Monday, November 7, 2011

More thoughts on OWS


Since I'm currently staying with a friend in Boston, the other day I decided to check out "Occupy Boston" in Dewey Square. It was similar to "Occupy Wall Street," but clearly more civilized, more tame, and more orderly; and clearly less raucous, less fanatical and less crazy. The tents were in orderly rows, the people looked a little cleaner, and there was far less congestion down all the walking lanes. (Then again, I was only there for twenty minutes.) It was less like the frenzied festival-like atmosphere of Wall Street, and more like, at best, an unusually enthusiastic bake sale.

While Occupy Boston looks like it has its shit together, Occupy Wall Street seemed to throb with an angry, frustrated, and (dare I say) revolutionary energy that could keep it going longer despite all its faults. And while it appears Boston doesn't suffer as much from having their ranks swelled with the disinterested and the insane, they lack that angry, sweaty, farty vibe, not to mention the symbolic importance of OWS--the absences of which might make it difficult for them to bear the challenges ahead.

I don't know what to think of this movement.

I guess I'm delighted that it's happening. For all the (mostly unfounded) criticism it gets, it's clearly, at the very least, creating awareness about our country's ridiculous disparity of wealth and corporations' role in the buying and enslaving of politicians.

But I personally won't be happy if the movement merely gets Congress to pass half-assed legislation that distributes wealth somewhat more fairly, thus placating most everyone involved until things gradually shift back to the way things are now. If our country is a house, this to me would be like adding decorative trimming while the crumbling stone foundation is neglected.

Yet I have trouble seeing how the occupation will contribute to even minor improvements.

The movement isn't angry enough. It's not big enough. It's not mobby enough. While there are occupations everywhere--and some who are doing really incredible stuff--the occupations constitute a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of each city. To get what we want, we cannot merely pester and annoy. We must frighten and overwhelm.

Among the occupiers there are plenty of homeless people who could care less about the movement. And there are those--sorta like me--who only come for the cultural experience, so they could say they were "there." But what was most telling about the state of the movement were my impressions of the "real" occupiers--the good ones. These men and women were aware and upset, but not desperate and fierce. They were smart and articulate, but not livid and determined.

I can't help but guess that creating awareness, occupying, and going on modestly-sized protests will soon become tiresome to both the occupier and media alike. And when the occupiers see that their efforts have produced no change, and when the visitors thin and the media attention wanes, they will begin to wonder if it's worth this cough, these numb hands, these grimy clothes.

Frankly, I think it's out of the occupiers' hands for now. I think things need to get far worse before this movement can realize its potential. We need a deeper depression, or a Republican president, or more egregious behavior from the powers that be. We need angrier, more determined people. We need to make young people think they're "missing out" on something big. Dissent needs to become "cool," and playing videogames for hours on end needs to be rightfully deemed slothful.

And if that happens, then we need a clear goal to strive to attain. And while there's lots of stuff messed up in the country and world right now, the movement can't be so fractured and unfocused.

My idea: If the dissidents were to swell to appropriate numbers, the occupations should relocate to  Washington, hopefully so that they're no longer an easily extinguishable rabble of scruffy-faced kids that could be snuffed out with the twist of a cop's boot heel, but an intimidating million-strong conflagration. The demand must be simple and understandable to all. And if there's anything that unites the left and right, young and old, black, brown and white, man and woman, it's to have for ourselves an actual democracy; to remove corporations, special interests, lobbyists--whatever you want to call them--from our elections. The other changes that need to be made should follow.

Things of course wouldn't be perfect. Our government would still have its faults. Not all the occupations' demands will be met. But at least with representatives chosen by the people, we will for once be able to both govern ourselves and let people with our interests in mind govern us.


Andrea said...

Your reflections on the Occupy movement have been great, and I really appreciate your candidness and critical evaluation of the events that are unfolding. Although I am very much in support of the movement, like you I think, I am extremely conflicted about its practicality, effectiveness, and future prospects. I have yet to attend the local Occupation in my own town partly for that reason (and also because academics takes priority for me right now). At any rate, I deeply, deeply hope that what we are seeing is only the beginning of the needed revolution. And even more so, I hope everyone -- Occupiers and media -- can avoid burn-out in the coming months. Anyway, just my two cents worth. Thanks for providing such great updates on the movement!

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Ken said...

Andrea--Thanks so much. Interestingly, twelve occupiers are marching (with a demand) from NY to DC starting tomorrow. While probably very little will come of twelve people demonstrating at the Capitol, I think this is the sorta thing that they need to be doing.

1st Anon--Your topic is an interesting one, and worth debating, but I think we would have to have such a discussion in cordial tones to reach any sort of mutual understanding.

Erin said...

I just watched an on line documentary that I thought gave an interesting summary of the occupy movement.