A Melange Of Reactions To #OccupyWallSt

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 9.648% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Here’s the thing about Occupy Wall Street: I want to like it. I’m sympathetic towards its causes.
I just don’t know if it’s really doing anything.
I mean, right now it’s doing something, and that “something” appears to be the purpose of Dennis Kucinich showing up at the Democratic Presidential Debates: raising a lot of questions that nobody really wants to answer. In particular, the responses to Occupy Wall Street have produced a lot of good videos and op-eds in response to “Why would all of these people just hang around waving signs?”
In particular, I rather like this four-minute-long video that explains everything that’s gone wrong with deregulation:

And wow, does former Representative Grayson absolutely school P.J. O’Rourke in this video (who resembles nothing more than a slightly more hysterical Harlan Ellison here, interrupting and capering):

And Paul Krugman’s Panic of the Plutocrats is succinct and well-written.
But that’s the problem I have. The responses are being inspired by Occupy Wall Street, not coming directly from Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street seems like that shy, emotionally incoherent girl in eighth grade who everyone told you dude, she’s totally into you, but whenever you talked to her you just got damp hands folded in skirts and low mutterings you couldn’t quite hear.
In a sense, that’s its strength: Occupy Wall Street isn’t like The Tea Party, which was bankrolled by corporate interests from the get-go, and had its soul pretty much gripped in the tight fists of spin doctors from Day One. No, Occupy Wall Street is a genuine grass-roots movement, and like grass, the roots go every which way.
That’s good. It’s hard to co-opt a movement like that. But it’s also hard for a movement like that to go anywhere. What we have is a seething mass of people who feel strongly about things and can’t quite seem to form a coherent shout that tells us what they want.
And people say that it’s the media who’s doing this, the media is following their traditional methodology of “Ignore, then overblow,” but I’ve been reading a fair number of the blogs and videos and Tweets from the whole thing – not all of them, but certainly enough that I feel reasonably confident that if there was a consistent solution that all of them were seeking, I would have stumbled across it by now.
It feels like they’re just sort of, you know, angry about the 1% in power (and they are in power) and the way so many conservatives have fetishized being rich as being equivalent to smart and qualified to lead, and they want people to, you know, do stuff about it. And I don’t know how that’s going to work out.
Steven Gould, that notable children’s author, told me that if I was on the ground I’d know. It’s clear there. And that’s fine, but he’s in New York and I gotta work. I hope to make it to one of the Cleveland groups, but really, from here it’s a bunch of echoed watermelon-cantelope-watermelon-cantelope noises.
Keep in mind, I agree with them. So if it’s not necessarily clear to me, how’s it playing in Peoria?
Occupy Wall Street is useful for now, because the question of “What do they want?” is circulating through the media, forcing debates on things that Fox would prefer not to discuss, holding Democrats’ feet to the fire so at least some of them are stating the truth of “Yes, this is class warfare, it’s always been class warfare, and we’ve been losing for three straight decades now.”
But what happens next? Brad Hicks makes a cogent analysis (as he usually does) about the likely consequences of Occupy Wall Street, and what he says about “Hey, when it gets cold and freezy, how many people are likely to keep showing up for hours at a time?” seem particularly relevant.
Then again, Occupy Wall Street is a peaceful movement. Say what you will about violent revolution, but it gets results one way or the other: either you smash or get smashed. The fail state of a peaceful movement is incoherent stasis – I remember seeing a protestor group in 1994 standing in New Haven green, passing out fliers to “Stop The Gulf War.”
For the record, this was four years after the first Gulf War had ended.
But they were still upset about the changes that had been wrought, and took the not-entirely-indefensible-but-certainly-unclear position that the ongoing damage and fallout still counted as a current war. They were handing fliers to baffled citizenry who you could see muttering to each other: “Did another war start up when we weren’t looking?”
The danger of Occupy Wall Street is that they become the Kucinich – the guy who raises some damn fine questions, then hangs around for too long after it becomes clear that the people in charge have zero interest in answering them and he doesn’t have any power to compel them.  The Tea Party was effective because even if you hated them, you had to admit they all lined up nicely to be voter-aimed in a specific direction.
Is Occupy Wall Street the new core of a revived Democratic Party the way that the Tea Party has become the chocolate center of conservative power, with old-school Republicanism rapidly becoming a thin, crunchy shell?  I don’t think so.  Would I want it to?  I think so, because we’d have some real fire at last.  People would be stating what the Democrats really want, making a case for socialism and regulation and government aid, instead of muttering it quickly like a sniggering teenager says “adouchesayswhat?”  We’d have to stumble for a while, given that you know, every major politician has been agreeing with most of the main Republican tenets (LOW TAXES BUSINESS GOOD REGULATION BAD) for years… But you know, the Republicans spent the better part of a decade in the wilderness before finally finding culmination in a Reagan who stood on the podium to express sentiments that would have been unthinkable in the 1960s: “Yes, greed is good.”
I dunno. I want this to work. I want to be heartened. Instead, I just find myself with the same sort of hold-your-breath feelings I had when Dubya invaded Iraq: I can’t see this working, but let’s hope.

5 Comments

  1. Rabbit
    Oct 12, 2011

    “It feels like they’re just sort of, you know, angry about the 1% in power (and they are in power) and the way so many conservatives have fetishized being rich as being equivalent to smart and qualified to lead, and they want people to, you know, do stuff about it. And I don’t know how that’s going to work out.”
    Well… yeah. Sure. That’s right. And that’s okay. It’s okay for a large movement like this to Be the Kucinich, so that he doesn’t have to– because his goal is to get elected some day, and this bunch doesn’t have even that. I think that the point of the movement was to spark the responses you’ve linked, not necessarily to be the source of them. Like all _correct_ revolutionary movements, the idea is that they’ll eventually be able to go home and go away, because something will have started happening… the responses are basically all auditions for The Message that will, ultimately, spark motion in a particular direction. It’s a roundabout way to get there, but has anything else worked, up till now?
    I guess my point is that we’ve really had nothing, nothing at all to cling to, and the Occupy movements are as much highlighting that fact as anything else. And they’re at least making people want to, and move towards, finding something to fill that void.
    Which is better than how we’ve been doing, I think.

  2. Sean Mckeown
    Oct 12, 2011

    I am actually there with feet on the ground, and yes it’s complicated and not everyone is on the same page and there’s no power structure to derive “the answer”. They are using a grassroots direct-democracy approach with little to no effective communication between protest sites, not even a microphone system because they were told by the police that they aren’t allowed to have that set up there.
    I’m trying to help it succeed, showed up last night with a sign, and showed up today trying to find who the team in charge of the website is. Because as big a detractor as I was of the SCG Facebook social media plugin replacing the SCG Forums, all it took was seeing the reply to Geordie Tait’s “To My Someday Daughter” to make it ‘click’ to me and understand that this is something very different and very much more powerful for the sharing and discussion of ideas. And what I want to do, myself, specifically… and what I believe I have the ear of the people at Occupy Wall Street and their media liason and website team… is to integrate OccupyWallSt.org away from the crappy and impossible to navigate forum system that allows pseudonyms and forum trolling and hides everything behind a wall that is a very high barrier to peer into and into the world of Facebook conversations integrating the discussion on their forums with discussion in the real world.
    So, if you can help educate me in how to install code for a proper forum and the Facebook social media plugin, that’d be awesome. I know what I don’t know, here, and that’s almost everything on the technical side of how to do it… but I also know what is to be gained by moving the conversation away from physical locations and pseudonyms, and take the conversation being had to the ripe tinder that is the American social media Internet presence at this point. I know that would be a game-changer… but I am not a programmer, just someone who has seen the light and learned not just from “To My Someday Daughter” but also the lesson of Tahrir Square. Yes, Occupy Wall Street does not presently have its shit together. But if you crowdsource the conversation, and include everyone across the country who is sympathetic and potentially knowledgeable, answers to these questions will develop as an emergent property of the conversation itself.
    I have my answers, but I don’t want to steer to my agenda. I just have confidence that if we can ORGANIZE a little, and let everyone we know know that they know someone who agrees with the Occupy Wall Street movement, the conversation will spread and meaningful change will result because of it.
    So… can you help? 🙂

    • Sean McKeown
      Oct 13, 2011

      So, I have someone from Occupy Wall Street working on coding a BBS that uses Facebook Social Plugin, and was wondering if now that I was having someone else doing the bulk of the project and wouldn’t be asking ridiculous things of you to assist (like ‘could you please code this thingy that will take forever and grant you headaches?’), I had hoped I might be able to put you into email contact with him so that if he has any questions or runs into problems, he can ask you since presumably you are more familiar with it, given how I based everything I have been suggesting off of SCG’s forums and recent use of the Facebook plugin. 🙂

  3. Anastasia
    Oct 12, 2011

    I figure here is where you’d rather get comments at this point.
    So, I’m doing a little teeth-grinding here, Ferrett.
    Because at what point is something going to count as doing something?
    You’ve previously posted, grouchy about people who make Tweets or posts or whatever in solidarity with something because they weren’t out doing anything.
    Well? Now people are out doing something, and you STILL are saying they aren’t doing anything. At what point will it count? What has to be done for it to count as “doing something?” People are doing what they can; why isn’t it enough? Why can’t you/we not recognize that you don’t go from nothing to everything in a snap?
    It’s a lot like writing. You don’t just get from idea to finished product. You have to take steps to get there.
    We are taking steps.

  4. Richard Baldwin
    Oct 12, 2011

    True movements rarely start out coherent; they address wide sets of concerns, large groups of people. It takes time to focus any organization, much less an open and non-hierarchical organization like this one.
    I personally hope this nascent movement does not become the core of a revitalized Democratic Party – not now, while all political parties are heavily compromised by the interests of corporations and the wealthy. I would rather see this movement develop into its own entity.

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