Let me start this out by saying a few things: First, I unreservedly support the general aims of the Occupy movement, such as they are. Second, I do not want to make the mistake (and don't think I am) of impugning a movement or protest simply because its aims are not crystal clear; many a movement has been successful in enacting change without necessarily having specific demands at all times. Third, the police response in many places has been utterly appalling. Given the nature of the protest, it's almost unavoidable that there will be conflicts and arrests -- the entire point is to create an inconvenience, isn't it? -- but the lack of proportionality in places like Oakland, the bizarre unprovoked use of pepper spray in places like Berkeley, etc... it's just crazy!
All of that said, I've always intuitively felt like there was something not quite right about the Occupy movement. I knew it had something to do with their lack of specific goals, but as I said before, a movement doesn't necessarily need specific demands in order to be effective. Still, something about that just felt a little futile, a little misdirected somehow...
And yesterday, driving past the Occupy Rochester protest, it suddenly hit me: You can have a protest or movement that doesn't have specific demands, but you can't have a "we're going to stay here and we're not moving until either you arrest us all or..."-style protest without specific demands. How will you know when you're done? And if you can't know when you're done, how can you have a we-aren't-moving-until protest?
People like to draw parallels and contrasts between Occupy and the Tea Party movement. The validity of many of these comparisons is a bit questionable in my mind, but let me take the Tea Partiers as an example and show why they don't have this problem, despite having arguably even more nebulous goals than Occupy. The Tea Party movement is ongoing, but each rally or protest has a distinct start and end. Eventually the movement will peter out, but it won't seem like surrender when it does.
Occupy can't last forever, and since the point of the protest is "we-won't-leave-until", and since "until" is completely undefined, it will inevitably look like a surrender. The protesters will leave, despite the fact that "until" never happened.
Now, there are advantages to Occupy's approach. Certainly it was able to get the attention of the media despite an early unwillingness to give much coverage to OWS. (On a side note, I'm apparently so embedded in alternative media that I didn't even notice this lack of coverage until people started to complain about it) And the fact that it is a style of protest which is especially likely to generate conflict with law enforcement does create the opportunity for both more exposure and more sympathy for the movement.
But will we see "Occupy candidates" being swept into national government in Nov. 2012, the way we did with the Tea Partiers in 2010? I just don't see it. I don't know if has anything to do with this hokey Underpants Gnomes-esque format, or if it's more because of the general political lay of the land right now, or what. I just can't get excited about Occupy, because I don't think they have a path to the sea to actually accomplish anything. And it's not only because their demands are vague; it's because they are nevertheless operating in a way that is most effective at achieving specific demands. It just doesn't add all the way up for me.
I must reiterate, however, that I do support the Occupy movement nonetheless.
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