Occupy Wall Street Strikes a Chord: NYC Action Inspires Hundreds of Occupations Around the World
Continued from previous page
"Things are looking real bleak," says Norris Simon, veteran and member of New York Steamfitters Local 638 (he left the Wall Street occupation to bolster Occupy Philly). "When I was young, you bought a house. That was the American dream. Now it's the American nightmare."
The ideology of the protesters varies dramatically. The Occupy Philly protests were home to social democrats ("Responsible Capitalism: Healthy Workforce, Healthy Economy"), anarchist anti-capitalists, and some libertarians. In Boston, media volunteer Joshua Eaton reports that Ron Paul-boosters, among others, can be found among the largely leftist occupiers. "Our motto is the 99 percent, not the 30 percent of Americans who are liberal Democrats," Eaton said in a phone interview.
But despite these divisions, the focus remains on common discontents. "Ideology is left at the door," Geraci says. "The diversity of viewpoints is being used as a strength instead of for infighting. We are all in this together."
Demands at Occupy Philly range from the clearly sensible ("Tax Wall Street") to the recklessly misguided ("End the Fed"). Despite the constant fretting of pundits, the protests don't have a coherent set of universally agreed upon goals. But that doesn't separate Occupy Wall Street from other social movements in American history. Mass movements aren't good for pushing technocratic fixes or complex policy mechanisms. They are meant to demand the world and propel issues into the national conversation.
The reactions of the local establishments are as varied as the demands of the protesters. New York City authorities have been ham-handed in their treatment of the occupiers. Without the brutish ( ongoing) efforts of the NYPD, it is very likely the initial protests wouldn't have gained mainstream media attention. In Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn also cracked down on the protesters. The police made multiple arrests in the process, although they were relatively restrained, for the most part. San Francisco's occupations experienced similar treatment.
By contrast, police presence was minimal on the first day of Occupy Philly. The crowd even cheered for the police. (The night before the occupation began, several veteran activists shared less than fond memories of the Philadelphia Police Department, mostly dating from the Republican Convention of 2000.) Occupy Boston enjoys similar good relations with law enforcement. "The police have been absolutely wonderful and no arrests have been made, to my knowledge," Eaton says, although he made clear that he only spoke for himself.
In Philadelphia, organizers told the general assembly that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter "wants you to know that he too is a member of the 99 percent." [He said] "We are welcome to set up tents and be here to express our opinions for as long as it takes," organizers said, informing the crowd of their meeting with the mayor, the chief of police, and other city officials. According to The Stranger , Washington State Democrats have offered their halting support to the movement too, while numerous progressive Congressional Democrats have expressed full-throated solidarity .
But the occupation movement and the Democratic Party mostly circle each other warily. Since the late-1960s, many left-wing activists have had a less charitable analysis of electoral politics than their conservative opposites and are consequently less inclined to work with established institutions. A strong strain of this skepticism can be found in the Occupy protests, which include many anarchists and other confirmed-reform skeptics, along with disillusioned Obama voters. Generally, much greater enthusiasm is shown for the support provided by labor unions and other progressive advocacy organizations.
But the Occupy movement doesn't have to get along with the Democratic Party. Social movements work best when they don't directly synch up with established political interests. Politicians and policymakers need to feel unrelenting pressure that doesn't ease up until they do something substantive. But there must also be political actors who have the power and the will to make those changes. And therein lies the Occupy movement's chief weakness: This isn't a politically advantageous moment for their demands.