#OccupySeattle, You’ve Got A LOT of Work to Do
It’s not the most popular opinion of late, but I’m going to say it anyway: the Occupy movement isn’t going to work.
I know. You’re mad at me for that. You’re going to leave angry comments. You’re going to accuse me of being an elitist, or being out of touch, or being a hater for the sake of hating, you’re going to say I don’t support “the people.”
Even if those things were true, it wouldn’t change the fact that Occupy misses the mark.
First though, a quick and dirty primer for the uninitiated.
Sometime in the Summer of 2011, a Canadian based group known as Adbusters Media Foundation called for protesters to occupy Wall Street in New York City. Beginning September 17th, that’s exactly what happened. Protesters began to fill up Zuccatti Park in an effort to protest corporate influence in politics and the growing gap between the rich and the poor; valid issues which fundamentally impact the lives of everyone who lives in this country.
The big question is, what do they want? That’s not always easy to pin down, but Adbusters has said it wants President Obama to “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington”.
As Occupy Wall Street grew and the mainstream media (finally) began to give it coverage, Occupy efforts sprang up around the country. According to Wikipedia, at least 70 cities nationwide have an Occupy effort.
Occupy Seattle called for protesters to fill up Seattle’s Westlake Park. From the OccupySeattle.org website:
A diverse group of Seattleites is beginning a non-violent, extended public occupation of downtown Seattle. The occupation is part of a national movement that started with the Occupy Wall Street resistance movement in New York City.
By joining the nationwide Occupy movement, we want to focus elected officials and the voting public on the majority’s desire to take our government and country back from the big money interests that currently hold undue sway over decisions affecting us all. We are coming together in large numbers to effect this change.
Join us at our occupation site in downtown Seattle for as much time as you have – an hour, a day, overnight. It all has an impact.
The biggest problem facing Occupy Seattle: it’s failing at its mission.
Much of this has to do with a lack of organization amongst the protesters. News coverage the past week has focused on protesters’ indecisiveness over strategy
Do they stay in Westlake Park or move to City Hall? Do they sit-in and get arrested en masse, or do they comply with the city and police to live to fight another day? The lack of unity amongst the group has become the story for the media, not systemic change in politics.
The location of the protests in Seattle (and around the country) is critical. Protesters want to be able to occupy locations they have no legal right to occupy in the first place. Example: camping in Westlake Park is against the law. Therefore if one chooses to set up a tent for days, weeks or months at a time, by default, one chooses to risk arrest and prosecution.
But protesters don’t want to be arrested. They want to be left to their protesting.
It puts City Hall in a tricky spot. SPD lives to enforce the law. They want protesters out of the park.
But the Mayor’s office doesn’t want to risk the fall-out that would come from videos of protesters clashing with police splashed all over the news and internet. It would be a public relations nightmare and could make or break re-election. The Mayor wants to avoid that if at all possible, which is why he has offered (and often times begged protesters to move to) City Hall as an approved protest site when the park closes every night.
For now, they remain in the park. Arrests have been ongoing, but minimal.
I’ve made no secret of my criticisms of Occupy Seattle (hello, twitter folk!). The more time goes by the more people ask me about it. So here it is, in one central location, my concerns over this effort and why I don’t think it will be successful:
1. Occupying Westlake Park is not working.
Whyyyyy are protesters at Westlake Park? For the love of hipsters, someone please trace for me, the direct line from the park in Seattle to the decision makers. If the goal of Occupy Seattle is really to focus elected officials on the plight of, and demands for change/accountability by the people, I ask again, what the hell are they doing in Westlake Park? Do protesters expect leaders of Seattle to carry their demands/concerns beyond the city’s limits? Occupying a park in a city only serves to annoy its leaders and strap its law enforcement with the extra costs associated in dealing with such an effort. Kinda counterproductive considering local municipalities are broke.
2. There is no clear goal.
Notice I didn’t say they have no goals. I said the goals are not clear. If the goal is to raise awareness, then protesters need to get in line; one voice, one mission, simple as that. Where are the unified, agreed upon talking points and messages?
3. There is no clear strategy.
If protesters can’t even agree on their location from one moment to the next, how can they expect to garner larger support? No one wants to waste their time on a movement in disarray. The overall lack of cohesiveness is keeping people from joining in.
4. Perpetuating inequality
Now, this is just ironic. The Occupy effort claims to represent the 99% of the population who are not the richest people in the country (and apparently the root of all evil). But ask yourself this: what percentage of the 99% is deciding the trajectory of a movement that claims to represent nearly every human being in the entire country? Just because I’m not in the top 1%, and you’re not in the top 1%, does that automatically mean you and I are in the same boat? It mostdef does not.
5. A crisis of identity.
Many Occupy Seattle protesters and their supporters are trying to make Occupy Seattle something it isn’t. Occupy is something, I won’t say it’s not, but it is not the new Battle in Seattle (WTO protests), it’s not the Watt’s riots, and it really shouldn’t be compared to the “Arab Spring” or incidents like the Kwangju Democratization Movement (yes, someone actually said that).
Reality check: A police officer breaking down your tent in a half acre park can’t be compared to military dogs burning down your home. No one is walking through the streets of Seattle or any other Occupy city with AK 47s, opening fire on random people.
Let’s keep it real: at this point, Occupy Seattle is the Woodstock of popular social movements. It cannot and should not be compared with incidents which persecuted tortured and murdered countless people around the world in the fight for absolute freedom from dictatorship.
Finally, this week I was asked if I had any advice on how to improve Occupy Seattle. Of course I do! I have a million suggestions! But rather than waste my time outlining charts on how to arrange and rearrange the deck chairs on the proverbial sinking ship, let’s abandon that boat altogether and start over in a new direction.
Ultimately this national movement is a direct result of the state of our nation right now, which frankly, is crap, right? We’re in a recession; national politics is theater and offers no relief. Unemployment is devastatingly high, and the infrastructure we rely on at every level- city, county, state and federal- is strained to the point of collapse.
Right now, Occupy protests are taking place at the city level. Ask yourself, how many cities are there in the United States? A lot, right? Of those cities, how many of their leaders have the ear of the President? Probably not that many. Now ask yourself, how many States are there in the US? How many governors have the ear of the President?
Last month Governor Gregoire announced a special session of the legislature to convene for 30 days starting November 28th. Their job is to cut 2 billion dollars from the state budget. This is on top of draconian cuts the last legislative session, and the one before that, and the one before that.
A lack of money coming in and this irresponsible notion that government is wasteful and entitlement programs rampant with fraud and a blah blah blah, and we have cut and cut and cut until there is nothing left- save the programs that literally keep Washingtonians alive and our children in school. Couple all of that with our State’s regressive tax system and ladies and gentlemen, we are so screwed. It just can’t be put any other way.
Realistically, how many Washingtonians are going to travel across the state to “occupy” Westlake Park before the effort dies? Not very many.
What we need is to demand change that benefits those of us who are financially strapped, out of work, buried in debt, struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. That needs to happen at the state level. Not only do we have a governor who is chummy with the White House, but our very own Patty Murray is the co-chair of the Debt Reduction Committee, which wouldn’t even exist if our country wasn’t in financial ruin- ruin largely caused by the greed and corruption in corporate sponsored politics that has shaken our economy to its core.
Why are we not occupying her office? I digress.
Washington State is not taking care of its own. Resources and services are continuously slashed, while the needs of those who call it home continue to surge; more people hungry, less food; more middle class families homeless, less housing. Go down the list, the trend is persistent in every category.
If every action has an equal, yet opposite reaction, then it is time do away with symbolic gestures. The budget cuts coming down the pipe aren’t symbolic, they’re harmful. We shouldn’t stand for them.
We need to occupy Olympia during the special session. One voice, one agenda:
Lawmakers have to take a balanced approach to the budget crisis. That means revenue. It means taking aggressive steps to dismantle our dysfunctional tax system and create one that works. It means protecting the programs that save lives, and protecting the funding that educates our children (high five, Randy Dorn).
Folks have said there is no political will to take on a state income tax or to create reform in general. That may be true now, but it won’t be true forever, and the only way to make progress is to hold the line. We can’t cave for any reason.
I’m not afraid to change my mind about Occupy. I’m not “a hater” downing the movement just for the heck of it. But if we’re going to put our collective energy towards something, let it be more than symbolic action. There is a direct correlation between the clusterfuck that is corporate sponsored politics and the plight of the people in every state of the country, including our own. But if we’re not constantly drawing that direct connection to the current economic plight, then it’s irrelevant, no matter how relevant it is.
It’s time to go beyond expressing our outrage. It’s time to demand solutions where we might stand a chance in getting them.