How Occupy Wall Street and Liberals Will Lose

by A. Jay Adler on October 27, 2011
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I was against it before I was for it. Soon it may not matter. Occupy Wall Street was conceived and instigated by people who do not represent the so-named 99% in their greater and many specific political and social aspirations. Nonetheless, the movement has been able to focus rightful social anger on the causes and forces behind the 2008 financial crisis and the three decades of exploding economic inequality in the country. To this inequality conservatives and members of the business and finance-class respond like Bourbons and Romanovs sneering from the balcony, wishing his Royal arse would send out the cavalry already and teach these swine a lesson. A significant portion of the populace has been roused from its three-year stupor of defeat and, as a consequence of the demonstrations and reports like yesterday’s from the CBO on the expanding income gap, is readied to be the basis of something – something that can reelect President Obama and possibly lead to crucial legislation and reforms.

That consequence will not come from the Occupy Wall Street protests as they are currently playing out. From the start, I have believed they need to be co-opted, and true believers of OWS have actually feared that. For weeks, some have wondered, “What do they want? What are their demands?” Doubters have argued, “They need a program of action.” No, they don’t. They served an important cause. They could still serve it if they could answer sensibly one question: what is the ultimate goal of the occupations? At what point – what realistic point – could they end, as occupations?

They cannot answer that question. Young, anarchist, some form of socialist or libertarian, antiestablishmentarian, countercultural in social orientation, they think, like their 60s forebearers, that what is happening is the start of something transformative. With their non-hierarchical, flat general assemblies and their wiggly hands, their human microphones voicing a smug, alternative conformity, and their solidarity and their surprising success so far, they think they are going to change the world. Too little it is to dream of changing a law.

Do they imagine, with foolish evocations of Tahrir Square, that they are going to bring down the government? Do they think that would be a good thing? Do they imagine the mass of Americans wants that? They are excited that the Occupy movement is going global. Well, fine, if it has a goal. But it is so exciting. It is 1968 all over again. 1968 failed.

They do not understand, as they never have, they are not the majority and do not represent it. Most Americans will not let their limbs go slack and shake their hair at the outburst of a drum circle. They will not be cheered by Noam Chomsky’s appearance at Occupy Boston. They are not inspired by sex in sleeping bags in public parks, and past a certain point, the perpetual, pointless mass expropriation of public spaces against local ordinances and in contest with municipal governing authorities will turn against them. Roving demonstrations through city streets, looking like roving mobs – especially when there is any violence at all, with antagonistic relationships to police – will turn a supportive population away, and make it easier for their foes, the Bourbons and the Romanovs, to demonize them.

The clashes have begun. Atlanta has asserted itself. Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, a city that has been very accommodating, has said that the occupation “cannot continue indefinitely.” What happened in Oakland will be the death of the movement. The student Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed acknowledges that bottles and rocks were thrown at police. The demonstrators and some liberal supporters will raise their righteous voices against police overreaction and brutality, and they will be setting up precisely the wrong enemy and losing their battle even as they ignore their own excess and swell their heads with their own victimhood.

It took at least eight years to end the Vietnam War from when demonstrations began, and along the way the counter culture and its sympathizers lost two presidential elections to the GOP and the political and cultural sympathy of two generations of the American working and middle class.

If the occupations do not transform into regular and even growing always peaceful and orderly demonstrations – a growth the occupations cannot experience – and if more organized political forces cannot find ways to detach from the booster of the occupations, the movement now seems ready to self-destruct.

AJA

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