I’ve said it before. I think the Occupy movement is amazing. It has the potential to change things for a lot of people. I WANT it to succeed. I WANT the landscape in America to change. It’s no longer possible for just anyone to simply work hard at a decent job and make a good living. Economic opportunity, which used to be our hallmark, has largely dried up in many areas of the country, and the “rust belt” is getting rustier and spreading. We have become far too dependent on speculation and bubble economy, and we’ve eschewed real capitalism, in which people make something or provide a service and get paid for it, for some pseudo-capitalist claptrap that’s based on the concept of taking money from someone for doing absolutely nothing, and giving yourself a bonus for thinking of it.
In other words, I get it. Hell; I wrote about it more than a month before Adbusters came up with the idea of “Occupy Wall Street.” (Serfin’ USA?)
And for a while, the Occupy movement was good. It was gaining strength, and it was spreading worldwide. But as I suggested might happen when it first started, it’s turning into a something of a mess. And it’s turning into that because there's no focus, and there is no leadership. By focus, I don’t mean one single solitary message; it can be a theme. And when I say leadership, that doesn’t mean one person who tells everyone what to think or do. I’m talking about a brain trust that oversees where the overall focus is and tries to keep that on track.
For example, it’s obvious that someone knew NYPD was going to raid the OWS protests, because the raid occurred at well after midnight and a lawyer for protesters was in court by 7:30 AM to ask for an injunction. So, a logical question we should be asking is, why did they let it get to that point? If they KNEW the city was going to bring in police and raid the park, why not preempt that? Why not plan to clean and leave the park, and move to another park for a while? What PURPOSE did a confrontation with police serve, except to make THAT a news story, instead of the purpose of the protests?
In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who is no conservative Republican, has suggested that she’ll have no choice but to move protesters soon. Their response was to pretty much dare her to move them by force. So, guess what’s inevitable, folks. She hasn’t done it yet, but it’s coming. What is anyone doing to prepare for it, or head it off completely? Has the purpose of the movement become, "Screw you, because I have righst!"? When did the fight shift from a fight against Wall Street to a fight against police?
See, that’s the problem. We’re fighting with the wrong people.
Let’s ask a question here. You have to answer this honestly.
If there was a park across the street from your home and a Christian group gathered in that park one day and started marching and proselytizing about Jesus all day and night, are you telling me that, after two months, you wouldn’t be a little tired of it and demand that they leave? What about their First Amendment rights?
Better yet, what if Bank of America was to set up in that park and have people camp out 24/7 to tell everyone about their new checking account options? Are you telling me you wouldn’t be a little fed up two months later and calling police to have them removed?
City governments have a duty to all of their residents. The parks are built for ALL people to enjoy. You have a right to free speech, but every other person in that city has the right to enjoy their city’s parks. Therefore, city governments have a duty to provide balance to those rights.
I was very proud of the Occupy Wall Street protesters early on, when they heard they were being evicted because city crews wanted to clean the park, and they cleaned up after themselves to preempt that. In return, the city relented for more than a month. That was a smart move, and that is the attitude all protesters should have, because the focus should be on the robber barons on Wall Street and the banksters, NOT police and city work crews. I hate to break it to you, but I guarantee the police who are raiding these camps are more likely to be in the 99% than, say, Michael Moore, who seems desperate to retain some sort of “street cred” as a crusader. In other words, instead of fighting these folks, we should be recruiting them to our side. In fact, early on, NYPD and NYFD were among the first to join the protests, if you'll recall.
Occupy protesters should be working WITH city governments, not against them. (And please don’t give me that tired crap about Wall Street “owning them.” It’s a democracy. We’re 99%, they're 1%. Think about it.) The focus has to be on the message, which is that capitalism has gotten away from us and we’re here to take it back. Work with the cities a little, and make the protests palatable to the average person, and we'll have support. Here are a few suggestions:
- Instead of squatting in one park for the duration, rotate locations regularly. More people will see you if you do that, anyway, and it’ll be harder for residents, area workers or city officials to complain.
- Don’t live there. It’s not yours. One of the most startling things I heard in the wake of the raid on Zucotti Park was the complaint that police confiscated their “library” of FIVE THOUSAND BOOKS. Has anyone else processed that image, besides just being awed by the number? I’m looking at my bookshelf now. One shelf holds about 30 books of various sizes. That would mean they’d need upwards of 160 shelves for all those books. Have they ever heard of a KINDLE? You don’t OWN the park; the people of NYC do. ALL of them. If you’re going to use their property, respect their property.
- Police yourselves. The biggest complaints about these places are that they’re dirty and filthy. Clean daily, if not hourly. If you pitch a tent, pitch it nightly, and take it down and stash it when you’re not sleeping in it. Look around at your fellow protesters and make sure everyone is fully on the non-violence page. Don’t harass or accost people, and if others do it, make them leave. Be friendly to everyone, and make them want to listen to what you have to say. If a fellow protester does something wrong, turn them into the police. Knowing who your fellow protesters are will help keep you safe, as well. If you don’t think right wingers plan to infiltrate these protests and cause trouble, think again. If you don’t think bad guys won’t try to take advantage of you, think again. Policing yourselves is smart, for many reasons.
- Non-violence at all costs. Period. The minute anyone in the Occupy movement does anything violent, it brings the entire movement down. If police raid your site, go limp, lie down on the ground and let them collect you and take you to jail. They call it “civil disobedience” for a reason. “Arrest” itself is not a violation of your right to free speech; it’s part of the process. Been there, done that several times. You might spend an hour or two in a holding cell with a few drunks, but you’ll live. But if ONE protester assaults a police officer or anyone else, that turns the entire protest into a fight with police and residents, and the movement will not survive that. And again, there will be infiltrators who want to sabotage you; zero tolerance of violence makes them easier to spot.
- Liaise with city governments and the police. Ask them how you can conduct the protest with as little hassle from the city as possible. If you’re cooperating, they’ll leave you alone. Again; you cleaned the park, they left you alone for a while. Take a cue from that.
The message is the most important thing these Occupy protests need to get across. The battle lines are between us and the crooks who got us into this mess. Until recently, the public was largely with us, but if this movement is allowed to devolve into a battle between police and anarchists, the empathy engendered by this movement will dry up, and the movement will be dead.
If you think I’m exaggerating, consider that the Vietnam war protests started the same way. A bunch of young people protesting to bring attention to the fact that we were involved in a war we had no business conducting. By 1968, a president who had won an unprecedented landslide 4 years earlier was forced to pull himself out of the race for another term. But then, the protests became a “hippies vs. cops” deal, especially when they disrupted the Democratic National Convention that year, and most of the sympathy the public had for protesters dissipated, and we ended up with Richard Nixon as president. That, ironically, probably led to a much longer involvement in Vietnam than would have otherwise been the case, not to even mention Nixon’s incursions into Laos, Thailand and, especially, Cambodia. If protesters then had kept the focus on Vietnam, and not allowed the movement to be sidetracked by a million different irrelevant issues, and if they hadn't taken on police, it’s possible President McCarthy or Humphrey might have ended the war sooner.
And that’s the point. Stay on message, and keep away from the “hippies vs. cops” meme altogether. That doesn’t excuse the brutality that’s occurred, of course; there's never an excuse for that. Those police who injured protesters without provocation should be cited for assault and booked, just like anyone else. But if you can avoid getting to that point, do it.
If you want to create a real movement, you need a majority behind you. And a majority will NEVER be behind us if they think we’re battling police.
The message is us against the 1%. Keep it that way.