It was one year ago today that the Occupy Movement was born when it camped out in Zuccotti Park. The movement got a lot of attention. The Left boasted about how it was more popular than the Tea Party (for about ten seconds). Elizabeth Warren tried to claim credit for it. But the movement seems largely dead, their dreams dissolved into mindless violence and stupid stunts.
Contrast that against the Tea Party. The Tea Party remains an active political force, has affected elections, has affected the debate, has affected policy. For all the crank candidates they gave us (Christine O’Donnell, Sharon Angle, etc.), the result of their activism was a Republican House and the first hints of budget control in over a decade. Without the Tea Party, it’s unlikely Paul Ryan would have been the VP choice. It’s even changed the Democrats to having to at least pretend to care about debt.
So why was Occupy a failure while the Tea Party wasn’t? There’s a lot of analysis out there. Doug Mataconis gets close, I think, in pointing out how incoherent they were and how they failed to crystallize around a specific agenda (other than the unworkable student loan forgiveness). They never did seem to cotton on to the idea that big government was the problem; that the Tea Party was the ally, not the enemy, of people who oppose entrenched power.
But I think it boils down to something simpler. As I said at the time, Occupy really was just the Protest of the Month. Some professional agitators and students looking to get laid marched in the streets because … well, because they like to march:
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 as I predicted, their enthusiasm would fizzle when it came to actually doing something:
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?
I’m not happy about this, actually, despite the smug tone of the post. I think OWS was concerned about very legitimate issues: the entrenchment of power, violations of civil liberties, corporate welfare, crony capitalism. I had hoped it would maybe get some of the ostensibly liberal to realize the danger of a centralized powerful government. But it didn’t. And in the end, that’s a loss for America.