Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Occupy Movement: Too Big to Fail

News agencies have sometimes sought to portray every Occupy demonstration, regardless of physical location as similar in every way. But while unified around a loosely defined set of goals, the leadership of every city's group is different. The basic political climate and underlying trends of every city influences its response. Every city’s essential character is also quite unlike another’s. This is why I am not surprised that Occupy Oakland’s active membership measures into the thousands and that it has taken a more aggressive stance, lately seeking to completely block access to the Port of Oakland, the fifth largest harbor in the country. I do not approve of this violence, but I must also concede that this response is endemic to hot-headed, Bay Area activist culture.

What I have seen with my own two eyes is quite different. By contrast, Occupy DC has been content to stick to a series of regular, coordinated marches. They may on occasion significantly increase the commute for DC professionals, but neither are they lobbing rocks through the windows of storefronts in downtown. Unlike the demonstrations in other places, its membership includes only a few hundred hardy, but committed souls. Until Occupy DC grows substantially, it will be overshadowed by its much larger neighbor to the north, New York City, much as it is already.

Other Occupy gatherings likely cope with the same fate. Each, regardless of location, has its own structure and basic platform. There has been, as yet, no desire to link up with groups in different cities. The success of one cannot necessarily been seen as the success of others, much as the setbacks of one cannot necessarily be seen as the setbacks of another. Some activist groups remind me of the behavior problem boy we all knew growing up, desperate for attention, who will do anything to attain it, even if the attention isn't positive.

The number of participants aside, if we can say, with all honesty, that the Occupiers are the beginnings of a revolutionary force, we might do well to look into the past to observe the protests of a different area. In the midst of our own Independence from Great Britain, agitation and resistance to the Crown largely began in the Port of Boston. The efforts of certain colonists to destroy imported tea resulted in the closing off of the entire harbor, a significant hit to the entire local economy. These acts of defiance gradually spread, though not immediately, and only over a period of years. The build-up took roughly a decade, prefacing the beginning of hostilities and eventual war.

For all of the hand-wringing about a movement without adequate guidance and visionary leadership, we might be able to learn from peaceful demonstration. I have seen firsthand a vast amount of creativity in thought as well as in proposed solutions. The best ideas usually rise to the top, given enough to time to foment. Should these propositions be responsibly challenged in a respectful, diverse forum for debate, then the movement could produce something quite extraordinary. Those who established our own system of government had the benefit of the outside-the-box thinkers that preceded them, plus their own sharpened views. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence strikes a resounding note even today because it cuts right to the quick. Its simplicity and beauty have been inspirational for over two centuries.

Impulsive decisions and violent responses do no one any good. While they may seem effective, they instead play into the hands of conservative pundits and GOP leaders. Both of these have long been warning about mob rule and the destruction of social order. We can't wait to act, but we can’t afford to act like this. No one said that nonviolence as a strategy was easy or that it promised immediate fairness. Anyone who has ever been on the end of a billy club can tell you that much. Give the movement time and oxygen, and it will grow. Examine goals soberly, still daring to dream.

No comments: