It’s remarkable how many so-called pundits have talked or written about the Occupy Wall Street phenomenom and missed the whole point.
It’s not about Wall Street. It’s not about the banks. It’s not about student loans, or mortgages, or higher wages, or any of the other agendas we keep trying to silkscreen on their tee shirts. All these things factor in, but none of them are central. And that’s the whole point — that there isn’t one. And those who say “they can’t even tell us what they want” aren’t listening. Their message is coming in loud and clear to millions of people.
In fact, if there is actually some central planning involved in this thing, they are very, very smart. Because the minute this collapses into detailed demands, it’s doomed. Its vigor, validity and survival depends on refusing to be pinned down.
The hole “99%” thing? Doesn’t look like it — but it’s much much bigger than many think You can’t measure this thing by the size of the crowds, which are hardly big enough to be called crowds at all. Generally, these assemblies number only a few hundred. But the media, which was at first criticized for ignoring the “protests,” are now all there really is to the protests. No one needs to show up; they participate by Facebook and Twitter and texts and emails, because the biggest contribution others can make to this whole thing is simply to pay attention. It’s the first truly virtual movement, and in many strange ways, it’s working.
The power of the protest is its lack of focus. While there are the usual collection of professional “organizers,” who have managed to superimpose some illusion of central management to the more-or-less random nature of this political theater, they are only fooling themselves. The “manifestos” that some have posted on blogs are comical. No one takes them seriously.
“We have ‘departments,'” the pros in Zucotti Square proclaim, pointing at different small congregations assembled here and there. ” Over there is Finance. That’s Hygiene. There’s Medical.” But by far the majority of the protesters are completely unaware, or indifferent, or contemptuous of the self-promoting would-be co-opters of their “movement.”
To be sure, there is much silliness. The recent video of the Atlanta crowd chanting like the undead while hooting Rep. Lewis from the podium is a high point in the history of mass-moronic displays; witness the truly frightening sudden demonic possession of the lead speaker, whoever he is, as he instantly channels Leon Trotsky when he shouts: “And this gathering acts ONLY BY CONSENSUS!” Well, if we need consensus between 300 or so aging hippies, union agitators, disenfranchised citizens and all the other colorful threads that make up these gatherings, we are not goiong very far soon.
Yet there is consensus, and it is very easy to determine, through all the racket, what that consensus is. You see, this country is actually a very tolerant place in many ways. We really are by and large oriented towards a live and let live way of life, in which people mind their own business and keep their noses out of other people’s affairs. In fact, that’s probably 90% of the real flavor of the Tea Party — it’s not so much “big government” and all the rest of the cliches heaped upon it as “just please get out of our lives and leave us be.”
To be sure, there are lots of very noisy, hyperventilating social engineers here in the USA that insist on attempting to codify every aspect of our lives, and they get lots of attention from the media, and paid lip service by everyone from concerned Upper West Side mommies and earnest community organizers to antic sophomores and shrill social scientists masquerading as economists.
And society itself has changed reasonably radically from one stressing self-reliance to one with a more socially-responsible kind of thing with reasonable safety nets. Have we gone too far? Not far enough? Probably both, depending on what specifically one chooses to focus on. If we look at the fellow protesting the cruel and senseless elimination of his “art subsidy” at a time when many Americans literally do not have enough to feed their families, we’d say things have gotten out of hand. If we look at those same families, we might conclude we need somehow to be doing more, or at least doing what we do a lot more effectively.
But in our live-and-let live mode, the “ordinary Americans” that Obama so carelessly invokes every time he cranks up another attack on anyone with a two-car garage — those folks are in fact now asking a pretty good question.
“Hey,” they say. “When times are good — and they were pretty good for quite a while there — we leave you guys (rich folks) pretty much alone. We let you do pretty much what you want. We don’t really worry too much about how much your making, or what you spend your money on, or how you don’t seem to care much about how others live, because frankly, we just don’t care.
“When times are good, and these yo-yos start screaming at us about how we’re getting hosed, and the banks are ripping us off with fees and credit card charges, and how the rich get all kinds of tax breaks we don’t get, and all that stuff — we’re just bored. ‘Don’t rock the boat,’ we think. ‘I’m making more than I used to, evryone is doing pretty well, my kid is in college on a government loan.’
“But times aren’t good. Right now we’re really hurting. We’re having a hard time making ends meet. And we’re worried that things can get worse — a lot worse.
“And you don’t seem to care.”
That’s the message of “Occupy Wall Street.” Many of the well-off may feel outrage at being demonized, and even threatened outright. Others may wonder how much one might be required to do in Obama’s America before they have forked over their “fair share.” The notion that cutting executive compensation will somehow restore the boom years seems idiotic. Debt forgiveness? Debt forgiveness????
But in fact, no one is really asking for these things, other than the tired demagogues of yesterday’s radical legions, or other tattered remnants of dismal schemes. So what are they asking for?
“Well — can we get a break here? Something? Something to help keep us going until you guys get this turned around — which we’re sure you can do sooner or later — and the good times roll again?”
But the pundits say: “What are your suggestions? What is it you want us to do?”
“Are you kidding me? We have no idea! If we knew how to fix things, we would. That’s supposed to be your job, for God’s sake. We let you get away with pretty much anything most of the time, and now that we need help, we need you geniuses to figure out how to do that. You’re the ones in charge. Now, goddammit, do something!”
I think as long as they stick to that message, maybe the banks, and the corporations, and the plutocrats, and the rest that actually have real power in this country might find themselves highly motivated to figure how how to replace the fear that currently grips a large part of this country with hope for a better future. Not because of fear, or even social responsibility, but out of enlightened self-interest. Because what’s happening right now — or what’s not happening right now — doesn’t seem like it’s doing any good for anybody.