It's been more than a week now since first the police, followed quickly by sanitation workers, moved in on city parks across the United States, driving protestors assembled as part of the Occupy movement out from their makeshift tent cities and back to whatever homes they came from.
And while some of those who claimed to represent the "99 Percent" – a decidedly dubious number meant to include everyone who is not among the wealthiest one percent of the American population – have trickled back into these parks to resume their protesting, their numbers are down, their press coverage is down, and their message remains vague. While representatives from some of the Occupy cities have pledged to regroup, I think it's unlikely that they'll regain what momentum they had.
And it's their own fault.
While the Occupy movement in the United States may have hit the national psyche at just the right time - lousy economy, outrageous gas prices, terrible job market - the truth is that Occupy Wall Street, the protest that inspired the others, was nothing more than a flash mob writ large and slow. Orchestrated by the self-proclaimed anti-capitalists of AdBusters magazine (which is not even American, but Canadian), the protest hoped to rally disgruntled Americans to shout down the financial giants just as Egyptians and Tunisians had brought down their oppressive governments.
(Excuse me? Anti-capitalists from another country attempting to bring down our financial institutions? That's terrorism! Granted, they're Canadians, but doesn't that deserve at least a stern letter from Hillary Clinton, or something?)
Still, the problem with flash mobs is that, at heart, they're still mobs, and not really breeding grounds for organization or consensus. Yes, there were messages coming out of the camps, but they weren't always the same. Yes, there were diatribes against the corruption and inequality of the system, but there were seldom any solutions offered up other than "Forgive my student loan debt" or "Tax the rich."
It seemed like many cities where Occupy camps had been set up were taking everything in stride. It's always politically correct behavior (in every sense) for city government to give a good bit of latitude to peaceful protestors, especially during an election cycle. Here in St. Louis, someone even brought a big screen TV down to Kiener Plaza so the Occupy camp could watch the St. Louis 1 Percenters beat the Texas 1 Percenters in the World Series.
But then on November 2, there was a distinct change in tactics at one of the Occupy sites. Unsurprisingly, it took place in California. Occupy Oakland seemed determined to seize upon the great history of dissent and radicalism that the Bay Area has embraced over the last century by calling for a general strike and a shut down of the Port of Oakland, one of the nation's busiest transit hubs for ship-borne cargo. Instead, their actions likely hastened the demise of the Occupy movement, not just in Oakland, but across the country.
Occupy Oakland’s attempt to shut down their city was incredibly self-defeating, because it hurt the very people they claimed to represent far more than the captains of commerce. Sure, people got to let off some steam (or some herbalicious smoke), but to what end? What was gained by urging children to ditch school for the sake of protesting? How many local businesses had to shutter for the day because the streets were blocked off? How many people dependent on hourly wages didn't get to work because someone else decided to shut down the city (or at least a portion of it)?
Oh, and how many corporate executives fell on their swords or opened their coffers to the poor?
The Oakland strike, along with the rest of the Occupy/99 Percent movement, has so far been counterproductive, coming around to hurt the lower and middle classes more than it could ever impact the big businesses and banks that the protesters want to wound.
Don’t get me wrong; I think the current state of economic and fiduciary responsibility is obscene, fueled by greed and regulated by an oligarchy of backpatting gladhanders. I’d like nothing better than to see them squirm – to see them live on what I make a year. The same goes for Hollywood celebrities. Or pro athletes.
But the 99 Percent will never hit the one percent in the penthouse by aiming at the ground floor. That’s the same twisted path that, taken to a tragic extreme, put Timothy McVeigh in a rental truck in front of the Murrah Federal Building because he wanted to bring down the IRS.
The 99 Percent would do better if they'd start fighting on a level that actually put the bank boys on a hot seat. They need to go after the fund managers and the politicians like Ness went after Capone – building cases of malfeasance and corruption – or at least exposing their astonishing addiction to money in as public a manner as possible. Instead, there are winning media moments like this, from the Oakland strike:
"The intersection at Seventh and Maritime streets is almost like a rebel checkpoint. Every car that comes through is stopped while protesters question the driver, then debate with the larger group about whether they should be allowed to pass.Sure you can. Tweet your fingers off on your smart phones, protestors – smart phones made in some Asian factory by shackled 10-year-olds who get paid in bean sprouts so that some electronics giant can realize a better profit margin for its shareholders.
"He's a worker," a protester at a car will shout to the group. "He's trying to get home."
Then, they await the larger answer: "Let him go through," the crowd replies, and the driver is allowed on his or her way.
Protesters, however, are refusing to let television news trucks through.
"They work for the 1 percent," the crowd will shout. "We can tell our own story."*
I say to you again: self-defeating.
Then on the East Coast, the day after Occupy Wall Streeters were forced out of Zuccotti Park, they filtered back over the course of the day. An "iReporter" filed a story with CNN about how the protestors shouted down a FOX News crew, forcing them to abandon their broadcast. Of course, if that's not enough, the iReporter's story begins, "I arrived at 5pm to realize that i had just missed a large brawl my friend witnessed." Bully for you, OWS.
No, rather than exploiting every media outlet available, the righteous and insular attitude of the crowd in both instances deprived them of the most valuable commodity of any modern revolution: face time in the living rooms of America.
Remember all those "Truth" ads in magazines and on television that targeted big tobacco? While you certainly can't pin all the credit on Truth's media campaign, consider how many cities have enacted smoking bans in the last few years. Think of how many fewer people are smoking these days, period. The marketing wizards at Truth understood their audience, developed a clear message, and then put that message where it needed to be seen. And things changed.
The message of the "99 Percent" or "Occupy" or whatever they'll call themselves next year (their Canadian overlords are recommending a winter break for now) must be distinctly established. And then it needs to reach Joe America in his home, clearly and without obfuscation or histrionics, that the disconnect between the highest levels of business (and/or government) and the people they're supposed to be serving can't continue. And the people responsible for it need to be shamed.
But that's not going to happen if all Joe America perceives is a bunch of hippies and unemployed college grads playing hacky-sack in tent cities, claiming to speak for every belabored blue-collar worker. It’s not going to happen when protestors harass and scowl at the media. It’s certainly not going to happen when the media can garner scandalous headlines – from something as minor as trashed city parks and graffiti, to far more serious reports of sexual assaults and murder – from the ranks of the Occupiers’ camps. Those may be the actions of a parlous few, but it’s impossible for to avoid getting painted with that same broad brush.
Until that changes, it's all a waste of time – and in the worst cases, hurtful to the people who are caught in the ideological crossfire.
*Mercury News/Oakland Tribune, Nov. 2, 2011 Emboldening is my own.
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
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katherine (aka clevertitania)
11.23.11 @ 10:26a
For the record, the Truth ads had little to do with the smoking changes. Tax hikes bordering on insane (in the early 90's I spent $1 on a pack of cigs that would now cost me $4) and the smoking bans caused that. In fact, most smokers I've known would light up when 'Truth' ads were played, because most of them weren't truthful at all. They used inflated statistics - as most anti-smoking advertising does - and used histrionics like body bags and drop-dead protesters.
As to your overall point - I do have to say the lack of cohesion and proper media usage has been a mistake in the #OWS movement. They needed to stop imagining every media is biased and just work it so that edited-to-change-context footage would've been busted instantly, by making sure the full footage was on enough networks.
12.2.11 @ 10:23a
The "Occupy Wall Street" protesters have listed 13 proposed demands from their website.
Demand one: Restoration of the living wage. This demand can only be met by ending "Freetrade" by re-imposing trade tariffs on all imported goods entering the American market to level the playing field for domestic family farming and domestic manufacturing as most nations that are dumping cheap products onto the American market have radical wage and environmental regulation advantages. Another policy that must be instituted is raise the minimum wage to twenty dollars an hr.
12.2.11 @ 10:23a
Demand two: Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market as their only effect on the health of patients is to take money away from doctors, nurses and hospitals preventing them from doing their jobs and hand that money to wall st. investors.
Demand three: Guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment.
Demand four: Free college education.
Demand five: Begin a fast track process to bring the fossil fuel economy to an end while at the same bringing the alternative energy economy up to energy demand.
12.2.11 @ 10:24a
Demand six: One trillion dollars in infrastructure (Water, Sewer, Rail, Roads and Bridges and Electrical Grid) spending now.
Demand seven: One trillion dollars in ecological restoration planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of river systems and decommissioning of all of America's nuclear power plants.
Demand eight: Racial and gender equal rights amendment.
Demand nine: Open borders migration. anyone can travel anywhere to work and live.
12.2.11 @ 10:27a
Demand ten: Bring American elections up to international standards of a paper ballot precinct counted and recounted in front of an independent and party observers system.
Demand eleven: Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the "Books." World Bank Loans to all Nations, Bank to Bank Debt and all Bonds and Margin Call Debt in the stock market including all Derivatives or Credit Default Swaps, all 65 trillion dollars of them must also be stricken from the "Books." And I don't mean debt that is in default, I mean all debt on the entire planet period.
Demand twelve: Outlaw all credit reporting agencies.
12.2.11 @ 10:29a
Demand thirteen: Allow all workers to sign a ballot at any time during a union organizing campaign or at any time that represents their yeah or nay to having a union represent them in collective bargaining or to form a union.
These demands will create so many jobs it will be completely impossible to fill them without an open borders policy.
12.2.11 @ 10:36a
As someone who has been on the front lines of the Wall St. protests I would suggest actually getting off the couch and getting involved before making judgments like these. Sustained organized protests are not flash mobs, and in case you haven't noticed the movement spread all across the country as well as the globe.
The 99% are not Attorneys General and have no capacity to build legal cases against corrupt politicians, yet their perseverance and commitment is drawing attention and support from the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee, who are in the crowds daily wearing green hats and monitoring arrests and police brutality.
Nothing happens overnight, and it will take people with backbone to do what is necessary, and those with none will continue to criticize.
12.2.11 @ 3:06p
"Pac Man Fever" was a movement that spread all across the country as well as the globe, too. But it had its day and accomplished little beyond sore wrists and a depleted supply of quarters in the trouser pockets of the world. And one really annoying novelty song.
Occupy hasn't even given us a song.
I may want a keg of beer and a pygmy elephant, but I'm realistic about what I ask for. Most of what Occupy appears to be asking for (based on your listing above, Scott) is for some kind of global utopia that even Gene Roddenberry couldn't imagine. This is not a "nothing happens overnight" situation, this is a "nothing happens in millennia." History bears out that human sociology simply cannot support these ideals, all the way back to Cain feeling disenfranchised by Abel.
12.2.11 @ 3:13p
Nevertheless, my point was not to cast aspersions on Occupy's lofty dreams, but the fact that the majority (call it the 98.9 percent) have no clue just what Occupy's goals were and/or are, because Occupy has been less than smart about presenting a unified message or embracing the media in such a way that presents their points cogently to the rest of the nation/world (see the examples I cite, immediately to the left of this comment). If they want to rally people to the cause, they're not going to do it by befouling parks, insulting the media, tying up traffic and causing small businesses to suffer. Until they get the "front lines" to understand this, they're never going to rally the homefront.