How Occupy Wall Street and Liberals Will Lose


I was against it before I was for it. Soon it may not matter. Occupy Wall Street was conceived and instigated by people who do not represent the so-named 99% in their greater and many specific political and social aspirations. Nonetheless, the movement has been able to focus rightful social anger on the causes and forces behind the 2008 financial crisis and the three decades of exploding economic inequality in the country. To this inequality conservatives and members of the business and finance-class respond like Bourbons and Romanovs sneering from the balcony, wishing his Royal arse would send out the cavalry already and teach these swine a lesson. A significant portion of the populace has been roused from its three-year stupor of defeat and, as a consequence of the demonstrations and reports like yesterday’s from the CBO on the expanding income gap, is readied to be the basis of something – something that can reelect President Obama and possibly lead to crucial legislation and reforms.

That consequence will not come from the Occupy Wall Street protests as they are currently playing out. From the start, I have believed they need to be co-opted, and true believers of OWS have actually feared that. For weeks, some have wondered, “What do they want? What are their demands?” Doubters have argued, “They need a program of action.” No, they don’t. They served an important cause. They could still serve it if they could answer sensibly one question: what is the ultimate goal of the occupations? At what point – what realistic point – could they end, as occupations?

They cannot answer that question. Young, anarchist, some form of socialist or libertarian, antiestablishmentarian, countercultural in social orientation, they think, like their 60s forebearers, that what is happening is the start of something transformative. With their non-hierarchical, flat general assemblies and their wiggly hands, their human microphones voicing a smug, alternative conformity, and their solidarity and their surprising success so far, they think they are going to change the world. Too little it is to dream of changing a law.

Do they imagine, with foolish evocations of Tahrir Square, that they are going to bring down the government? Do they think that would be a good thing? Do they imagine the mass of Americans wants that? They are excited that the Occupy movement is going global. Well, fine, if it has a goal. But it is so exciting. It is 1968 all over again. 1968 failed.

They do not understand, as they never have, they are not the majority and do not represent it. Most Americans will not let their limbs go slack and shake their hair at the outburst of a drum circle. They will not be cheered by Noam Chomsky’s appearance at Occupy Boston. They are not inspired by sex in sleeping bags in public parks, and past a certain point, the perpetual, pointless mass expropriation of public spaces against local ordinances and in contest with municipal governing authorities will turn against them. Roving demonstrations through city streets, looking like roving mobs – especially when there is any violence at all, with antagonistic relationships to police – will turn a supportive population away, and make it easier for their foes, the Bourbons and the Romanovs, to demonize them.

The clashes have begun. Atlanta has asserted itself. Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, a city that has been very accommodating, has said that the occupation “cannot continue indefinitely.” What happened in Oakland will be the death of the movement. The student Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed acknowledges that bottles and rocks were thrown at police. The demonstrators and some liberal supporters will raise their righteous voices against police overreaction and brutality, and they will be setting up precisely the wrong enemy and losing their battle even as they ignore their own excess and swell their heads with their own victimhood.

It took at least eight years to end the Vietnam War from when demonstrations began, and along the way the counter culture and its sympathizers lost two presidential elections to the GOP and the political and cultural sympathy of two generations of the American working and middle class.

If the occupations do not transform into regular and even growing always peaceful and orderly demonstrations – a growth the occupations cannot experience – and if more organized political forces cannot find ways to detach from the booster of the occupations, the movement now seems ready to self-destruct.


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6 thoughts on “How Occupy Wall Street and Liberals Will Lose

  1. Jay, your two links to your previous posts on OWS point to the same post. I am guessing that this is not what you intended.

  2. The beauty of the occupation movement is that there are no demands nor leaders. We want what is supposed to be the foundation of this country, justice and equality under the law. 99.5% of the participants are non-violent and peaceful. In any popular movement, there are always people who want to clash with the authorities, especially in the Bay Area with the Berkeley/SF anarchist contigents. If you go down to any occupation site, you will see a lot of young people but you will also see children, baby boomers and senior citizens. This is not 1968. The hardhats have joined the movement and in some instances protected it. The world is accelerating, no one knows where this will lead and that is ok. You cannot impose the old paradigms on what is happening. If anything that is what we want or more likely want we don’t want, what we already have.

    1. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You have to have deamnds, a plan, or something to show leaders and work with them to better the country/city you live in. That is unless you want the entire government toppled and “the people” meaning only your fellow protesters, to rule. I’m sick and tired of this movement’s flat refusal to work with local govenrments to improve condidtions for all citzens. In my city, the occuipers met with the mayor, who tired his hardest to work with them on economic and poverty issues, but they treated him like he was distracting form their goals and being an announce.One of them even had the gall to say “that’s not why we came here, it kept coming up, but that’s not why we’re here.” referring to the mayor’s attempts to work with the group on economic inequality in the city. So what did they really want form the Mayor? For him to ignore the law and let them camp in a Park without a permit (they’ve already been kicked out of one park and a currently regrouping). The Mayor rightly put his foot down and told them he cannot let that happen until City council changes the park laws, so that everyone (like a Neo Nazi group for example) can camp out in city parks. The occupiers do not really care one iota about working to better the city, they care only about camping illegally in a park. Martin Luther King is rolling over in his grave on this one.

  3. Jay, you couldn’t be more insightful. I love that these young (and some older more experienced) people have taken up the burden of defending our democracy, but where were they at the polls three years ago? Many of them, like Noam Chomsky (as you mentioned he visited them as their hero) are in it for the sheer visceral reward of anarchy. With thought, brave discourse, a plan, a leader, they could effect changes to our laws (repeal corporations as people?) changes that would change the world.

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