Tuesday, October 4, 2011

TAKIN' IT TO THE STREETS

Raise your hand if you’re over 50 and remember peaceful protests in the 1960s and 70s? Ah, I thought so – lots of you (okay,"us") skipped class and paraded around carrying signs that said things like, “Hell No, We Won’t Go,” and “America- Fix it or Fuck It!” or “We Shall Overcome.” In some instances, we sincerely had worthy causes worth fighting for, or demonstrating for. In other cases, we were just mad at something our universities or our government had done and we wanted to vent our anger. Either way – we know a little something about civil disobedience, don’t we? And that’s why as we watch the Occupy Wall Street protests, in some ways it’s “déjà vu all over again.”

As recently as last week many of us did not understand what Occupy Wall Street was about. Media wasn’t really picking up on it much, and outside of NYC the buzz was pretty quiet. What a difference a week can make. This week cities across the U.S. are starting to heed the “Occupy” call to reject corporate greed, to call on wealthy Americans to spread the wealth and to neutralize the influence that corporate lobbyists have on legislators. On its face, the basic tenets of the Occupy Wall Street movement seem valid to many Americans. However, much like some of those above mentioned protests from the absolute era of protest, Occupy Wall Street does not seem to have clear proposals for social or economic change. What the demonstrators do have is massive frustration with the American capitalist system.

Buoyed by participation from activist luminaries like Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore, the demonstrators have held steadfast to their own activism for about two weeks now. Here’s a report from ABC News:
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The one thing we learned from our anti-everything protests from the 1960s and 70s is that anger may be a powerful catalyst, but until it is coupled with achievable goals, demonstrations are hollow. I am not an expert on social movements, but I’m an interested observer who learned the following over time:

1. Organize, organize, organize. The Occupy movement is certainly a grass roots effort, but even the most basic protests must have order. Anarchy only builds anarchy. Having a plan and some way to structure the movement often yields greater results. Best evidence? The Civil Rights movement
of the 1960s.

2. Have clear objectives. Nobody seems to have stated any goals with the Occupy Wall Street movement. What is the purpose of thousands of people showing up for a street demonstration if there aren’t any clear objectives? So far, what we know is that these people are dissatisfied with the current state of our economic system, our taxation laws and what they see as undue influence of corporate entities on legislation that affects all Americans. All valid, but if you ask them what they want instead of the current system, so far no one has come forward to outline the goals.

3. Who’s calling the shots? The best social change movements had great leaders – Dr. Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinem (below, left), Mario Savio, Susan B. Anthony.
This morning a New Orleans man, age 27, called in to a local talk radio show to talk about the Occupy New Orleans demonstration to be held Thursday. When asked who was in charge of the rally, he said, “Well, we don’t have a leader or anything like that. Everybody will just get together.” When asked what the objective of the demonstration will be, he said, “We’re protesting the inequality between classes in this country.” He never said what the group wants, or what alternative to the class system they would like to see. They need a leader.

So, about those “clear objectives” in number two above: The anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s clearly wanted out of Vietnam. The women’s movement of the 1970s clearly wanted gender equality and to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s clearly wanted an end to racial discrimination. Unfortunately, there is nothing clear about what the Occupy movement wants.

The frustration and anger expressed by the many young people on Wall Street these past couple of weeks is step one. It is that emotional fire that galvanizes large groups of people. But the recent media comparisons to Egypt’s Tahir Square (below, right) are a stretch. The Tahir Square demonstrators wanted democracy. So far, the Occupy movement demonstrators just seem to want to get something off their chest. I applaud their tenacity and their passion.That’s what we’re made of here in America, as opposed to say, Bahrain, where this week it was revealed that 26 anti government protestors are to be imprisoned, with sentences ranging from five to 15 years each. Here we can speak up, be heard and affect change. But looking into the faces of the young Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, I just wonder: What do you want to do about the issues that motivate you? We know you’re unemployed; we know you don’t have any health insurance and we know your college degree is not serving you as well as you hoped. Reminding us of all of that doesn’t really accomplish much. What do you want?

2 comments:

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On Saturday, January 28, thousands of parents, families and engaged citizens gathered together to open a community center in the heart of downtown Oakland. The Police, under orders from Mayor Quan, responded to this peaceful demonstration of direct democracy and community building by arresting around 400 people.

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