Monday, October 3, 2011

"It's about taking down systems, it doesn't matter what you're protesting...just protest" (updated)

I haven't written about the Occupy Wall Street movement yet because I'm ambivalent at this point. Certainly something needs to be done to rebalance the power that has led to the biggest income disparities in this country since the Gilded Age prior to the Great Depression. It seems that faltering on the precipice of another economic collapse hasn't been enough to wake the public up to the dangers involved.

The other day Karoli expressed some of her questions about this movement and I tend to agree.

I think what it is, is the sense that discontent expressed doesn’t necessarily lead to a solution...

What we have is a serious imbalance. Serious. The pressure is on to balance it. That part of these protests is and will continue to be praiseworthy. But I am committed to change from within the system, rather than destroying it.

The quote in my title is from one of the protesters in a story about Occupy Wall Street in the New York Times. When I read it this morning, it chrystallized my concerns. It seems the protesters have identified the problem, but where there are thoughts about the solution (ie, "taking down systems") I think they're off track.

My questions go to whether or not the goals are to destroy Wall Street or rebalance the power. The former would lead to chaos that I think would do more damage than good. And in too many instances, history tells us that could lead to a potential fascistic backlash - especially given the small number of people on board with all of this compared to the overall U.S. population. This is why the term "too big to fail" developed in the first place...the failure of those systems would affect everyone. But as is always the case, "the least of these" will get hurt the most.

I recognize that this movement has tapped into the anger so many (especially on the left) have been feeling over the damage done by Wall Street and the arrogance shown by too many in their midst. But anger unleashed without purpose is potentially dangerous. It also strikes me as rather lazy and self-absorbed. I'm a believer in the idea that we have to calibrate the effects of our actions carefully. Any change ushers in unintended consequences and we have to be aware of that.

I know that Van Jones has signed on to this movement, but I would remind him of what he said last June.

I wound up going to many many more funerals than I went to graduations for those young people I was working with. And as the years went on, I learned that angry rhetoric might feel good to people like me, but it didn't make a difference in the neighborhoods I was trying to move forward. I learned that education and real opportunity is what makes a real difference. Protest signs are important - they can't stop a bullet. Nothing stops a bullet like a job. That's what I learned working in the toughest communities in our country.

Angry rhetoric is going to be part of any movement for change. It is necessary, but not sufficient. That's because what First Lady Michelle Obama said is also true.

The only thing that happens in an instant is destruction … everything else requires time.

UPDATE: Kai Wright shares his thoughts/questions at ColorLines.

It’s clear to me that NYPD could and would behave dishonestly. It’s less clear, however, what any of this has to do with the fact that millions of people have lost their homes—many in fraudulent, illegal foreclosures on fraudulent, sadly legal mortgages. It’s also unclear what it has to do with the jobs crisis. Or the trillions of dollars in taxpayer money that banks ran away with, while ignoring congressional orders that they ramp up mortgage modifications and small-business lending in return. I mean, I can’t rightly say I know a thing about organizing a movement and I’m all for “a symbolic gesture of our discontent,” as organizers have described this one. By all means, take over the park, the bridge, the street—you name it. But it’s hard to imagine how this becomes anything more than what it is now: a running battle with individual cops over the right to public space in Manhattan.


  1. I'm rather skeptical about this myself. There doesn't seem to be a coherent goal, nor any clear idea of how the actions being taken are supposed to achieve whatever the goal is. Perhaps it will evolve into something for practical. But I'd hate to see the energy that should be going into the election get diverted into something that won't accomplish anything because it lacks a real program.

  2. I'm so pissed or scared that I shouldn't even open my mouth;-) Van Jones says, "We've got a movement now....They should've left us alone." Unless everyone of those "we've got a movement now" signs has a "GOTV" sticker or "Pass the AJA, Now" on it, I'm gonna feel the way I did just before Nixon/Reagan/Bush were elected: like somebody beat me over the head with my own marching shoes!

  3. @Infidel: That has been a concern for me too.

    If this event degenerates into a "blame Obama" protest, or if the end result plays into the GOP's hands, then it would have been for nothing.

    My hope is that the Wall Street protests of 2011 will lead to the @$$-kicking of the GOP in 2012. But for that to happen, there must be a clear, coherent plan. One seems to be forming, but the fact that the AJA is not mentioned at all does give me some concern.

  4. These protests MUST stay positive, peaceful, and non-threatening to most people. The participants should want ordinary people to identify with the protesters, not with the people they are protesting against. If these protests turn ugly or violent or disorderly, then people who watch the coverage on tv start to get scared, and that's when they start voting Republican.

    I lived through the 1960's. Protest movements starting with Civil Rights started out in a positive direction, and most people sympathized with the protesters when the police turned the dogs on them. But when people started to see vandalism and looting in big cities, and large, threatening anti-war demonstrations, and a lot of revolutionary rhetoric, that's when the country decided to elect Richard Nixon.

    Hopefully we have learned some lessons since then.

  5. I lived through the 1960's too and I don't care for this protest at all. To me, people have felt powerless and afraid since the economy started tanking and those on the far right and far left have been looking for someone to "make it better." President Obama and the Democrats took big strides in making that change until the 2010 Republican win.

    I would much, much rather see all of this passion and action focused on getting the Jobs Act passed, making it known peacefully to Republicans that we aren't buying what they are selling, and working to get Democrats elected at all levels of the government. All that energy focused that way would be powerful. An informed and active electorate can bring about real change.

    I hope something good comes out of this, but it reminds me of when the SDS became powerful in protesting the Vietnam War. It was a heady thing for those leaders to have a roaring crowd behind them. And at least stopping the Vietnam War was a clear target for change. This does not. I understand the feelings involved in those participating, but I don't have any sympathy for this method unless they can get Republicans to back off and pass progressive (or even sane) legislation.

  6. I've been saying for over a year...move your money. Organizing in communities to get folks to move their money seems much more effective. Yes, it isn't sexy and it won't draw headlines but I think it is something that is an easy sell and banks would notice that more. Small, local, regional, credit unions is where it is at!