How Occupy Wall Street will fail

Well, now I've gone and done it. I sent this late last night to an editor friend of mine, who promptly put it up on the Portland Tribune's website, which was not really what I intended at the time.

Oh well.

I guess I'll post the full html version here so people can see my links. Sorry to those of you looking for special needs fare. This is political, but an issue I feel affects us all.

If you happen to live in Portland, please join the forum so we have a chance of creating a safe, legal place to protest.


Tuesday morning I woke up with hope in my heart and excitement running in my veins.

Well, no, that's not true. That morning I woke up to screaming babies, a mountain of debt, a house worth 30 percent less than I paid for it, a broken-down car and an exhausted spouse.

But after that, I did the hope and excitement thing. That's because I had heard about Occupy Portland and had spent an hour of precious sleep time making (extraordinarily clever) signs for the event.

In case you aren't aware, Occupy Portland, beginning Oct. 6, is one of many protests in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, a protest that's been going on in New York every day since Sept. 17. There are similar protests sprouting up across the nation and there is no leader and no real agenda. This is simply a wellspring of public anger from people of all political persuasions saying enough.

Enough with corporate bailouts. Enough with ineffectual politicians. Enough with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.


And I thought this effort had a real chance of succeeding, too, because it seemed to have all the right elements: It wasn't for or against any particular politician or political party. It offered a framework for success but allowed people to fashion it in their own image. There was no single leader or sponsoring organization that could turn into a flashpoint for division.

But the kicker — the real message in this message-less, agenda-less, angst-filled public wailing — was this: There, people displayed messages of their sorrow on hand-written papers in front or beside their face. There was the immigrant who came to the land of liberty and worked two jobs to put herself through college but is now facing zero job prospects with an ailing mother to support. There was the 60-something architect who worked hard to pick himself back up and rebuild his business after the 1988 banking crisis and is once again left with nothing. They are all part of what is being called The 99 Percenters, those who do not have the unimaginable wealth of the richest one percent. By showing how much we all have in common, they created a space for solidarity in a deeply divided nation.

But by the end of the day, after I pored through the Facebook page and the event page and the forum and even dragged my butt down to a General Assembly meeting, I realized the fatal flaw in the movement. It's the same fatal flaw in every movement, from the anti-Vietnam War protests to the 1999 WTO protests.

Those goddamned radicals.

Don't get me wrong, everyone is radical about something. The Tea Partiers are so radically anti-tax that they don't notice the irony in protesting on tax-payer-funded sidewalks. Wall Street execs are so radically pro-capitalism they don't realize that the casino they're running isn't a free market.

Me, personally, I'm radical about the need for these Occupations to be peaceful. For better or worse, that means working with the police, something Occupy Portland has yet to do.

I grew up distrusting police, but I've since had many positive encounters with them. I believe they too are part of the 99 percent. I believe they have stressful, dangerous jobs and have to make snap decisions about who and what is a threat. I believe they have to work overtime, taking time away from their families, on a moment's notice, because of annoyingly unorganized protests exactly like this one.

But most importantly, I believe that protestors are guaranteed conflict — likely violent conflict — with police if they refuse to cooperate.

That's why — despite all my initial enthusiasm — I likely won't be participating in Thursday's protest. If I can't be sure of a safe, legal, family-friendly place to gather, then I won't go.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

I wish she had said what to do about how those people can distance themselves from an even smaller radicalized group who derail efforts to create change the whole world can take part in.


  1. I'm a late 20's professional with a family, taking the day off work and coming down from Longview WA to join Occupy Portland on Thursday.

    While there is always the possibility of a police clash during any protest, judging by how the other Occupy events have gone around the country I don't believe there will be any issues with or without a permit. Stick to the sidewalks, don't march down the middle of the street, and there is nothing the police or anyone else can do to stop us. Most of all we need peaceful protesters like you and I there. Occupy Portland isn't about anarchy, and letting antagonists become the majority of the movement will not help.

    My reason for supporting: I don't want to overthrow the government, I want our elected officials to start representing the interests 99% instead of the greed of the 1%. Everything else will fall into place if "we the people" are truly represented.

    My reason for attending on Thursday: +1 peaceful protester.

    Hope to see you there.

  2. Thank you so much for commenting and even more for going!! I think it's great that you'll be there.

    Personally, I think that these Occupations have a lot more potential to turn violent than elsewhere in the country simply because of the history of the Pacific NW (anarchist riots in Eugene, Seattle's WTO, etc.). When I went to the General Assembly meeting, I would say almost half of the people were vehemently anti-police. I think they still represent a very small minority in the larger group planning to attend, but 700 people in Brooklyn were arrested when nobody told them they weren't allowed to cross a bridge.

    I can't afford to get arrested and I certainly am not going to risk the safety of my children, who I would have to bring because I don't have childcare.

    But more importantly, this movement will go nowhere if it can't make a place for all people: the elderly, the sick, the young, the conservatives, the liberals. Everybody.

  3. Your lack of faith is depressing. Radicals too are in that 99%. Your insinuation that they are "ruing" things has shades of the anger at the people who voted Green party when Al Gore ran. No offense meant towards the "middle ground" types, but it's the radicals who bring injustice into the light, who organize these protests, and who facilitate change. Don't look down you nose and call it a failure before it begins. Furthermore, the crowd IS filled with elderly, sick, young, libertarians (conservatives) and liberals. What it IS NOT filled with are the wishy washy worriers who would stay at home and disapprove them move and be uncomfortable. Either participate and make it the movement you want it to be, or start your own.

  4. I deserve that, I suppose.

    I did go down, but only for an hour and a half and I didn't march. I'm really glad to see things are peaceful so far and I think the 99% solidarity chant is still working.

    I also did many things, including write this post, to make it the movement I want it to be.

    What I very much don't think are helpful are the *violent* radicals. They have more power and potential to delegitimize this movement than any of the 1%.

  5. Excellent post, Shasta. Reflects a lot of my own thinking and fears...about the event turning violent. That said, I too would accept Laura's comment as a fair challenge.

    Not that I, as a practicing mainstream journalist, would become part of this or any other protest/rally.

  6. Thanks, George! I'm glad you read this. BTW, I so wish the ONN was up by now so this would've run! Soon, I hope.

  7. Anonymous1:44 AM

    In response to "What I very much don't think are helpful are the *violent* radicals." Violence has changed the world more then anything else has. I dont say its a good thing, but bullets, knives and poison has changed the course of history more then any pen ever has. The only way a pen will change this country is to start local and change the government from the bottom up. Lay a new foundation.

  8. I'm not a pacifist, but I do think that violence is overrated as a force for good.

    What I am sure of is that in this movement at this particular time violence would not only be unproductive but likely catastrophic. It would alienate those who have yet to join it and cause those who have joined it to distance themselves from it.

    But, you don't say it's a good thing, so I agree with you that a new foundation is needed.


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