Now What?

Winter is fast approaching.

Even if NYC Mayor Bloomberg permits the Occupy Wall Street protesters to camp out until next spring or later, how will this alone accomplish anything? By next spring, if progress isn’t made on more tangible fronts, how many participants will choose to get on with the rest of their lives? And how will OWS compete for media attention once the primary season gets underway?

Michael Kazin, a history prof at Georgetown, has these thoughts:

I think protests like this have to progress from tactic to strategy if they are going to endure…But with no leaders and everything run by consensus, how do you make these decisions?

He goes on to say he thinks it’s likely that OWS end up being “seen as a spark” to spur other people and organizations to address income inequality in more concrete ways.

On the one-month anniversary of OWS, participants seemed OK with the unpredictability of where things were headed (VIDEO), pointing to early civil rights activity as examples of how small actions produced big change. But, as mentioned in the Kazin piece, there’s a distinction between a focused goal (e.g., end segregation) and the broader economic themes of OWS.

It would appear that OWS is, for the moment, content with its leaderless learn-from-one-another way of existing. Heck, meandering can be fun in warm weather. We’ll see if the participants still feel that way if NYC gets socked with one of more major snowstorms in the coming months. Do they want to be merely ‘a spark’ or leaders of change?

5 Responses

  1. MsJS, this is a tough one. IMHO, if/when they make a decision to be "leaders of change," it will splinter into factions with less force. And, just for the record, not sure I would say "merely a spark." Without that spark, there probably is no change to follow, with or without leaders.

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  2. In some ways they've already accomplished a great deal. They've brought more attention to income inequality than anyone else was able to do and at least got the media and politicians talking about it. We'll see if or how they evolve but finally people are getting off their butts and making a few waves.

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  3. As much as I'd like to agree, lms, I think they've got a big logistical challenge to overcome right now.Most US cities with Occupy protests are funding the police supervision by pulling cops off their regular beats. That won't last much longer, as neighborhoods wise up and demand restoration of police presence. Also, there was a death at one camp and cities won't want to deal with the consequences of more fatalities. Once the conversation shifts to those issues, and I think it will pretty soon, the momentum of OWS will fade and then what?As to bringing attention to income inequality, this has been done regularly by other institutions for years. We could consider those as 'sparks' too, except income inequality has grown during that time. Unless OWS kicks it up a level, my prediction is it won't change the trend one iota.

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  4. MsJS, did you read this piece from Taibbi yesterday? He thinks they still need room to grow. I don't agree with everything he says but I think he might have a point. We're a nation that was built on a thousand different utopian ideas, from the Shakers to the Mormons to New Harmony, Indiana. It was possible, once, for communities to experiment with everything from free love to an end to private property. But nowadays even the palest federalism is swiftly crushed. If your state tries to place tariffs on companies doing business with some notorious human-rights-violator state – like Massachusetts did, when it sought to bar state contracts to firms doing business with Myanmar – the decision will be overturned by some distant global bureaucracy like the WTO. Even if 40 million Californians vote tomorrow to allow themselves to smoke a joint, the federal government will never permit it. And the economy is run almost entirely by an unaccountable oligarchy in Lower Manhattan that absolutely will not sanction any innovations in banking or debt forgiveness or anything else that might lessen its predatory influence.And here's one more thing I was wrong about: I originally was very uncomfortable with the way the protesters were focusing on the NYPD as symbols of the system. After all, I thought, these are just working-class guys from the Bronx and Staten Island who have never seen the inside of a Wall Street investment firm, much less had anything to do with the corruption of our financial system.But I was wrong. The police in their own way are symbols of the problem. All over the country, thousands of armed cops have been deployed to stand around and surveil and even assault the polite crowds of Occupy protesters. This deployment of law-enforcement resources already dwarfs the amount of money and manpower that the government "committed" to fighting crime and corruption during the financial crisis. One OWS protester steps in the wrong place, and she immediately has police roping her off like wayward cattle. But in the skyscrapers above the protests, anything goes.This is a profound statement about who law enforcement works for in this country. What happened on Wall Street over the past decade was an unparalleled crime wave. Yet at most, maybe 1,500 federal agents were policing that beat – and that little group of financial cops barely made any cases at all. Yet when thousands of ordinary people hit the streets with the express purpose of obeying the law and demonstrating their patriotism through peaceful protest, the police response is immediate and massive. There have already been hundreds of arrests, which is hundreds more than we ever saw during the years when Wall Street bankers were stealing billions of dollars from retirees and mutual-fund holders and carpenters unions through the mass sales of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities.

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  5. I'm going to plop this quote in here. I read a statistic yesterday that the OWS kids only suffer from the same unemployment statistics the rest of the country does. Just like the veteran from Oakland who ended up in the hospital, most of them have jobs.Today’s poster boy for the ugly side of the 1%: Republican MI-SEN candidate Clark Durant. In regards to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Durant said the protesters should “go find a job.” In regards to the wealth gap the movement decries, Durant said, “I think it should be wider.”

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