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Doing Fine Without A Demand

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Back on September 8, when I wrote about the plans for an “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration, I expressed my surprise that the ultimate goal of the occupation was deliberately left open.  Since that time, there has been a good deal of criticism concerning a failure of the movement to focus on a particular demand.  Many observers (including myself) believed that the lack of a single goal would doom the effort to failure.  As it turned out, the only drawback of that strategy was that it got the campaign off to a slow start.  When forced to acknowledge that the occupation was taking place after the arrest of 80 demonstrators on September 25, the corporate-controlled media made a point of emphasizing that there were only “a couple hundred” people participating in the protest.  After over 700 protesters were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge Saturday, it became obvious that the mainstream media had been understating the number of participants involved in this effort.

Despite the transparent media efforts to under-report this event, there was one conspiracy allegation that fell apart.  Many protesters claimed that the New York police “set up” the Brooklyn Bridge marchers, by directing them from the pedestrian walkway onto the vehicular traffic lanes. Natasha Lennard of the City Room blog at The New York Times – who ended up getting arrested with the Brooklyn Bridge protesters – debunked the claims of entrapment:

The Internet was filled with pointed suggestions that officers from the New York Police Department led protesters onto the road as a trap to perform mass arrests; indeed, some video footage seems to show officers leading protesters onto the “illegal” section of the bridge.  From what I saw, however, a couple of dozen marchers made the decision to move off the sidewalk into the road at the bridge’s entrance to chants of “off the sidewalks, into the streets.”

This breakaway group quickly gained support of surrounding marchers, numbers of whom jumped over barricades on the sidewalk’s edge to stream into the road, until hundreds of people eventually covered the passageway usually intended for a steady flow of traffic.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement spawned similar protests around the nation, critics continued to bemoan the absence of a clear-cut message – many of whom offered their own suggestions.  These remarks by Nicholas Kristof were typical of the criticisms expressed since the occupation began:

Where the movement falters is in its demands:  It doesn’t really have any.  The participants pursue causes that are sometimes quixotic – like the protester who calls for removing Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill because of his brutality to American Indians.

On the other hand, the lack of a specific goal seems to be having the same “Rorschach effect” exploited by Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign.  The avoidance of a narrow agenda appears to be attracting a broader range of participants from across the political spectrum, who are now joining the protest.

Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Times discussed the views of some who emphasized keeping the message vague or simply sticking with no unified message at all:

Michael T. Heaney, a University of Michigan political science professor who has studied social protest movements, said such groups often bump up against pressure to become more focused and to either build or join institutions that can support them.

“What you’re talking about is a degree of buying into a political system,” Heaney said.  “But the more you use tactics that we recognize as getting you influence, the more you buy into the system, and the more you buy into the system, the more you open yourself up to compromise.”

In Occupy Wall Street’s case, Heaney said demands could be as vague as simply calling for financial bailout programs to apply to individuals rather than banks.

Most of those in Zuccotti Park, though, don’t see the need for a change in tactics.  At least not yet.

“There isn’t a consolidated message, and I don’t think there needs to be,” said Andrew Lynn, 34, who drove the three hours from his home in Troy, N.Y., to help the demonstrators’ media team.

So far, Occupy Wall Street seems to be doing just fine without a unified message.  As Andrew Grossman reported for The Wall Street Journal, the protest doesn’t appear to be losing any steam:

Meanwhile, the encampment in Zuccotti Park showed no signs of ending, despite falling temperature and a night of rain.  Shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday, a few hundred people huddled under tarps and sleeping bags filled the windswept plaza.  Once the sun rose, more joined:  Members of Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents nearly 38,000 workers in the city’s bus and subway systems, marched in to cheers.

Protesters distributed a newspaper – “The Occupied Wall Street Journal” – that they printed using money raised online.

Its lead story began:  “What is occurring on Wall Street right now is remarkable.  For over two weeks, in the great cathedral of capitalism, the dispossessed have liberated territory from the financial overlords and their police army.”

At this point, it appears as though the activists participating in the Occupy Wall Street effort should stick with their unrestricted focus.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


 

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