Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Is OccupyWallStreet failing?


Any number of political pundits have dismissed #OccupyWallStreet as a failure for a wide variety of reasons. Mytheos Holt (pseudonym?), a writer for the usually fairly intellectually honest if right leaning Frum Forum wrote a piece on Why the Wall Street Protests are Failing. On the face of it he argues that it is and will continue to be ineffectual while citing activist Saul Alinsky's keys to successful protest. Ironic coming from the right, but that's beside the point.

The point is that Mr. Holt and his compatriots among the establishment media are dead wrong. 

The protests have been more successful than most anyone believed possible. 

Remember, this whole thing started 18 days ago!

In 18 days the protesters have managed to accomplish:

  • worldwide news coverage with the pepper-spray incident
  • facetime with celebrities (Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons), celebrity rabblerousers (Michael Moore), social activism intellectuals (Cornel West), politicians (Former NY Governor David Paterson), and media pundits (too many to name).
  • the support of several large unions
  • the largest mass arrest in New York City history
  • 87,000+ facebook "likes"
  • 38,000+ twitter followers
  • blocked from trending on twitter (JP Morgan Chase recently invested $400M)
  • coverage on almost every large media outlet 
  • front page of the NY Times and several other big dailies
  • 147 spin-off protests in cities throughout the United States
  • a Boston protest group that's already had a 3,000 person march and several arrests
  • a San Francisco group that is actually occupying bank property
  • 28 spin-off protests in foreign countries on 3 continents

While their recent Declaration of the Occupation of New York City may read like a group-think classroom project and lacks the polish of some alternatives, such as FDR's proposed Worker's Bill of Rights, it also has some strong language including this gem: 

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. 

The list of proposed demands on their website is also a bit silly in parts, but it's a work in progress. However, if they want to be taken seriously and supported by a majority of Americans, they'll need to revise or eliminate demands such as:

Demand eleven: Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the "Books." World Bank Loans to all Nations, Bank to Bank Debt and all Bonds and Margin Call Debt in the stock market including all Derivatives or Credit Default Swaps, all 65 trillion dollars of them must also be stricken from the "Books." 

That, of course, would be catastrophic for our economy and violate billions of legal contracts. So it's absurd on its face.  

In fairness, these are proposed demands written by a member of the movement. Not the demands the movement has actually chosen to support. They are using a voting system to accomplish that. Having now gone through the voting process, most of the demands garnering overwhelming support are reasonable expectations from a movement focusing on getting money out of politics, reining in invsetment banks, and reforming our government. Fortunately, debt forgiveness for all doesn't appear anywhere in the proposal. 

This is what direct democracy looks like. It's messy, sloppy, and full of equality. We, fortunately, live in a representative republic in which representatives air the issues rather than having every citizen vote on every issue. That would result in chaos and the tyranny of the majority. At some point the OccupyWallStreet protest will need to move beyond their horizontal leadership model if messages are going to coalesce and become more effective. But now is not that time. 

I look forward to watching this evolve. I hope they're successful. As a country, we need these issues resolved for our great experiment to flourish.  

Remember, it's only been 18 days. They don't need a firm message or set of demands yet. 

This is only the beginning. 

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