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.
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 OccupyPortland.org 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: WeAreThe99Percent.tumblr.com. 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.