I just can’t take these guys seriously. That’s what it amounts to. I’ve seen them run this dog and pony show out there too many times: for Republican conventions, for IMF meetings, for the Iraq War, for Earth Day. And they fall into an all-too-familiar pattern.
Step One: Identify an actual issue.
This can take time, since your professional protester can find issue with just about anything but it’s hard to find an issue the general public cares about too. Usually, they will find something legitimate to be concerned about so they can get a lot of well-meaning but vacuous people to support them. It might be racism — the first time I saw this was the 1992 student protests after the Rodney King verdict. It might the environment, homelessness or poverty. There’s usually a legitimate issue, even if their solutions are complete bullshit.
For Occupy Wall Street, it’s legitimate anger over the free pass bankers and traders have gotten for the financial crisis. Whatever the role the Left played in ramping up housing, it was the financial class who created derivatives they didn’t understand, lied about what was in their securities and made tens of millions of dollars doing it. I’m currently reading Michael Lewis’s The Big Short and it’s astonishing how stupidly and criminally people in finance acted and how scott-free they got off. And it was only recently that Obama signalled, maybe, that he’ll investigate some of the ratings companies, perhaps.
Remember, anger about this issue was a key motivation for the Tea Parties. Corporate bailouts were a rallying cry. So I sympathize, a little, with the anger. But Wall Street/government corruption is only the cassus belli. The key point, as they said early on in Obama’s presidency, is to ever let a good crisis go to waste. The Occupy Wall Street people would be protesting gravity if they thought it would bring a crowd.
That brings us to:
Step Two: Gather a mob.
This is the easy part. First, there is a whole class of people out there who are professional protesters. I’m being literal: unions have hired people (at below minimum wage) to hold signs in marches. But there are also certain academics, community organizers and politicians who have no reason for existing other than protest. And unions — who are now saying they will join the Occupy Wall Street crowd — devote enormous amounts of time, money and energy to protests.
But the larger part of this is that you can get young people to turn out for jus about any protest. College students and graduates without jobs (of whom there are a lot right now) love to go to protests and march. They like to think it’s for a good cause, but they usually have no fucking clue what it’s about. Penn and Teller did a great schtick at an Earth Day Rally where they interviewed a slew of people who knew nothing about environmental issues. This included at least one of the organizers. In 1992, my campus common was flooded with students protesting the Rodney King verdict. And most of them were doing what college students to — hanging out, hitting on each other, playing frisbee. I talked to people who didn’t even know what the protest was about; they just knew it was on, man.
And now? Weigel:
I hung out with Occupy Wall Street on Friday and Saturday, which wasn’t enough time to figure out what the movement is about, because no one knows what it’s about. The professional radicals who provided the jargon and call-and-response technique had not pressed their agenda onto the protesters. The union members who’d started to show up, like the SEIU volunteers who dropped off free ponchos and food, admired the protest without co-signing it. They’re saving that for an Oct. 5 march, which will bring dozens of unions in league with the nascent movement.
Read this article from the LA Times about a sympathy march:
Blake Digangi, 20, a community college student from Menifee, said he heard about the Occupy Wall Street protests from friends in New York.
“I started looking at YouTube videos and got really fascinated by it,” Digangi said. Although he said he’s “not really an activist,” Digangi and his cousin, Logan Riley, 23, of Murrieta, said that as students, they are frustrated by the lack of jobs and opportunities they see before them. The two drove to Los Angeles for the march Saturday and spent the night camped out in sleeping bags on the sidewalk.
“I always wanted to be around in the 60s when this kind of stuff was going on, and even though it is on a smaller scale, it’s still cool to observe,” Digangi said.
Bingo. Most of these people could give a shit what they’re protesting. It could be protesting against whale tails on fat women. They’d still show up because it’s just like the 60’s, dude! Hey, some chick was even maced the other day!
The slowly growing crowds for Occupy Wall Street have a vague idea that they don’t like Wall Street. But they have real clear idea of is that they like protesting and feeling like it’s the 60’s. They mean well. But they are serving…
Step Three: An unrelated agenda.
Although most of the protesters have little clue what they’re about, the organizers usually do. They’re using the blissfully ignorant protesting of bored college students to advance an agenda that frequently has nothing to do with whatever it is they’re protesting and most of the protesters would object to if they heard it.
In this case, you can read Alex’s post below on the agenda of at least one of these cretins (although others have more modest agendas). Here is the link. Note the comments: even people sympathetic to the movement are furious that this is being pushed and want no part of it.
You can now see the familiar pattern emerging. It’s tried-and-true: a handful of radical idiots capitalize on public anger to push an agenda with the ignorant support of thousands of people who aren’t really paying attention. I’ve seen this strategy executed a hundred times, from my early college days to every Earth Day Rally to Occupy Wall Street.
But the thing is that it rarely goes anywhere because of…
Step Four: Lose interest once we turn to the dull difficult business of governing.
The Earth Day protesters usually have no idea how energy works. The aforementioned Rodney King protests vanished when it came time for the difficult business of running a college on a budget. I suspect that when these guys run into the hard reality that not even Democrats will push their agenda, they’ll fade away. They’ll talk of a third party and how the Democrats aren’t really liberal. And they’ll vote for Obama anyway. I mean, if Barack Obama, with huge majorities in Congress, can’t get a public option done, what chances does a “living wage for the unemployed” have?
That’s why I can’t take Occupy Wall Street seriously. This is what the professional agitators do: make a big stink and disappear. It’s a pity, really, because sometimes legitimate issues get swept away because of their uselessness. We could have used a real debate the Iraq War but these guys were sucking the oxygen out of the room with “No blood for oil!” There are some World Bank and IMF policies that need to be reconsidered, but that possibility vanished once these twerps turned up to protest against people in third world countries getting jobs.
It’s not that protest doesn’t have a place. DADT was recently repealed, at least in part, because gay activists refused to let the Democrats back down. But you have to be focused on doable policy. Your goal can’t be protesting for it’s own sake. And your agenda can’t be so looney that Bernie Sanders would shy away.
I fear that Occupy Wall Street is going to accomplish the opposite of what they claim to want: insure that no one in the financial industry is ever brought to justice for their criminal acts.
PS – As I was finishing this post, I saw something on Twitter about students walking out of college classes in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. There could not be a better illustration of the vacuousness of your typical college-age protester than pointlessly skipping classes at institutions that have nothing to do with the financial meltdown.
But … dude! It’s like the 60’s all over again! We can say we were part of it! We might be on the news! Plus, there could be some hot chicks skipping classes too!