I received a Facebook invitation this past weekend to attend a meeting to help organize an Occupy Wall Street organization in the Albany, NY area. Now I’m not going, not because I’m opposed to the values of the OWS group, whatever they are, but because I’m really allergic to meetings. And, based on a bunch I went to in the 1980s and early 1990s, ESPECIALLY meetings of people who are politically left of center, who are really interested in “process” such as “consensus”. I’m really happy if a group can find a consensus, but it’s maddeningly slow.
And what ARE the values of OWS? It’s “standing up for the 99%” of us who are suffering while Wall Street bankers grow richer by the day.” OK, but what does that mean, exactly? Even the OWS people will acknowledge it may mean different things to different people.
I’ve spent a lot of time at protests over the years. Sometimes, it would be a protest at a particular location, trying to change a specific behavior. But most of the time, it’s been symbolic. When I marched in front of a draft board in May of 1972, I didn’t expect that it would end the draft, thought it did actually closed that particular building on that particular day.
Generally speaking, it was the repeated actions – sit-ins, demonstrations – that affected a situation to bring about change. The reason I think the OWS movement might starting to have some sort of effect already is the gross overreaction by the authorities to peaceful protest. It makes the police nervous enough to use pepper spray.
The fact is that the protesters want a panoply of different things: getting giant banks to pay their fair share of taxes, end the foreclosure crisis by the renegotiation of mortgages; some are concerned by environmental issues, such as that potentially disastrous, but big money, Tar Sands pipeline. Some, even within the movement, see this as a weakness – “what’s our mission statement?”
I think that, early on, I may have agreed with that assessment, but upon further reflection, it reminds me of that group that used to show up at Congressional town hall meetings yelling at their representatives back in 2009, and ended up getting organized (thanks in no small part to FOX News and Koch brothers money) as the Tea Party, an undeniable force in the current Republican Party. As you will recall, the participants’ agendas were manifold: some wanted fiscal responsibility, while others were more concerned with a variety of “social” issues.
Occupy Wall Street could – I’m just spitballing here – arrange a boycott against Bank of America for hiking its debit card fees (and after it took bailout money), or bring greater pressure to bear to stop the pipeline, or even run a progressive challenger to President Obama in the Democratic primaries (something I’d like to see, BTW, because I think it would focus him better; won’t happen). In any case, I’m glad to see action that belies the myth that that the progressive movement is dead in the United States.
I’ve signed up for the Virtual March on Wall Street today (Wednesday), and I have even less clarity about its efficacy than I do about the in-person version. It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out.