I debated with myself for a while about whether or not this n+1 article is a piece of satire. Part of me still thinks that it’s a cleverly-orchestrated troll. But if the amount of bandwidth it gets in other publications is indicative of its legitimacy, I have serious concerns about Occupy Wall Street. I’ve been iffy on the movement from the beginning, mostly because the people whom I personally know who are participating in various Occupy events aren’t remotely center or even center-left. I’m naturally skeptical of the success prospects for political and social movements outside of the center in was is seemingly a center-right country. Successful leftist movements are few and far between in the United States, although I suspect this is beginning to change with the rise of the Gen-Yers. Not that my generation is necessarily significantly more leftist than the others. (Here’s a decent article about the so-called Milennials from New York, slightly related to the OWS topic.)
This is Firedoglake, so I’m going to assume that most people reading this blog post are aware of the drumming circle union and the issues it has been causing with Community Board 1 and the OWS protests in general. If you want a good description, just search “OWS drummers.” I want to talk less about the dummers union and noise ordinances and more about the instability of the community that has been shown in this ordeal. I understand that musicians feel a sense of importance in symbolic expression, so it doesn’t surprise me that the drummers union sees its participation in the broader movement as part of the core. (What will they play, otherwise? Lady Gaga? Our generation lacks the explicit protest music of ’60s, with our not-solely-commercial musicians being more introverts than extroverts.) But the real story here isn’t about the drummers union’s intransigence within the movement. This episode may have broader implications about protesters’ ability to remain effective and thus remain relevant.
The single-most shocking revelation about the drumming incident is that, if the memo is to be believed, OWS organizers really did think Pulse’s (the name of the drummers’ “working group”) intransigence was going to bring down the entire protest and threaten the broader Occupy movement. All because a group within the Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square has a disproportionate view of their centrality to the movement. In “academic” terminology, the transactions costs of regulating drumming circles is incredibly high, to the point where there’s a perceived chance of organizational collapse. Incredible!
This should worry OWS supporters. The movement has consistently been accused of having no concrete policy proposals. And really, they don’t. What they have is a general sentiment about the influence of money in the United States and especially within government. But sentiments aren’t laws. OWS won’t affect the change they want to see unless they can get together and speak the policy-making language. Otherwise, they’ll be relegated to that one movement that everybody points to when they want to describe the sentiment of “Main Street” Americans post-2008, but not the one that people point to to say, “They changed America.” In other words, OWS needs to transform from protesting against the influence of money to advocating for the return of Glass-Stegall, adjusting the top income tax bracket, and requiring union representatives to sit on corporate boards of directors.
But the Pulse incident disturbingly shows that OWS may not be stable enough to deliver proposals to the policymakers. If a group like Pulse has grandiose views of its centrality to the movement, how many other groups do, as well? Will the far left jockey for the most influence? A socialist manifesto would end OWS the day it’s released. Will the centrists claim that they represent the movement most? How much infighting can the OWS movement handle, when it comes to time to actually figuring out the specific things Congress needs to do? Will the anarchists even allow OWS to make demands?
Perhaps OWS doesn’t want to give policy proposals, though. Given the lack of any official list of demands and the general mindset against creating one, I think that’s just the case. And if so, why aren’t we looking for a different group that does want to make demands? At the very least, why are we paying so much attention to a group making leaps and bounds towards irrelevancy?
I realize these comments will probably earn me some scorn on FDL. But supporters need to think about the movement’s stability and what it means for its success. The inability to make demands and policy proposals would be disastrous for the movement and its supporters. OWS is already irrelevant if the movement is solely an emotional creature. We already have the emotions. We need a vehicle to concentrate them into concrete policy proposals. I’m skeptical if OWS is able or willing to be that vehicle.