As protest movements go, Occupy Wall Street is a fashion statement. Not in a Kanye West way as implied in the below image but at least when compared with the 1960s US Civil Rights movement, 1989’s Tianamen Square or more recently, the Arab spring. Here’s why I feel this way: unlike historical protests there is no self-sacrifice. While I may be proven wrong, I suspect this cosy, convenient movement will not survive a North American winter let alone water cannons, rubber bullets, hunger strikes and government-sanctioned goons like Iran’s Basij. Already in cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Tokyo and even its catalytic centre, Manhattan, the movement has steadily declined in from a peak of thousands of union-backed, media-friendly protesters to a few hundred diehards who are more or less fringe careerists regularly seen at G20 gatherings everywhere. While CNN and other mainstream outlets report, if not pray, of a global newsworthy phenomena, the numbers and reach of the 99 percenters is a chemical trace even when compared to the Boy Scouts who can be found in 161 countries and sport over 30 million members.
While the Occupy (enter city here) movement prides itself of being leaderless, rudderless might be a better word. By not having the singular charismatic voice of a Susan B. Anthony, Mahatma Ghandi, or Martin Luther King, there is no cross-over clarity, no measurable goals, no coalescence. Instead the movement is a camel with a thousand humps, a horse crowdsourced by committee. It reeks of the trivial convenience of micro-blogging where anyone can globally publish their personal umbrage in a half-conceived 140 characters or as a mere hashtag, effort be damned.
The fact that the movement was started by culture-jamming spoofers Ad Busters speaks volumes. Imagine Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement or Stokely Carmichael’s SNCC being associated with spoonfed smuggery like this. Nothing against satire — indeed George Carlin, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce all triggered social change through the power of humour — but will this really be the origin from whence global economic reforms starts?
It’s unfortunate Occupy Wall Street isn’t likely to evolve into a real movement. Undoubtedly, Wall Street and its myopic Frankenstein capitalism will not just eat itself but the rest of us too if it continues to permutate unchecked. At minimum, real dialogue about economic reform should have been initiated between the haves and have nots. Instead, hardly anyone knows where to start, what to talk about, who to talk to or why this guy is shitting on a police cruiser.
And with voting among the young at historic lows almost everywhere, one can’t help but feel these protests aren’t about democratic change. If nothing, they’re about the kind of change Candidate Obama promised: shiny, web-based, long on slogans but short on details. Change you can bereave in.
Lastly it’s hard to take seriously a movement that calls itself the 99 percent who are broke and downtrodden when research shows the North Americans are only 6% of world adult population but control 34% of its wealth. — MG