Occupy Wall Street—and thus the entire Occupy movement—is two months old. And I’m seeing the same messages from the pundits and the editorial writers today that I’ve been seeing the whole time: OWS has done very well, but if it doesn’t change tactics now, it’s going to die out. It’s time to get some leaders and adopt a coherent message.
There’s always a logical reason for the recommendations. Every time OWS hits one or another of the standard obstacles that popular movements do, all the helpful‡ bystanders urge it to solve the problem by following the well-known rules of lefty protest movements:
You have leaders with a plan. You have a simple message that fits on the signs you hand out. There are clear demands, preferably in neat sound bites. Speeches expand on the message and illustrate it with touching anecdotes. After the speeches, everyone marches somewhere symbolic. And if you do it all just right, the people in authority will see that you are many and you are mighty. You will get what you want. If you don’t, it’s probably because you didn’t follow the rules.
But we know this tune, albeit with different words.
You finish high school. You go to college, even if you have to stretch a little to afford it. You major in something sensible and get a good job after graduation. You buy a house as soon as you can, even if it’s tight for a little while, because its value will appreciate over time. You work hard, and hard work is rewarded. And if you do it all just right, you’ll have a better standard of living than your parents. If you don’t, it’s probably because you didn’t follow the rules.
How’s that one working out for folks? Everybody happy?
If the game is rigged against ordinary people just trying to get by, we’d be fools to believe that it’s going to be fair to people trying to change the rules. The Noise Machine, in all of its manifestations, is ready. It was built for this.
Message? Today’s news is tomorrow’s fishwrap. Without a new sound bite, you’re buried after one news cycle. And if you do have one, it’s either the same as yesterdays, meaning your movement is out of ideas, or it’s not, and you’re flip-flopping. And we haven’t even gotten to the content, which can be spun, misinterpreted, or just labeled “socialist”.
Leaders? Oppo research will already be underway on any good candidates from OWS. If they can be broken, they will be. If they can be discredited, they will be. If they can be hurt through their loved ones, they will be. And if none of that works, they will be smeared with lies that will never be fully refuted. One way or another, being the leader of a movement like OWS will be markedly less pleasant than standing in front of a sewage outfall.
OWS has avoided that entire trap so far, because it’s not following rules. It is, in Dungeons and Dragons terms*, Chaotic Good, and quite happy to be so. No matter how much the punditocracy urges it to
straighten up, get a haircut, and put on a tie get some leaders and sort out a simple message, it keeps rumbling on, consultative and confusing. And when they claim that it’s losing steam and losing America’s sympathy, their columns sound more like wishful thinking than real understanding. Meanwhile, the social discourse is moving from deficits to inequality, and the establishment is uniting like it’s facing a real threat.
I say, keep doing what’s working. But that’s just my vote. Let the General Assembly decide.
‡ or not
* Third edition, or better yet, Second†
† Speak not to me of the Fourth Edition. I am the blogger, and I want my ruby-eyed demon.