No one likes occupiers. They’re like fish and houseguests, they start to stink after a short period of time. And I worry that as time goes on the movement will only have a more and more destructive impact on progressive politics and political discourse. This isn’t to say they can’t be effective, or haven’t been effective at at least one goal, that is bringing the topic of economic inequality back into the spotlight. However, as time goes on their leaderless, agenda-less actions are becoming more random, and less likely to result in a good outcome in the coming political fight. In fact, several of the occupy actions are now likely to harm a progressive agenda, and seriously alienate would-be allies. For example this video from San Francisco CBS:
Really? Breaking into public buildings and burning the flag? What do actions like this accomplish? That’s like the A-bomb of protest moves, and you’re doing it why? Because you don’t have a job? Because you want rich people taxed more? The reaction seems disproportionate. If you’re going to be burning the flag it better be because the U.S. is tattooing swastikas on puppies and dropping them with C-4 harnesses onto hospitals. Not because your poetry MFA didn’t prepare you for the job market.
Other snippets from around the country include throwing condoms at Catholic School girls, breaking windows and spray painting anarchy symbols on cars, and generally being jackasses. Now, the condom thing is kind of funny to those that think the Catholics stand on contraception is absurd, every sperm is sacred and all that, but doesn’t that exemplify why it’s an error of tactics? You don’t want to alienate an entire religious organization which actually might side with you in terms of working for economic equality. Who runs more homeless shelters, the Catholics or Occupy? These are potential allies, and the lack of focus of Occupy will result in more harm to it and those that may be in place to enact their goals.
A survey by Survey USA now shows a majority of bay area residents opposing OWS with 26% saying they did support them before, but now oppose. This movement is becoming toxic. Where did it go wrong? And is there a better way to protest?
I’ve been to many protests since 2001 starting with the Bush inaugural. I was there for the reason everyone else was, that election was a sham. The Supreme Court decided it, and a bogus recount was then certified by a crooked Republican state administration run by the president-elect’s brother. There were good reasons to go down to D.C. and shake your fist as the motorcade drove by. Then, this arguably unelected moron got us into not one but two wars. The second of which was based on cooked intelligence that we basically lied to the world about in front of the entire U.N. More protests, and again I attended. I was in graduate school at the time and the occasional trip to D.C. to shake my fist was definitely within reach.
The problem was every time I went to one of these protests I saw lots of well-meaning people who were coming from near and far to express discontent, but every protest was spoiled by jackasses picking fights with the cops, carrying stupid signs, destroying property, or playing with stupid puppets. Every war protest was attended by a cohort of wannabe anarchists wearing all black with combat boots and bandannas spoiling for a fight with police, trying to relive their Seattle world bank protest heyday. Then there were the “Free Mumia” people. Besides being off-topic, dude, Mumia shot that cop. The gun registered to him was found with five spent cartridges at the scene and he had one of the cop’s bullets in him. Then there’s the anti-Israel posters with signs with a swastika = star of David on it. And which group of people gets the media coverage? The jackasses, every time. You see these guys and you just want to go home. I don’t want to be associated with these morans.
It’s not like the teabagging protests were any less moranic.
And this is the problem. No one in this country knows how to effectively protest. Instead they’re trying bastardized tactics of Saul Alinsky. For those who don’t know, Saul Alinsky was a life-long professional community organizer and protester. He has become known for disruptive protests like his “piss-in” or “fart-in” which were often effective even before their implementation as they were basically extortion. While he got results in the short term, his more effective strategies were in organization rather than these much-publicized disruptive acts. Both the tea party and the Occupy movement have cited their use of his “Rules for Radicals” to come up with strategies for protest. And guess what? Both groups are now seen as equally pointless and shrill. Occupy’s support is tanking.
I believe for almost three generations now we have been protesting ineffectively. FOr some reason, the model utilized by protesters has been to emulate the hippie/yippie culture of the Vietnam War protests of the 60s and 70s. But is there good reason to? Were they effective in their goal of ending or shortening the war in Vietnam? I believe their estimation of their effectiveness is overblown. For instance, when former NY governer David Paterson was on Real Time with Bill Maher talking about occupy he said:
“There are a lot of criticisms of Occupy LA, Occupy Wall Street. They may not really have leaders, they may not really understand the relationship they have to have with the same community that they’re trying to represent, the reason that I think this is happening is that nobody has protested anything in this country for 30 years, so the problem is … that we forgot how to do it. Let’s just remember there was a ragtag protest that started at my alma mater, Columbia university, in the mid-60â²s, within a year it forced the President of the united states not to run for re-election because of the opposition nationally to the Vietnam War. So, the style may not be perfected, but the substance is there, the complaints are real and I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t the beginning of a new movement.”
Is this something to be proud of? Is this what you want occupy to do? Maybe they’ll similarly sabotage Obama’s chances of re-election so we get Newt or Romney. Do you guys think it’s good that left wing protests sabotaged the Democratic party, enraged Americans nation-wide with the ’68 convention riots and helped the election of Richard Nixon? Because Nixon shortened the war right? Oh but surely their protests were so effective that he was a one term president right? Oh, yeah, no. Maybe they prevented an escalation though? Nope. But surely they shortened the length of the war? When did the Vietnam war end? Oh yeah, 1975. That’s crack job they did back then. Maybe the reason we’ve just been engaged in a decade long war is we’ve made the same mistake with our protests.
So, what are examples of protests or tactics that did work? I think we’ve got to go back further to the protests and tactics of Gandhi and King. The key features of those protests were strong leadership, preparation, and strict discipline. Their goals were to represent their beliefs in as sympathetic a way as possible, and to make it impossible to accept the position of their opposition which denied their fundamental humanity. In preparation for the March on Washington the signs were preapproved by the march committee. Details were managed from transportation to sanitation. And look at the way they dressed:
They’re wearing suits. When a cop beats up a man or woman in a suit people get really really angry. When a cop beats up a dreadlocked hippie, they tend to think the hippie started it. Sad but true.
The goal of protests should be to bring people to your side, not alienate people or turn huge demographics against you by, for instance, throwing condoms at minors or burning flags. By all means bring flags, but wave them, because people love this country. If you say or show you hate it, they’ll hate you instead. Carry signs that are on topic, with correct spelling. If you want modern examples see either the pro-choice or pro-life movements. I’ve been to those protests and both sides are organized, uniform, peaceful, and they take care of things like food and port-a-johns. Don’t give the city the excuse to clear you out because you’re filthy. When you’re leaderless, like Occupy is, you can’t truly distance yourself from the negative actions either, because if no one is officially sanctioning an activity it’s impossible to claim the disruptive protesters aren’t “real” occupy protesters. Disorderly conduct and fights with the police are counterproductive. After all, the people you’re trying to convince are likely to be turned off by chaos and disorder. Don’t forget, conservatives classically favor order over freedom, and a lot of people are extremely turned off by property destruction and riots.
With the approach of the election this year I worry we’re going to see a repeat of the protest dynamic of 1968. I don’t want to see elections where anti-science candidates who deny evolution and global warming win because of the alienating tactics of this movement. It’s not too late, and if the energy of these protesters can be redirected in a productive way there’s a good chance the Occupy movement can help, rather than hinder the progressive agenda.
For some reason I’m reminded of the People’s Front of Judea
With their ultimate outcome: