Occupy This Blog

Predictably, I've been of many different minds about aspects of the Occupy movement. I attended my local movement on October 15th, and I've wandered by twice since, but I'm not planning on camping out. Obligations, you know, too many of them about which I feel too strongly to set them aside for this.

But I've also gotten cranky about some of the comments I've been seeing online, particularly by people whose opinions I thought I knew enough about to predict their politics. Some of this, I should say, comes from an exchange with local reporter and man-about-journalism Murray Langdon, opening with his tweet the other day of "If #ows wants to target overpaid individuals, occupy #NBA arenas and #NFL stadia. Forget town squares." He's a good guy, Murray, and I understand his frustration with the movement (both his personal frustration and what I take to be his frustration as a journalist), but I found myself ... provoked.

So for good or ill, I've found myself unable to avoid attempting something of a manifesto-style response: feel free to determine the appropriate hand signals with which to respond at each point.
  1. The protesters are not themselves the entire 99%. This should be obvious to everyone, not needing to be said, but apparently it's not. The people able to sleep at the protest site will sleep there, but that's not to say they're a demographic mirror of the protest's supporters. They represent me anyway, even if they don't look like me.
  2. "Where have these people been the last 15 years?" One of the comments that makes me the angriest has to do with what's said to be the sudden awakening of this protest, after years of apparent silence about these issues. First, do you really think that a protester is more likely to be correct as a result of spending more time on the barricades over the years? And second, have you not noticed that for decades, there have been smaller or larger protests every few weeks in every major North American city? We've been protesting: you haven't been taking us seriously.
  3. The "professional protester" issue. You've seen the comments, about these protesters being the usual suspects, and it looks at first like a tough point to refute. Yeah, many of us have been at protests in the past, and some of the occupiers have organized their lives around the ability to take action. But you can't object on the grounds BOTH that we've been silent for too long (point 3 above) AND that we've been protesting too often for too long. And "professional" protesters? Um, an unwaged volunteer gig doesn't count as a profession. Call them "committed" or "dedicated," or maybe "multi-issue": some of them are among the most knowledgeable people you'll ever talk to, if you make the time.
  4. The nutbar factor. Now, don't get mad at me here, because I'm a friend to the broad-based nature of the occupations. If you've got a beef with the system, take it public, and come on down. But me? I've got no time for the rare but persistent 9/11 truthers; for the persistent opponents of smart meters for power (a BC issue, mostly: read the comments for a deeper view of the discussion); and for all those other ideas that I have a hard time recognizing as anything but conspiracy theories. The Occupy protests are an umbrella, but you know what? Some people deserve to get wet, and not just the 1%.
  5. Where are the specific demands? Um, you may have noticed this already, but it's a protest, not a legislation-drafting session. We're identifying what's wrong. Hundreds of people, like little old me, are raising our voices in writing to identify what we think needs to be changed, and sometimes how we think they should be changed. If we had control of the levers of power, we wouldn't need a protest.
    Spend some time reading all of our assorted comments (and note that each word there is linked to a different nearly random site, with whose content I may or may not be in agreement). Do that, and you'll see that there are all sorts of ideas out there for you to choose from. Support what you want. You need to get engaged in this process as well, rather than waiting to be told what to do.
  6. Why not do something constructive? I've heard people complaining, for example, that the Occupy protesters should have done something like donate a can of food each to the local food bank, rather than hang out making noise in the town square. My answer is, who do you think already makes donations to local programs? I haven't seen stats on this, and I suspect they'd be excruciatingly difficult to generate, but my suspicion is that many of the Occupy protesters have been donating and contributing to such programs for years, and working for some of them as well. (See the "professional protesters" note above, #4.) And a protest, by the way, IS constructive, at least potentially. Plus at least some of the Occupy protests ARE soliciting for the local food banks.
  7. "These [grubby/hairy/oddly dressed/rude/etc] people are not me." Of course they're not. They've got time in their lives to do this sort of thing. The only question for you is whether you support at least some aspect of their message. If you do, then to just that extent, they're working on your behalf. If you disagree with them entirely, then fine. They're not really the 99%, after all, no matter how convenient a slogan that might be. You want them to protest something different? Then do what you can to influence them, or someone else. Just participate.
  8. What are the key issues, really? Pay attention to this now: there are no key separate issues, and all separate issues are key. Plenty of things could stand to be changed, if we're going to live in a world of broader social equity than exists now.
  9. OK, then what are your key issues? My big three issues are:
  • the semi-criminality of financing and investing, which includes the banks and stock markets but (gulp) probably mutual funds and similar vehicles;
  • the unethical and unsustainable madness that is the food industry; and
  • the reluctance to take genuine action against anthropogenic climate change.
These are huge issues, and effective responses to them would require significant changes by (or at least on behalf of) millions upon millions of people. I don't expect that camping for a few weeks will make much happen, but the Occupy protests are a signal, a call, a loud and sustained principled objection. I'm ecstatic that people are objecting, and that the system appears to be listening. I'll not improve my mood, at bottom, until the system appears to start taking the objections seriously - instead of simply responding to the inconvenience itself of having people in the town square - but it's a start.

I am the 99%. So are you. You have different ideas than I do? Great. Bring it on; I get excited at the prospect of changing my mind to something better!


Fraze said…
We're both married, and so we are both aware that a nit-picking focus on the illogical details of any angry reaction ... isn't going to make the anger go away.

Perhaps the opposite.

In fact, if I find myself pointing out that my wife's anger doesn't have any coherent demands, then I think I've lost the argument already.

Couldn't that perhaps be said for the people complaining about OWS? A protest this widespread and this heartfelt is notable — and the fact that it isn't even protesting a specific, highly-visible single instance of injustice is even MORE remarkable.
richard said…
Thanks, Jo(e)!

And Fraser, yes, certainly. The opposition to OWS and Occupy Elsewhere does at times savour of the "but if you squeezed the toothpaste a little harder, I think you'll find...." Eventually we'll all have to move toward fixing the broken, straightening the bent, hanging the toilet paper roll the correct way, and so on, but for now the important thing is simply that someone recognizes that sleeping on the couch is the foreseeable future. We'll deal with the details once the 1% figures out just how unhappy we are about those glances at the waitress.

Or something.

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