Finish this sentence
by Dan Herman
I want to get behind the Occupy movement. I want to believe that from the ashes of the most disaffected, distant and distracted generation can rise the flame of opposition, of discontent with the status quo and (most importantly) a willingness to change it. I want to see a peaceful (for God’s and our own sake, let it be peaceful. This is not the group with a stockpile of ammo and firepower at a bunker out in the woods) revolution that wants to hit home the idea that poor is an economic label, not a moral judgment, and one that no person should have to wear.
I want very badly for these things to be true, but unfortunately the latter two are connected to the first only tangentially. This is the problem.
The first rule of hostage-taking is that you must have demands. It doesn’t really matter who the hostages are, what group you represent or even what those demands are. It’s simple common sense — I’m not going to stop doing/release/let live X persons until you perform Y action. You’re not going to leave the lunch counter until people of every color are served. You’re not going to let the American servicemen go until the U.S. releases some ridiculous number of terrorists. You’re not going to leave the radio station unless you get airplay, nude photos of Bea Arthur and a helmet full of cottage cheese.
With the Occupy “protests*,” the hostages can be considered both the Occupiers as well whatever plot of land they choose to squat in, be it a park near Wall Street or a Red Robin. The problem is, outside a very vague notion of “it’s unfair that rich people get richer while the rest of us suffer during a recession” — which, for the record, is a sentiment I completely agree with — the people at these camps aren’t actually protesting anything. They’re not demanding anything. They just want things different. Sure. I agree. How?
Personally, I find it mildly offensive when I receive more than five emails over the weekend imploring me to “unite” with the 99 percent and “help supply the protesters against the freezing cold.” Surely these people, who have the spare time on their hands to do nothing but stand around, wave signs and beat drums,** also possess winter clothing. At what point does it stop being a protest camp and start being a homeless shelter? Not that I have anything against starting public, donation-funded homeless shelters in major cities with a lot of public attention per se, but a) most of the people in the camp have homes, and b) don’t call it a damn protest camp if that’s what you’re doing.
The purposelessness problem looms ever larger now with the latest events from the camps. Several deaths have occurred, which gives law enforcement prima facie evidence to shut down the camps as a matter of public safety. Again, I find myself wanting to link arms with the protesters, demanding that they have a right to free assembly and that you can’t judge an entire movement by its lunatic fringes.***
The problem is that, as a matter of both statistics and basic sociology, the camps are unsafe. Gathering a group of people in a confined area with limited (and dwindling) resources increases the likelihood that crime will occur. Even just going by the law of averages, the fact that a given place has more people in it than usual means the number of accidents and incidents will go up. It’s inevitable. So the argument becomes “keep the protest camps open because we want to protest!” versus “shut down the camps because people will be hurt.” Kind of a no-brainer.
If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that you need to be able to remember a list of three things an endgame. A plan of withdrawal, a list of demands; whatever you call it, you have to be able to figure out what winning means to you, and when that is accomplished. I’m suspicious of groups that don’t publicly state goals, as you can never tell if they’ve ever actually done anything or not.
In order to support the Occupy movement, I need to know what it supports, what it wants. They need to be able to complete the phrase, “We will Unoccupy the camps when _______.” Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of people screaming that they don’t like where the country’s headed.
And sorry, but we’ve got enough of that as it is.
*This kind of feeds back into the whole idea, but you can’t protest nothing.
** Bringing back the drum circle was possibly even dumber than Tea Partiers calling themselves “teabaggers” unironically.
*** Semantically, is it even possible to have a “fringe” in the absence of a definition of the “center?”