Occupy Wall Street Blues

By Akil Alleyne on October 19, 2012

New York - On my way to the subway station in mid-September, I was somewhat startled to glimpse a community newspaper headline screaming “OCCUPY’S ONE-YEAR BLUES” on a newsstand. Then I remembered that, lo and behold, the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests was fast approaching. I realized that I was momentarily taken aback by the headline because I had almost totally forgotten about Occupy Wall Street. Less than a year ago, the airwaves and the Internet were burning up with talk about this audacious and potentially game-changing new movement. Now, in the middle of an election campaign that will determine whether and how Washington will address OWS’ concerns, the movement itself seems moribund. What happened?

In truth, I had a feeling it would turn out this way. It’s a symptom of a blunder that is commonplace on the hard Left: a delusional obsession with street protests as engines of political change. OWS should have pivoted early on from staging rallies to pressuringelected representatives to bring about concrete change in Washington. Instead, they steered clear of elections andlobbying—the main channels through which political decisions are made—and clung to the streets. If OWS is now down (if not necessarily yet out), its defeat is of its own making.

I remember the first day of the OWS demonstrations well. September 17th, 2011 was the day of my twenty-sixth birthday party. There, a left-leaning friend of mine said some words in praise of the thousand-odd protesters who had begun rallying in Zucotti Park, next door to countless financial institutions in Lower Manhattan. Anotherguest, a fellow libertarian, remarked to me (facetiously, I hope) that he and I should be down there marching in defense of Wall Street—resisting the Occupation, if you will.

Not wanting to sully my socializing with a divisive political debate, I deftly changed the subject. Had I taken the bait, however, I would have replied, “Oh, hell, no.” We libertarians, you see, reserve special contempt for the crony capitalism that Wall Street has come to symbolize ever since the TARP bailout of 2008 (if not earlier). Such corporate welfare violates free-market principles, shielding firms from the consequences of their incompetence and irresponsibility and removing incentives for them to do better business. At least defenders of the welfare state and economic protectionism can fairly claim to be defending the little guy.“Crapitalism,” pardon my French, has no such excuse. Surely the worst kind of welfare is corporate welfare; there is no worsesocialism than socialism for the rich.

So I never have looked on OWS with unmixed scorn. I share theirabhorrence of the corrupt collusion between Big Business and Big Government; I merely differ with most of their statist approaches tocombating it. The movement errs insofar as it posits that market-distorting, tax-dollar-wasting cronyism represents authenticcapitalism—or that handicapping or abolishing free enterprise will solve it. Even if I agreed with the movement’s stated ends, however, I would still urge its members to eschew their silly, self-defeatingmeans.

Strategically, demonstrating for months or years on end is rank foolishness. Protests serve awareness-raising purposes first and foremost; the first couple of months of chanting and drum-beating more than did that trick. Rallies and demonstrations alone were never likely to influence the financial sector’s behavior meaningfully. Actually “occupying Wall Street” was never possible; the authorities would—and should—never have allowed it. Any Wall Street Occupiers with a grain of sense in their heads would have followedthe Tea Party’s lead, lobbying lawmakers to move the nation’s economic policy leftward wherever possible. Tax cuts cannot be repealed—nor bailouts denied, nor industries re-regulated, nor corporate greed checked—in the streets.

Worse yet, Occupy Wall Street went on to employ methods that seemed almost calculated to alienate the very middle- and working-class people whose support it needed to win. They tried to “occupy” public parks, with the result that various provocateurs, vagrants and sundry other interlopers infiltrated the parks and contributed to unsanitary and unsafe conditions. They tried to block traffic on bridges and to organize “general strikes” and other events that would disrupt the day-to-day conduct of business and other general publicaffairs. These and other methods were never bound to accomplish anything other than to bring the wrath of the police down on the movement. Who ever saw turkeys so eager for Thanksgiving?

The onset of winter was the perfect time for the Occupiers to migrate from the streets into the party process, where the shots are really called. They could then have organized to wield genuinepolitical clout in the 2012 elections. Yet all that enthusiasm has been wasted, rendering the movement more or less irrelevant in this campaign—exactly when it should matter most. Not for nothing has one Occupy Boston activist described it as a failed “political Woodstock that went on a little bit too long.”

Occupy Wall Street has largely petered out so far because too many of its participants remain childishly infatuated with radical 1960s tactics that are no more effective now than they were back then. One year on, the movement faces a stark choice: grow up and wise up—or be consigned to the dustbin of history.



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