The times, they are a changin’. As the weather turns grey and cold an old fashioned protest has taken over Wall Street issuing demands that … well, they don’t have demands yet but the leadership … well, they don’t want leaders, but we do know that the establishment is pushing them to … actually, Mayor Bloomberg backed down from a confrontation.
The times did change. Protesters now scrub sidewalks and tidy up while speaking very eloquently and kindly about why they are there. This is nothing like 1968, the year that can be taken as an event in and of itself. According to a recent poll, a majority of Americans view this protest favorably, a rate ahead of Obama himself and twice the approval of the Tea Party’s hard line.
This is what it takes to start the process of change. The problem comes when the movement has to focus on specific goals. That will come with time.
A comparison to the “Arab Spring” shows the difficulty facing this movement directly. Protesters in Tunisia and Egypt had a very simple message and an obvious enemy – the dictators in charge. As Saul Alinsky advised, “Pick the target, freeze it, personify it, and polarize it.” This is essential to all organizing. For Occupy Wall Street, the target is a more nebulous crew of corporate demons that are hard to pin down. Where Egyptians had a clear demand – Mubarak must resign – here at home there is no obvious course of action.
What we see now is nothing more than a start. It’s a great start, but it will have to go to places that very few of those involved are likely to want to be. The Millenial Generation has a style based consensus that has been hardening into a dogma. This works well for getting attention and for doing things that can be taken care of easily. Over the long haul it requires a tremendous amount of energy to sustain the movement – and without some quick victories that energy is going to wear thin in a hurry.
This places Occupy Wall Street at the crossroads of generations. The movement will have to grow and change or it will die.
What is happening, so far, is very positive and has focused the media on issues that have been ignored for a long time. The response from Fox News and those who identify themselves on the right-wing of twitter has been hilariously panicked, attempting to paint the movement as thugs who are paid to advance a political agenda. One even acted as an agent provacateur and then bragged about it openly, a stupid move if ever there was one. With time this will only marginalize them further than they have been since the Debt Ceiling Debacle showed their hand openly. This is clearly a threat to the right, especially if it goes well.
How will it play out as similar protests occupy cities across the US? The answer will come when the movement finds a kind of leadership – and a specific target. The old rules of organizing will hold no matter what. Support for the message at hand is strong enough that this movement will not likely die off, so some kind of way forward will be found.
As this fluid situation develops we will all be chatting about it more on twitter. Please join a small band of Baratarians every Sunday night at 7PM Central time (midnight UTC) for #EconChat where we will discuss the underlying issues and devote at least the last 15 minutes of the hour long discussion to organizing.
I’d also love to know what you think here in longer form – where do you see this movement going? What about the underlying changes we’ve been tracking in the economy and how they play into this? What will it take to create a new economy that works for us all?