More on How Occupy Wall Street and Liberals Will Lose

by A. Jay Adler on October 31, 2011
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Nothing that has occurred since my post on Thursday argues against its sad prognosis. Much argues for it. City governments are becoming less tolerant of the occupations, some of which are exhibiting more problematic behavior than earlier, with defiance of local ordinances and clashes with police growing in number and location. This makes the occupiers appear more troublesome and troublemaking than constructive, and more of a growing annoyance and disruption to daily life than a righteous cause. This gets reported, as by USA Today, with its Middle American reach – never mind the Fox Newses – and the perception grows.

Worse, the occupiers and their more institutional liberal champions, who should know better, in response to municipal efforts to control their activity, are losing focus. Countercultural left protest has been historically, constitutionally unable to separate legitimate causes from adolescent utopian rebellion against systemic authority. Give such protesters a chance to feel victimized – oppressed – by government and by police, to pretend they live in the crisis of pending authoritarianism, and they forget the important mission with which they began and they turn instead to railing against police and general injustice. Then they lose.

The inciting cause of the occupations is a great and just one: a national income and wealth gap that is already, literally, criminal, aided by the criminality and criminal negligence of the institutions of finance capitalism. This is the crime and the injustice that can unite people across many cultural and political divides. This is the opportunity that OWS originators, against their own marginal status and slack self-awareness, stumbled into.

Now, however, in the unfortunate injury to Scott Olsen at Occupy Oakland, the left’s adolescent legions have found one more opportunity to rail more baggily against authority in general, to cast working class police and municipal governments as tyrants, not Wall Street as plutocratic wizards of greed, and they are losing sight, in the same old acting out, of what is their true and just cause. Not just college kids and anarcho-libertarian utopians who think they have actually achieved something just by occupying public spaces and declaring no pig more equal than any other pig (and they, if that’s all the non-political end they seek, might better sit some years in a Zendo, except that takes mental discipline, too) – no, older, wiser, players in the game resort now to broadcasting this gambit from the liberal playbook of perpetual defeat:

The real people who gave their support to the Tea Parties – conservatives and the confused middle alike – resent and mistrust government as the liberal abstraction they have been persuaded to see in it. It is a distant, unrepresentative force that meddles in their everyday lives and reaches into their pockets like George III. They do not despise it as the guarantor of order and the protector of their locality. “Law and order” became a 60’s conservative catchphrase for a reason, and people value it no less now. Enough of them may be persuaded to see a common plutocratic enemy of economic justice and genuine and not cliché-driven opportunity, but not if it is overwhelmed by vague, angry disorder in the streets.

The corner has already been turned. The path to a surprise liberal achievement may still be close enough to find. But the Occupy movement will need to turn back fast, pretty much immediately, or a historic opportunity will have flashed and faded from view at very nearly the same moment, and the left will spend another forty years bemoaning the loss and finding causes for it everywhere but in itself.


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