More On #OccupyWallStreet

(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.)

Despite appearances, this essay’s about #OccupyWallSt.
Now.  I’m in a bad mood because my work day has been yet another tangle of “This documentation tells me this will work, but it doesn’t” and people changing their minds willy-nilly, causing me to have to reprogram entire modules because they can’t decide how things should function.
Furthermore, I’m working in the kind of code where I have to concentrate.  And Gini’s the sort of person who, despite years of getting better about it, still sees me on the couch, thinks “Couch is not work,” and will jar me out of programmer-space me without so much as a by-your-leave to tell me about some internet meme.
So when Gini barges into my concentration for the third time today to ask me if I’ve seen so-and-so’s post on cheesemaking, I:
a)  Say “JESUS CHRIST, WHAT THE FUCK WOMAN, I’M WORKING HERE, CAN’T YOU FUCKING GET IT THROUGH YOUR THICK SKULL?  IT’S BEEN YEARS, YOU SHOULD KNOW THE LOOK ON MY FACE.”
b)  Snap, “Working.  Now.  See?” and point at the computer to let her know just what an idiot she is.
c)  Shake off the rage, which isn’t really her fault, and quietly point out that I am working, sweetie, and you’ve interrupted me twice today, and if you don’t stop that I’m probably going to eventually snap at you in a way I’ll regret.  Please respect my space.
The correct answer, of course, is C…. But it’s also the least satisfying.  I don’t get to have the Tower of Righteous Rage, I don’t get to make her feel as crappy as I do, I don’t get the satisfaction of the dramatic apology I might (miiiight) get if I made a much bigger deal of this.
On the other hand, I don’t have to apologize later, and I don’t make her feel as crappy as I do, and she doesn’t pack her bags and leave after I pull that shit enough times.  So there’s that.
The lesson here, children, is one of those big fundaments of life: The right move is not necessarily the satisfying move.  It’s said that in diplomacy, a good compromise often makes both parties feel as though they didn’t get what they wanted.  And they didn’t.  But they got more than if they’d went to war, and probably lost.
The reason I bring this up is because I just got a comment that read:

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?

That’s an incorrect summary of my position.
I wasn’t grouchy because they weren’t out doing anything.
I was grouchy because they weren’t doing anything effective.
Too much of activism is about what feels satisfying, and not what’s actually effective.  One of the reasons I laud MLK is that he said, “Hey, you know what, we could yell a lot and be ignored, but frankly, these people are going to go out of business if we stop patronizing them.  Let’s be respectful enough that we always look meek and noble in the press, and behind the scenes we fucking squeeze their throats until they choke.”
That wasn’t satisfying, I’m sure, taking the upper hand as much of the time.  I’m sure rioting is a lot more satisfying.  But it would have just gotten everyone jailed.
Now, at this point, I’m glad that #OccupyWallSt is raising big questions; that’s great.  Whether they’re actually going to be effective in the long term in achieving their goals is another matter.  And I’m concerned that it’s going to turn into some big ball of everyone getting their satisfaction on by making a big stink and hanging around in crowds and waving signs, and in the end getting actually no legislation passed. (And hey, they’re not rioting and causing bad press.  Good job!)
I can recognize that we don’t go from nothing to everything in a snap.  But I can also recognize, for I have seen, protest groups dwindle into irrelevance because they’re more concerned about feeling good than doing what’s effective.
As such, for me to ask, “Hey, is this actually working?” is not only a question you shouldn’t be grinding your teeth over, but one that should be foremost in your fucking mind when you’re looking at it.  I’ve seen groups whose sole goal’s been to get the word out, and they got plenty of that word out, and nobody fucking cared.  I don’t deny they’re doing something.  But what are they actually doing?
As I said, I want to be proven wrong.  Maybe this evolves into something more significant than a bunch of people getting together, feeling good, and walking away with exactly the same legislation and power structure that was here when they got here.  Maybe the questions take root and make real change.  I am, at least, heartened to see consistent nationwide protests about this sort of thing, which is more than has been done in recent memory for any non-war-related activity that I can imagine.
But what I see from here is an awful lot of satisfaction in the form of “YEAH WE’RE HERE YOU SHOULD BE TOO, IT’S AWESOME” and comparatively little effectiveness in the form of “THIS IS WHAT WE THINK WOULD FIX THINGS, GO DO THAT.”
As such, I’m never going to stop asking, “Well, is this working?”  And neither should you.

4 Comments

  1. Anastasia
    Oct 12, 2011

    Here’s the thing – you can’t say whether or not people Tweeting/posting in solidarity was effective or not. Because you have no proof one way or the other. You believe it wasn’t effective, but you really don’t know that.
    I could just as easily argue that it was effective – effective in slowly helping to create a change in consciousness, which has helped to lead people to where we are right now, which is people out on the streets in hundreds of cities, saying “Hey, this isn’t right.” And you know what? The current protests may not go any further than where they are at now. Six months from now, no one may be on the streets and nothing may have changed. Does that mean they weren’t effective? I would argue that no, it does not. The effectiveness of something can’t always be measured in days or months. Sometimes, it takes years. We may not see the effectiveness of what’s happening now until the next set of protests five years from now.
    Were the recent protests in Iran effective? They didn’t lead to a regime change… but I would certainly consider them effective despite that fact.
    I don’t have a problem with asking the question of whether something is working or not. What I am gnashing my teeth over is that you don’t seem to want to give anyone credit for anything at all because the proof that it’s working isn’t immediately and highly-visibly available. I think we can give people credit before that visible effectiveness/tipping point happens.
    Hindsight is great – it’s easy to say “Look at MLK and what he did” and laud it now (and well should it be lauded). The question that I can’t help but wonder is – if you had been of an age to be writing/talking about MLK back then? Would you have been saying the same thing as you’re saying now?

    • TheFerrett
      Oct 12, 2011

      (((The question that I can’t help but wonder is – if you had been of an age to be writing/talking about MLK back then? Would you have been saying the same thing as you’re saying now?)))
      No. Because, as noted, what MLK is doing economically is exactly what #OccupyWallSt isn’t. If they were calling for clear economic means and voting to enact them, I’d give them the same grudging respect I give the Tea Party.
      And by your standards, we should laud any activity at all because it MIGHT be effective. If I tie balloons to my hair to protest Afghanistan, you have no proof it isn’t working! GIVE ME CREDIT! To which I say, hey, you should totally be thanking me for linking to these videos and spreading word, because I’m totally doing all the work here that they are. Right?
      …or am I less effective because I’m not 100% rah-rah?
      Furthermore, to state that I’ve given “no” credit isn’t true at all. I’ve given them credit for what they’ve actually done – made a fuss, brought up uncomfortable questions on FOX, getting discussions. I don’t know why you see this as “no” credit, but I’m rapidly getting the feeling that if I don’t give them IMMEDIATE credit NOW for OMG THIS IS THE GREATEST THING EVER and D00D THIS IS TOTALLY GONNA WORK, then I GIVE NO CREDIT WHATSOEVER.
      So. That’s a bullshit framing, and I’d appreciate it if you stop. Thank you.

  2. Megan Rose
    Oct 12, 2011

    Ferrett, thank you for this. I’ve been in similar arguments with “friends” today regarding the local division of OWS. I had very similar criticisms, about their methods being ineffective. They took it as an attack. But reading this helped me find the words to express my point, that criticism is not an attack, and these things are valid questions to be asking. Honestly, if your movement can’t find enough justification to be able to answer simple questions, then perhaps it isn’t justified. I *do* think this movement is justified, but not many of the people involved in it know why.

  3. Ioldanach
    Oct 13, 2011

    The thing about OWS’s demonstrations is that they’re making known a complaint without also requesting a solution. Your example, above, is different. Your complaint was that you were being interrupted while working. Your requested solution was that you be left alone while engaged in work and therefore remain uninterrupted. The complaints of the Tea Party tend to be that government is hampering them too much. Their requested solution is that government regulations be withdrawn so that they’re free to do as they please. (I leave assessment of whether either their complaint or their solution is correct or useful as an exercise of the reader.)
    The complaint of Occupy Wall Street is that money is concentrated in the hands of a powerful few individuals and corporations. Their requested solution is… for it not to be. The only reason there aren’t as many suggested solutions as there are protestors is that most of the protestors don’t seem to be asking for a solution, they’re just getting the word out that wealth is concentrated. Sure, they’re asking some difficult questions, and they’re making some conservatives uncomfortable, and these are ways to effect a change. But if there isn’t a change you’re working towards, your yardstick of effectiveness has nothing to measure.

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