at an OWS rally is to protest, then they should be welcomed. If present for any other reason, they should be unwelcomed.
Further, I question the value of having “black block” anarchists present at OWS rallies. For people whose concept of anarchism is a developed political theory (cf. Baukanin), they can have a positive influence on the movement. Someone whose concept of anarchism is based entirely in adolescent rage against one’s parents, I don’t know how helpful that is. Remember WTO ’99? Did breaking shop windows and defacatcing/urinating in the street really do anything to help the protest?
The reason why unions work is because they’re organized. They have a coherent message before they strike or engage in an action. There’s a clearly defined grievance and everyone’s on board with airing it in a manner that catches both the public’s attention and empathy.
If the Wobblies at the Lowell “Bread and Roses” strike were alive to walk through an OWS encampment, what would they see? Would Elizabeth Gurley Flynn or Big Bill Haywood recognize these protestors as their kin? Would Mother Jones lead her army of child laborers through an OWS ptotest without fear of the children being harmed? Would Joe Hill play a concert there, without fear of some tweaker trying to start a fight?
Would Eugene V Debs be allowed to speak, or would the protestors boo him off the stage the way they booed John Lewis?
Don’t mourn, OWS. Organize.