Nearly two months on, it’s becoming clear that the Occupy movement’s deliberate vagueness and formlessness has some serious drawbacks. For one thing, it’s difficult to see how it is possible for substantial financial and economic reform to be brought about by just illegally camping out in city parks and doing all the usual political protest-y things that political protesters do.
“Occupy Wall Street and its kindred protests around the country are inept, incoherent and hopelessly quixotic. God, I love ’em. I love every little thing about these gloriously amateurish sit-ins.”
That was Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, not quite a month after the birth of this new movement.
Nearly two months on, however, it’s becoming clear that the Occupy movement’s deliberate vagueness and formlessness has some serious drawbacks.
For one thing, it’s difficult to see how it is possible for substantial financial and economic reform to be brought about by just illegally camping out in city parks and doing all the usual political protest-y things that political protesters do.
As others have quipped, it seems to be an “Underpants Gnomes” approach to things. Like the South Park gnomes who dutifully collect underwear because they are sure it will lead to financial profit but can’t explain how, the Occupiers’ strategy — to the extent they have one — could be summarized as: Phase One, take over park; Phase Two, ?; Phase Three, revolution!
Many people have compared the Occupiers to the tea party, but their differences, both in philosophy and in how they conduct themselves (the tea partiers are much better behaved), are much more numerous and significant than their similarities.
One of the most important differences is that the tea party channeled their frustrations and outrage into concrete political action, as the Democrats found out to their great dismay last fall. So far all the Occupiers have accomplished is to disrupt life and commerce in a few locations. Though they’re almost entirely leftists, they seem to be uninterested in mobilizing themselves to help elect or reelect anyone.
Not that various organizations that make up the Democratic Party’s base haven’t been trying to harness the Occupy movement for their own purposes. That’s one of the drawbacks of being vague and formless: someone can come along and try to introduce or impose his own visions and ideas, perhaps taking the movement in an undesirable direction.
Another drawback is that the movement might attract some unsavory elements or unwanted hangers-on whose words and actions are so offensive that supporters or potential supporters are alienated. A further danger is fragmentation as those in the movement fail to achieve or maintain a consensus on what they all stand for and what they should do.
It was, one hopes, an unwanted hanger-on who appears in a YouTube video uttering anti-Semitic slurs against a Jewish man — though one might be forgiven for wondering if there was even a tenuous connection between that incident and the anti-Semitic essay, “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” published in 2004 in Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that is said to have come up with the idea for the Occupy protests.
An example of fragmentation can be seen in a very troubling incident that happened Sunday in Vancouver, British Columbia. At an Occupy Vancouver assembly, a number of people argued that the movement should add the Catholic Church to the list of institutions to be targeted for “occupation.” They proposed to invade and illegally seize Holy Rosary Cathedral during Sunday Mass, but most Occupy Vancouver participants refused to support the idea.
The anti-Catholic element then dubbed themselves “Occupy Vatican” and marched on the cathedral, but were thwarted by Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller, who had got wind of their plan and requested extra police protection.
“Occupy Vatican” is apparently not linked with the Facebook group, “Occupy the Vatican,” a recently-formed anti-Catholic hate group. Though the “Occupy the Vatican” bigots and the Occupy Wall Street movement no doubt have some opinions in common, it doesn’t look like “Occupy the Vatican” has any affiliation with the Occupy movement. Rather, they seem to be nothing more than some rabidly obnoxious atheists seeking to exploit the Occupy movement to promote their bigotry.
But that kind of thing is bound to happen when your movement is so amorphous and non-specific about its concerns and program, and has no effective means of policing itself.
Contact Jared Olar at firstname.lastname@example.org.