Monday, November 28, 2011

1968? Really?

New York Magazine has a wonderfully positive piece today about Occupy Wall Street/etc. centered around a main figure in their activist community. The whole thing is pretty predictable ("OWS had scored plenty of victories" vs. "provided the right with fuel for feral slander... and casual caricature."), but it also highlights something that has been really annoying me for weeks now.

The article reads:
"It’s perfectly possible that... the raucous events of November 17 were the last gasps of a rigor-mortizing rebellion. But no one seriously involved in OWS buys a word of it. What they believe instead is that, after a brief period of retrenchment, the protests will be back even bigger and with a vengeance in the spring—when, with the unfurling of the presidential election, the whole world will be watching. Among Occupy’s organizers, there is fervid talk about occupying both the Democratic and Republican conventions. About occupying the National Mall in Washington, D.C. About, in effect, transforming 2012 into 1968 redux."
It seems to me that it's probably true that the Occupiers believe that they are the second coming of the Civil Rights Era... Talking to many of its more fervent supporters over the last couple months, I have certainly gotten that impression.

But let's look a little more closely at a key difference, shall we?

In 1968, everyone - from Martin Luthor King, Jr. to Malcom X to the Black Panthers, to the cops turning fire hoses on protesters - knew what they were there for. Not as a matter of abstract "outrage", but as a matter of clearly defined principle, with clearly defined end goals.

Simply put, it goes a bit like this:
  • Problem: African Americans were being systematically denied access to the American political system, and in the market.
  • Solution: Amend the Constitution to be explicitly include and define the requirements of government to protect the rights of African Americans as well, use Federal government resources to enforce these changes at the state & local levels which had been the main violators of rights at the time.
Now, I know this is simplified and that many people disagreed on both the methods of protest, and the specific details of the final changes... and, for that matter, the final implementation also included a handful of rights-violating provisions of their own. But one thing that I think is relatively undeniable here - even when different visions collide (i.e. MLK vs. Malcolm X), they are still defined visions! There were always relatively concretely outlined goals and recommended courses of action.

Can we say anything even remotely like that for Occupy Wall Street?

As far as I can tell, a few months in at this point, not only does every single 10-person "occupy" group around the country have its own "General Assembly" and official positions (maybe), every single individual member takes whichever positions they want a la carte anyway.

Ok............ How?
Do they want redistribution of wealth from "The 1%" to "The 99%"? Is there any universe in which that is not anything but a nonsensical and bullshit platitude? Do they want to prevent corporations from having Political Action Committees and lobbying Congress? How does this square with free speech, freedom of assembly and the freedom of individuals (make no mistake, corporations are - like OWS - still just a collection of individual people banding together for a common purpose) to petition the government for redress of grievances?

Do they want to overthrow "Capitalism" and replace it with... Communism? Social Welfare State? Direct Democracy? Do they want to simply increase the already staggeringly large number of regulations already on the books? If so... Which regulations?

Let's say that all of OWS agrees that the "problem", so to speak, is that "corporations" are too powerful and a corrupting influence on government. I could even agree to a limited degree... but even this type of statement is far too broad to be meaningful. Which corporations? All of them? Even the sole-proprietership bakery in say, McCool Junction, Nebraska, which has no lobbying connections or capability?

The whole OWS movement is one giant ball of contradictions, conflicting (or outright confused) intellectual viewpoints, and meaningless platitudes that only serve to obscure reality. The whole idea that it's leaderless and that it's very individually based entirely misses the point. If you want to be a bunch of individuals, each with his or her own unique set of values, goals and ideas on best courses of action - then do what I do: Don't join a freaking group!

The whole point of joining a group is that the increased numbers can help provide some "oomph" behind a unified message or set of goals... But if you don't have a message, much less a single concrete goal... Then......... What's the point, guys?

I am getting really tired of having to ask this, but... to all the Occupiers out there: What's the action item? What's the goal? What are you hoping to accomplish?

At some point, it'd be really cool to get an answer.

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