Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Revolutionaries or Protesters?

After every incident resulting in arrests, Wall Street Occupiers are quick to repeat that they are "peaceful protesters."  They constantly reference the First Amendment and the civil rights movement.  Yet they also compare themselves to Tahrir Square and the French Revolution.  A common Occupier "snappy comeback" to concerns about the group's lawless methods is, "America's Founders did much more extreme acts."  Well, yes.  America's Founders were fighting a revolutionary war, to overthrow their government.  Different rules apply in that situation than in peaceful protest.

The Founders believed that in order for revolutionaries to be legitimate, they must represent a majority of the people, and they must exhaust all methods available within the system first.  It is not something to be done lightly, as Jefferson emphasized in the Declaration of Independence.  "No taxation without representation [voting rights]" was the slogan of America's Founders justifying their war.  If they had had voting rights empowering them to change the laws they objected to, they would not have claimed a right to start a revolution.  If they had not had the majority on their side, they would not have succeeded in it.

In any war, seizing territory and setting up encampments on it is crucial.  Your troops need somewhere to stay, and the more disputed territory you claim, the closer you are to winning the war.  Commandeering streets and bridges, so that you control the flow of traffic in a city, is vital.  Attempting to evade or escape being arrested by the enemy is not only sensible, but honorable.  Property destruction is a valid tactic to deplete the enemy's supply lines.  Secrecy and deception is also legitimate in war; it's wise to make the enemy think you're doing one thing, while you're really doing something completely different, so your attacks will have the element of surprise.  Even propaganda is tolerated in times of war, with each side trying to make itself look like the winner, to sway general opinion.

None of those tactics are appropriate for peaceful protest. The whole point of creating a government of, by, and for the people was to ensure that no future revolutions would need to be fought in the streets, and no tactics like those would be necessary.  The ballot box gives Americans all the power we need to change anything, including completely eliminating or amending our Constitution if enough people agree.  You're perfectly free to speak out and advocate for the changes you want, in writing, in public performances, on TV, radio, internet, whatever medium you want, as long as you don't infringe other people's rights, or endanger the public in the course of your speech.

Currently claiming to speak for 99% of Americans, Occupation organizers US Day of Rage have been trying to gain support since March, and planned to announce a demonstration once they had 50,000 followers on Twitter.  By July, they still had less than 6,000 followers, a devastating failure to prove even 1% of the public agree with them.

The original US Day of Rage flyer calling for the Occupation asserts that the current government is "treasonous" and "tyrannical" and therefore it's justified for people to invoke their sovereign right to overthrow it.  No proof of this treason is offered by the Occupiers, nor any proof that they tried to legally redress their grievances and were met with tyranny.

The past month has not clarified things any further, as Occupiers have no platform, policy goals, or acknowledged leadership, only releasing a Declaration mimicking Jefferson's style, but lacking his detailed justifications, instead making a blanket accusation that "corporations" caused the current financial crisis and "They" deliberately caused various grievances.  If this is a revolution, it's failed to justify its existence on any level.

We can also see from the original USDOR flyer that Occupiers' current tactics are not what was originally advertised to the public.  What was billed as a peaceful, law-abiding sidewalk demonstration has become a set of encampments that seize public-use parks for their own private lodgings, not just in NYC but in many other cities, conducting loud, disruptive marches to block vital infrastructure whenever the group chooses to.  If this were war, that bait-and-switch between the advertised tactics and the ones actually used would be a clever ruse that succeeded in temporarily capturing territory.  If it's meant to be peaceful protest, it has crossed the line into violating the rights of the public to use our public parks and streets.

Being angry isn't enough to solve our problems.  There's no one segment of society we could just get rid of to magically fix things.  Yes, Wall Street traders and banks capitalized on a bubble by recklessly investing, but it was Congress who legalized that recklessness, and it's losing our industrial base to overseas manufacturing that left a lot of people lacking good jobs, causing them to default on mortgages, which made the reckless trades fail.  There's a lot of blame to go around, and getting out of this mess will require research, thoughtful analysis, long, boring, chart-filled proposals, and cooperation between political parties.

Occupiers need to decide, are they opting out of that process of reason, debate, and finding compromises, and instead waging war against the rest of us in an effort, even if it remains largely nonviolent, to overthrow our current system of government?  Or are they peaceful protesters seeking only the right to speak and have their message heard, so we can consider their input before making choices at the voting booth?  You can't claim the mantle of Gandhi while using the tactics of war.


  1. I'll take the first one. That war thing. And yes, I suppose that this is against "the rest of you", even if we think we're doing this on your behalf (and the 53%ers, and the cops, etc. by the way, nice company.)
    And you're wrong about the Founders. At most they represented 33% of the colonists, and even that is widely optimistic. They also deliberately misrepresented British actions in order to whip up support and give them legitimacy that wasn't quite there. With them as a moral baseline, Occupy Wall Street could start munching on babies and still look pretty good, ethically speaking.
    I wish I could say I'm surprised (I'm not), but I am disappointed in your defense of the current system giving all the pain the courts have unjustly caused you. Its one thing to retain faith in an institution, even if that faith has been tested. This is akin to Battered Spouse Syndrome, a condition all too common among Americans.
    Now, bad courts are directly connected to the financial collapse, true. But they are both connected to bad government. Bad, not due to some misstep or temporary failing, but due to the very nature of the institution. That is what I'm fighting against. I invite you to join us. There are a lot of reasons to count yourself among the 99%.

  2. "...that there does not exist in any one province in America a number of friends of the Government sufficient to defend themselves when the troops are withdrawn. The idea is false and if the measure is adopted...all of the friends of the Government will be sacrificed en detail. This is the case in Georgia, will be in South Carolina, is already in North Carolina, and in Virginia, will probably be in Boston, and must in my opinion be everywhere."
    -General Sir Henry Clinton Royal Army May 1776.

    Be aware that I'm playing nice only because this isn't my blog...


  3. The protesters have themselves convinced MOST of us want them doing what they are doing. funny thing is if you visit some sites and read posts you see MOST are telling them they do not. Personally, I dont want a bunch of people I didnt vote to speak for me soeaking for me. Everyone I know... majority of which are middle and lower income people...Yes some in North Carolina disaprove of OWS. just throwing FACT in with the opinions.

  4. "I dont want a bunch of people I didnt vote to speak for me soeaking for me."

    You mean like Congress? There's 1 out of 500+ people in there I voted for.