Friday, November 18, 2011

Speaking out on... and to... the Occupy movement

Thursday morning my wife saw the news covering how the protesters were organizing right out in front of the building and immediately got so concerned that she asked if I could just work from home until the protest was over. I reminded her that I have a dentist appointment (right across the street from the office). I then blurted out (without having seen the TV yet) that if the protests are now so actively dangerous that I cannot even go to work in the general vicinity of one that they're no longer a movement and merely a [expletive deleted] mob.

And that's from someone who was more or less empathetic to their cause.

Of course, when I actually walked over and looked at the TV there were less than 100 people, which paled in comparison to the actual march I witnessed at lunch a few weeks back. That was no cause for concern in my mind. Obviously when you get a large group of people together there's the potential for the situation to get out of hand, but these protests still seemed far safer than, say, it would have been at opening day at Dodger Stadium.

(Too soon?)

As the protests tout that they want everyone's voice to be heard, and so here's what I was thinking as I rode the train in to work:

I acknowledge the power of public assembly to send a message to the government and society, but I cannot help but suspect that the protests are on the verge of starting to backfire, or at least lose what efficacy they may have had. Even with encampments or protests being broken up by police with what in certain instances appeared to be hideously unnecessary violence, I don't get the impression that the portion of the "99%" who are not down at the protests is feeling more empathetic toward the movement. It's not that they're turning off to it, per se, but they aren't responding with a surge of outrage and turning the tide in a way that the politicians cannot ignore.

And for the people who aren't really on either side but who are just trying to get on with their lives, when a protest makes them late for work because the streets were blocked, that seems unlikely to persuade those people to be actively engaging on the side of the Occupy movement. I grant that the idea might be to get those folks to put pressure on the powers that be to work with the movement and comply with their demands, but it seems like it could just as likely inspire those folks to contact those powers to get the protests shut down.

I know it's easy for me, someone with a job, to essentially sit on the sidelines and be somewhat critical of those who are making efforts in support of what they passionately believe, but it's more or less because… I don't know why. It's not like I'm offering to advise them on what I think they should do. I don't know what would solve the problem. But I do think that even to the extent we understand what they want, I'm not sure them continuing to do what they have been doing is achieving that.

In short: Winning over people (many of whom would be in the "99%") by blocking them in traffic, especially here in L.A., probably is not the way to do it.


And here's a brief report on what I found after I got to Downtown:

My first stop was for a dentist appointment. The protesters had planted themselves on the street adjacent to that building where his office was. That didn't affect me, as I'd taken the train and walked, but his receptionist was not there when I arrived. During my cleaning she called twice (and he had to stop to go answer the phone—it's a small practice). Both times it was his receptionist calling to say she couldn't get through with the blocked streets. She finally arrived when my cleaning was over and I was leaving, 45 minutes late for work.

(She was not, as best I can tell, in any way responsible for the Wall Street bailouts, or the mortgage crisis, or the general state of the economy that has many others out of work. I'm pretty sure she's only part-time.)

As I was heading back to my building (one street over, away from the protesters) I went out to catch a glimpse of the protest. From an overhead bridge (filled with photographers) I could see protesters squatting in the street. Now, the police had closed off that part of the street well before the protesters got there, so rather than cars there were the Occupy protesters, a flatbed truck with drummers and a guy with a loudspeaker, and a lot of police officers. It appeared that some protesters were being taken away in handcuffs (and not being beaten or tazed beforehand; it seemed orderly on both sides), as I believe their assembly permit had expired and they weren't allowed to squat in the street. I snapped a quick photo with my phone (see above).

But before I headed back into the building I heard the guy with the loudspeaker saying what I presume was intended to be leading the crowd in a chant. And what was that precisely?

"Fight the power."

So, at least for that moment I was out there in its midst, the Occupy LA movement (at least the people who were claiming to be the "99%" in this instance) had devolved into a lackluster version of a Spike Lee movie.

(Too soon?)


I'm not saying things aren't hard out there. I know people who are out of work. I very much would like for someone to come up with a feasible plan for improving the lot of those who cannot afford to contribute massive amounts to politicians. And while I had to concede that the act of blocking a major boulevard in Downtown L.A. and chanting did succeed in garnering plenty of local media attention (the sky was filled with more helicopters than we have local TV stations), and there may be some value in showing those sitting at home that you haven't given up (given that clearly your goals have not been met), when it comes to getting your message out there when you have that spotlight, it does seem after all this time there should be no reason for you ever to have to fall back on "fight the power" at any point—pithy though it may be, unless you're advocating an overthrow of the government it seems to be drifting off bit from your actual complaint.

Which, by the way, appeared to be more about getting jobs for those who were out of work. Fair enough. But given that the majority of the people who would ordinarily use that boulevard (and had nothing to do with the inspiration for the movement) to get to their jobs could not do so, is keeping those chanting anything (even some of the undoubtedly better slogans that I didn't hear during my brief time near them) doing to get closer to some resolution to that problem?

Remember: Just because a skyscraper has at the top of it the name of a large bank or organization that does have culpability in the problems we're facing does not necessarily mean that there's actually a single person inside who had anything to do with it. Symbolism is all good and well, but those are the people you are annoying includes many who would be in the 99%, not the 1%.


I consider this whole thing to be a very grey area, where there's plenty of blame to go around, but I have to admit that for a movement that purports to represent 99% of us—by any measure a percentage that would be the epitome of what is the majority, what is mainstream—such actions aren't really bringing the actual majority  of society into the fold. That, it seems to my simple mind, is something that eventually must happen if this movement is to achieve any of its aims.

So, Occupy movement: It's not that I want you to fail. I'm just saying I'm not sure you've figured out how to succeed yet, and if people are being made late for work while some of you are getting arrested, I'd like to believe you had.

But I welcome arguments to try to convince me that your occupying will lead to occupations. There's the comments area below...

1 comment:

  1. Did you see this video? I laughed.

    I think most of them are anarchists and communists, and the rest are just morons. The media will ignore a Tea Party march with hundreds of thousands of orderly, law-abiding, working people, but they'll provide endless coverage of a few hundred anarchists (while ignoring all their drug abuse, sexual assaults, and other crimes). It's ludicrous.


So, what do you think?