The Occupy movement has been a boon to talking heads, professional pontificators, journalists, and activists. Covering the proceedings has kept many busy and created much work in sour economic times. Now, however, the demonstrations have, in the minds of many, moved from novelty to annoyance to a bore. With the exception of a few cities, most camps have been broken up and forced to disperse. The lack of public outrage to this show of force shows the true feelings of most Americans, even those with Occupy sympathies. A fight for the hearts and minds has not succeeded.
I know that many people still actively engaged in Occupy will debate me here point for point. Many readers may take offense to my conclusions. Some have stated that the media consistently distorted (and still distorts) the message of the movement, showing its goals to be too vague and unsubstantial. Others have believed that the mainstream players, at least, have emphasized and exaggerated only its worst qualities.
In the beginning, I was a strong supporter of Occupy but I have not seen the forward momentum and growth needed for continued relevancy. What some believed was the cusp of a momentous, growing revolution has simply not materialized. The story of its promise is more compelling than its actual stature.
The city government of Washington, DC, has been one of the most tolerant thus far. However, Mayor Vincent Gray has been quoted as saying that the city was losing patience with the protesters. This is reflected in a recent letter drafted by a DC law enforcement union, the Fraternal Order of Police.
The union representing D.C. police claims crime in the District is up, in part because officers are being pulled from neighborhood patrols and reassigned to monitor the Occupy D.C. protests. Kristopher Baumann, chairman of D.C.’s Fraternal Order of Police wrote a letter to Mayor Vincent Gray stating violent crime is up by 17% and overall crime is up by 14% since protesters moved into the city 3 months ago.
True or not, the letter reflects a strong displeasure with the movement. Growing dissatisfaction in many corners may spell the eventual end. As has been the case in other cities, protesters would resist, dozens would be arrested, but both parks would nonetheless be cleared. The news would dutifully record what had happened. Those who like their information live and immediate could follow on Twitter and live streaming video. After the shouting was over, substantial calls for righteous indignation would be found in short supply. Those calling for blood would find, yet again, their energies highly ineffective.
Regardless of how posterity may view it, we in the present day might draw some lessons. Some weeks back I took it upon myself to read the McPherson Square Occupy DC list of grievances in full. It was eloquent and inclusive, but far too complicated and lengthy. Effort had clearly been made to take in account everyone’s perspective, but the document ran to nearly two pages. Protests work best when built around one or two easily digestible, comprehensible messages. Save treatises for graduate school or a book.
The strictly enforced leaderless focus, the linchpin of many gatherings, also troubled me. I believe that separate, specific leaders are highly necessary. The problems of hierarchy will not necessarily transfer should those with the ability to guide and motivate take their rightful places. I have only seen such a decentralized model work well in very small groups, those far smaller than the ones numbering a few hundred up to a thousand. They who sought to organize may have learned a variety of lessons from their admirable effort. In their lives going forward, the experience may be quite useful both for themselves and for others.
If this strange chapter in our history is to close, one wonders how history would record it. Would it be seen as a period piece, a time capsule, very much a product of its time? Or, if not, would it be the beginning of something more, its failure only temporary in the grand scheme of things? Occupy will only be a failure if we do not learn from its shortcomings. 21st Century public outrage may need to take a very different form next time. These recent experiments in direct democracy may someday be the impetus for more, but until then, I’ll think of Occupy as a noble attempt.