Many news articles about this growing demonstration point out two things: it’s been largely organized through social communciations media, and its core is (or was) to wreak anarchy. Which is odd, because ‘organized anarchy’ is an oxymoron.
But it keeps happening, on an international level, at gatherings of the G8, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, certain UN meetings, the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, and now Wall Street…among other places.
Seeing the news coverage each time of hordes massed on public streets in cities worldwide, and camped out on blankets and tents or just the grass of public parks around the globe, I keep wondering how these mostly young adult protesters got the money to travel so widely. But that’s not the point…
What is the point? It usually starts with the plan to create anarchy, which seems like a goal without a goal.
Other than some temporary traffic blockages, the movement hasn’t achieved anything tangible. It is a method without a message; rather, the method is the message. The protest is an exercise in creative anarchy, a statement against ill-defined and probably misunderstood power, a directionless movement claiming to represent 99 percent of America. It seeks to raise awareness, but where you go after that is up to you. It has no organization, uncertain goals, unlisted membership and lots of cardboard signs.
There is something for almost every type of radical in the occupy movement. It welcomes hard-currency advocates, opponents of water fluoridation, anti-war groups, anti-capitalists, anarcho-capitalists, anarcho-socialists, anti-Bilderbergers, opponents of the bank bailout, and chemtrail activists, among others. Their signs scream, “People over profit!” “Get out and shout!” “Eat the rich!” “End the Fed!” and “Dissent is patriotic!”
There is no official list of movement demands or objectives, since there is no official movement to begin with. An occupier named Lloyd J. Hart posted a list of 13 proposed demands on the unofficial movement website. It’s unclear to whom the demands are addressed. Some of them – like open borders, free college education and “immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all … on the entire planet” – are too radical to attract much political support. Others, like “one trillion dollars in infrastructure spending now” and a universal single-payer health-care system, could be talking points in the Obama 2012 campaign.
The movement purportedly is modeled on the Arab Spring, in which occupying public squares led, somehow, to the spontaneous combustion of authoritarian regimes. This won’t happen in America for a variety of reasons, but the protests have been tolerated out of respect for the constitutional right of peaceable assembly and because the demonstrations have been harmless. The peaceful approach of the occupiers is a welcome alternative to the angry and destructive anarchist protests that have accompanied international financial meetings in recent years. It’s also why it’s dragging on. If the occupiers took over buildings or threw Molotov cocktails, they would be cleared out in a hurry.
Over time, the occupy movement has taken on the feeling of Groundhog Day. The protesters make signs, they march, they speak. They rest, they talk, they have lunch. In the afternoon, they do it again. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s the kind of pointless street theater that would have made a serious revolutionary like Lenin shake his head. It’s no wonder he gave the Russian anarchists a one-way ticket to Siberia. Today’s occupiers seem to think if they just keep doing what they are doing, something big will happen. They just don’t know what, or why, or when, or how.
Meanwhile, they hang out. Guided by the internet to bring a poncho if rain is in the forecast.
But they’re quickly being joined by organized groups, like labor unions, and it’s suddenly becoming a movement with more gravity. But they may not like the fact that this evolution draws comparisons with the Tea Party.
The group has staged marches and fostered street theater, surviving on food donated by supporters from around the nation. In that sense, it is similar to the protests in Wisconsin earlier this year against GOP plans to limit the power of public employee unions.
But the tactics are also similar to the early days of the “tea party” movement, the conservative version of popular anger. Those demonstrators blamed what they also saw as a failed political system that has been unable to deal with economic malaise and the ongoing governmental budget and political crises.
The tea party movement, now centered in a variety of local and national groups, has grown in just a few years to a force within the GOP as politicians and more established groups have adopted its causes.
With the addition of the trade unions, the occupiers are perhaps seeing that same evolution. Among the civic groups that are backing the effort are established liberal groups such as MoveOn.org. Some politicians, including former New York Gov. David Paterson, have stopped by to view the protests, whose central themes of taxing the rich and restraining Wall Street are already part of the language used by national Democrats.
Yep, it’s the liberals’ Tea Party. It started with a group of young people protesting various things without a clear message.
But the turn from mockery to embrace by the popular media in a snap seems to have coincided with a sudden realization: Goofy costumes? Hand-scrawled signs making incoherent points? Haven’t we seen this before? It’s the Tea Party! E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post asked earlier this week, “Why hasn’t there been a Tea Party on the left?,” and here is the answer. Our Tea Party has come. And so all the good work and focused protests are tossed aside as liberals gravitate to the thing that looks and feels most like the early days of the Tea Party.
The writer is a self-proclaimed liberal who wishes liberals wouldn’t jump on the “easy alternative” to the harder business of social transformation. With so many disenchanted and directionless young people at the center of these drifting outbursts, who need true and lasting identity and purpose, the business of reaching hearts and minds is daunting and indeed hard. It was the original radical movement.