Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Occupy This

with 10 comments

I am sitting here this morning in a sort of odd frame of mind.  I actually have classes today, which borders on the absurd.  Virtually no one will come, and the ones who do will not be paying attention.

I’m also less inclined than I might otherwise be to have a fit about this, because I know something about how hard it can be to get train tickets for the Thanksgiving break. 

I’ve tried to buy train tickets for Matt on the Monday before Thanksgiving and lost the place in the time it takes to get the registration form to load.

So I’m just sort of wandering around the house this morning, feeling aimless.  And since that’s the case, I’m reading a lot of things I wouldn’t have bothered with if I’d been busier.

And I have a question.

Why do so many people who write stuff insist on thinking–or saying they think–that the Occupy Wall Street movement is “significant” and likely to cause big changes any day now?

Before one side or the other goes into huge paroxysms about how the media is all leftist or all rightest or the police don’t bug the tea party, I’d like to point something out.

I was there the last time.

I not only marched against the war, I got arrested for it a couple of times, and I was on the organizing staff of at least two rallies. 

We got a lot more people in those days, and we caused a lot more disruption one way or the other.

But no matter how much people like to claim otherwise, what we did not do was usher in a grass-roots resurgence of liberal (we’d now call it “progressive”) principle.

To the extent that the old anti-Vietnam War movement did anything at all at the grass roots, it ushered in thirty years of steadily growing conservative hegemony. 

By the time Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, political discourse in the US had moved so far to the right that it would have been unrecognizable to anybody who had grown up during the New Deal.

This can be a little difficult to recognize, because both sides persistantly refuse to honestly define their opponent’s positions, and the Left especially has a set of complete cliches about what is supposedly going on on “the right.” 

Mind you, the right is no slouch in the direction of making a mess of its reports about the other side, but for whatever reason, its operatives have been a lot more careful about making sure that they’re targeting real opponents and not fantasy ones. 

The right, in other words, has been considerably more interested in winning elections.

The National Review, for instance–William F. Buckley’s flagship conservative magazine–has spent the last several issues discussing the disconnect between working class white voters and the core conservative base–

The core conservative base wants to end entitlement programs, the working class white voters want to retain and expand them.

And that particular series of articles has been refreshing in what it has not done–it has not ascribed the policy preferences of these voters as somehow arising from their inability to understand what’s in their own interests, or due to their “fear of change’ and all the rest of that rot.

In other words, the articles treat voters with whom the writers disagree with respect in the only sense “respect” be in a case like this–as being fully competent human beings who know their own minds.

You treat people like that, and you might almost get them to listen to you.

OWS, however, seems to be doing all the usual things and receiving all the usual yawn-intensive reaction from the man in the street–unless it does something that gets that man absolutely furious, like blocking an off-ramp to I-84 in Hartford during rush hour. 

The OWS thing reminds me of the riots we have to have anytime the G-8 meets–exercises in faux-revolutionary nostalgia rather than serious political statements of any sort, and, as always, claiming to speak for a lot of people who resent the hell out of so being spoken for.

And nostalgia seems to be what is going on for a lot of the writers who are writing about the movement, both in favor and against.  Picking up the political magazines this week has been like time travel: there are the liberals proclaiming that Young People are Changing Everything, and there are the conservatives talking about how people on these protests should bathe and get a job.

And buried under all this, of course, are actual issues that both sides agree on–or at least both sides attending OWS and Tea Party rallies.

The banks shouldn’t have been bailed out, and the bankers should have been subject to criminal prosecution in some cases and civil suits capable of doing them serious economic damage in others.

That’s one.

College costs too much.  NCLB should be abolished.  George W. Bush was a bad president. 

Those are some more.

In the meantime, I have to listen to a lot of nonsense about how Authentic they all are (from liberals) and how unwashed they all are (from conservatives).

They’re neither, really.  They’re just playing games, and provoking reactions they expect will be largely safe enough.

Then they give press conferences where they declare that obviously the Establishment is against them, or else why do they get pepper spray and riot police when the Tea Party does not.

They expect nobody to notice that Tea Party rallies get all the necessary permits, show up when they say they will and leave when they say they will, and clean up after themselves.

But it’s okay if they don’t notice it, because it’s mostly a game, the object of which is to be able to declare that you’re Sincere and Moral, unlike all those idiots wearing American flags on their hats and talking about the second amendment.

I played that game once, and it ended up making me embarrassed.

These days, it just makes me tired.

Written by janeh

November 22nd, 2011 at 10:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

10 Responses to 'Occupy This'

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  1. Brava!

    I particularly liked the bit about how “(T)o the extent that the old anti-Vietnam War movement did anything at all at the grass roots, it ushered in thirty years of steadily growing conservative hegemony”.

    We don’t have an equivalent to your Tea Party, but we sure have plenty of imitators of OWS. Media reports are almost unanimous that its hard core, ie the ones who came to stay and not to just turn up during daylight hours, are unintelligent, unkempt, unwashed, and definitely unsanitary. In other words, they’re a rabble without a coherent cause, regardless of what their few articulate spokespeople have to say to cameras.

    It amazes me how many people still recall those old Days of Aquarius and anti-Vietnam protests with pride and nostalgia. More fools them.


    22 Nov 11 at 6:32 pm

  2. I thought I was the only one who really got annoed about the way they are “claiming to speak for a lot of people who resent the hell out of so being spoken for”.

    Extremely locally, we’ve got a tiny contingent camped out in a downtown park, and the local mayor says they’re not in anyone’s way; leave them there. I expect they’ll get cold and wet soon enough, although in that case, the local media managed to find people at a couple of local businesses who treat them with admiring deference, as though it’s a great feat to camp out in a park.

    I’ll have you know I was corrected recently (not here) when I aired the opinion that demonstrations in the street were dangerous tactics to use because even if they worked (which they normally didn’t) they set the precedent that the people who could disrupt things the most were most likely to get their way politically. I was informed in no uncertain terms that without similar demonstrations, American blacks would never have gotten any civil rights and the US would not have gotten out of Vietnam as soon as it did. When I read about the enormous success of such tactics in Egypt, I had to give up on the debate, after a parting request that they check out Egypt in a year to see how democracy was progressing there. I should have said a week.


    22 Nov 11 at 7:12 pm

  3. Yes, once the anti-Vietnam protests really got rolling, the US was out in eight years–and out largely because of polling and election results, not “direct action” or democracy would have been in serious trouble.

    Civil rights is more complicated, but there was no violence ahead of Brown, and not much before the LBJ “First” Civil Rights Act. A black acquaintance who told me no one had ever replaced the groceries and hardware stores burned down at the time suggested to me that there were limits to the “days of rage” model of social and economic advancement.

    It is, I think, one thing to use such tactics in a fake democracy or outright dictatorship on the Soviet or Egyptian models, and another thing to resort to them when you are prefectly entitled to speak your views and vote for candidates who will promise to implement your program.

    I would agree that the OWS crowd is not serious–if for no other reason, because of the location. If your entire program is governmental–laws to be passed and prosecutions commenced–why exactly do this in Manhattan? They should be burning down K Street and putting caltrops on the Congressional parking lot at Reagan National. But it’s a tricky balance. In five or ten years, all of the OWS kids not in law firms or brokerage houses will be minor functionaries in HHS OSHA and the EPA. Their notion of overturning the system stops short of a real revolution, which would leave them washing dishes in exile. They’re credentialed and connected rather than skilled and trained.

    As for the publicity, I suspect it’s a slow news period, and they’re good copy. Would you rather photograph the Trustafundian Campout, or try to explain Eurobonds, Afghan counterinsurgency and Federal loan guarantees to your readership?

    And, of course, the editors are Boomers. If they admit that the “occupiers” are theater rather than substance, what does this make THEIR glory days?


    22 Nov 11 at 7:38 pm

  4. Thousands of people willing to get arrested does not constitute a revolution. It takes millions of people willing to risk their lives to make a revolution.

    Idle demonstrations are a tool of the status quo, a valve that lets off a bit of pressure without changing anything. These chumps would be adoring, instead of protesting, if a Dumbocratic Congress were doing exactly the same things that the current Rethuglican Congress is doing.


    22 Nov 11 at 8:12 pm

  5. It doesn’t actually take millions of people willing to risk their lives to make a revolution, although millions no doubt will die before it is over.

    Revolutions tend to be started by much smaller groups of people, and although initially they may well be ready to sacrifice a lot – even their lives – for the cost, if they survive the initial period and get to the period of open warfare, they’re often too important to The Cause as leaders to risk their own necks.

    Most of the millions who die in revolutions aren’t willing sacrifices to the Cause. They’re dragged into fighting by force or social pressure or threats or by manipulation by one side or another, or they’re ‘collateral damage’ or ‘executed’ collaborators or ‘enemies of the People’. Or they die due to the disruption of society making medical care and food scarce or unavailable.


    23 Nov 11 at 8:06 am

  6. eg, see Syria, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt.

    Those celebrating the Arab Spring, or whatever it’s called by sentimental fools around the world, will soon learn that as bad as the Gaddafis, Mubaraks, etc were, their replacements are likely to be as bad or even worse. If, as seems likely, the Muslim Brotherhood takes power in all those countries, then things will be immeasurably worse.


    23 Nov 11 at 6:46 pm

  7. I actually read a comment praising the Arab Spring as bringing democracy to the Arab world. Admittedly, this was before the most recent events, but I was flabbergasted at the idea that a functioning democracy, with more or less working constitution and legal system, elections, economy etc would pop up when the former dictator’s seat was barely cool just because some of the protesters were brave supporters of the idea – AND the assumption that there were no other power groups ready to take advantage of the vaccuum.

    I had been expecting a slightly more ‘enlightened’ dictator to emerge from the rich and powerful members of Egyptian society, rather than the military or Muslim Brotherhood taking over, but I didn’t have any great expectations of that happening. Some people claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is now more liberal than it has been in the past, and certainly more so than some of its Islamic rivals. Time will tell.

    I certainly didn’t expect the sudden flowering of Western-style democracy in Egypt.


    24 Nov 11 at 8:25 am

  8. Don’t abandon hope of the Arab Spring just yet. It was a long, long journey from Runnymede to even the Long Parliament or the Glorious Revolution. The question is not whether Libya will be as democratic as Italy next year, but whether it will look less like Pharaonic Egypt than it did a year ago, without going to a Hobbesian state of nature.

    I’m cautiously optimistic. Three states which last year were a cross between single-party states and hereditary absolute monarchies now have freedom of speech and the press, the notion of democratic rule and individual rights and the promise of free elections. No, I don’t expect everything to go well, but the old way was going nowhere. Egypt and Tunisia may go all the way. If Libya gets to where Turkey and Brazil were 30-50 years ago, it’s still progress. And if none of them is quite democracy as I would prefer it–well, neither is the EU–or the United States. And if there are short-term difficulties for the West in dealing with nations rather than families, there are long-term benefits for the West as well. Voters tend to prefer solutions to scapegoats.

    It’s a hard lesson to learn. We tend to forget it ourselves. But if they do not expect government to do everything, they may do very well.


    25 Nov 11 at 4:05 pm

  9. I hope you’re right. Egypt and Tunisia are in a stronger position than, say, Yemen. It takes a long, long time to develop strong legal and political institutions and a culture that works with them, though. It’s just silly to say, in effect, ‘Look, they’r marching in the streets; they’ll be running a western-style democracy (or social democrat type of democracy) in no time! Almost as silly as comparing the brave campaigners who risk pepper spray and drug overdoses to those who risk being shot down in the streets or hauled off and never heard from again.

    It reminds me of the old news stories in the first flush of pos-colonialism which rather assumed that once a newly independant country had either a constitution modelled on that of the US or a Parliament modelled on that of the UK, it would have no further problems with governance.


    25 Nov 11 at 5:45 pm

  10. I make no promises about Yemen. Syria has possiilities, but in Yemen a centralized government and hereditary monarch on about the level of Tudor England would be an actual improvement. As with Somalia, it might make more sense to let the state break up into its natural components and let them organize themselves. (Somaliland and Puntland seem to be getting along quite well–but no one will recognize them, because none of the central governments likes the notion of breaking up a central government.)

    My rule of thumb is that you need about 60-70 years of centralized government and a legislative assembly of some sort to have a decent chance of transitioning to a stable democracy, and the fellow had a point who wrote that any country in which most marriages involve first cousins is not a hot prospect regardless.

    But when a majority or even a large minority of the populace think it’s time for the ruler to go, it probably is, even if a democracy won’t soon follow.


    25 Nov 11 at 7:14 pm

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