Occupy Nada

I walked by some protesters on Sunday who were camped out at the historic St. Paul’s cathedral. One stood at the top of the steps and held up a sign. “The revolution is coming.”

When the bell rang and people began to stream out from mass it was clear that he, amongst other sign-bearing iconoclasts, was getting in the way. There was some pushing and shoving, but he stayed put and kept holding up that sign. A trooper. A revolutionary, he must have thought.

I would have had to disagree with him. Revolutionaries have a cause. The ones who shook up the Mid-East this spring were fighting to have a say in their government. The question we’re all asking, of course, is: What is OWS looking for?

 

One common sign you’ll see floating around in the Zucotti Park mosh pit in New York goes along the lines of “We’re fighting for Democracy”. The underlying complaint is that Democracy’s rigged in America: the game’s been thrown, checks and balances blown to bits while attempting to buttress fat cats and fat wallets. But I don’t think it is. American democracy is historically and continues to be extraordinarily responsive. A great case study would be the oft-maligned tea-party and how quickly that movement got its candidates onto the Hill. How did they do it? By organizing around a clear goal (laudible or not), and, importantly, bringing to bear the electoral clout of what by all accounts is a popular position. In a nutshell, they voted.

Most of the coverage of OWS has commented on the youth of the occupiers. In this context, I found it surprising that young voter turnout in the last midterm electionswere abysmal. I’d think that it’d be easier to drive out and vote than to live like a bum in some park.

But voting is a physical effort. Perhaps being out in the cold and making signs is a small price to pay if you get to not think about the fact  that perhaps not everybody feels the same way you do. Indeed, most of us don’t. Many of the plebes out there, ‘brainwashed’ as we are by the ‘right wing media’, still think rather fondly of Horatio and his ‘fairy tales’. Cognitive dissonance has produced stranger things than a noisy, whiny, occupation of private property.

So, many of the OWS protesters don’t vote. Instead, when the other guys win by default, they get to say the game’s rigged. Not a bad trade, I guess.

Another common complaint is corporate greed. I’ve always found the term ‘corporate greed’, misused as often as it is, to be cliched, boring, and unoriginal, but let’s ignore that for now and check out this picture instead:

Protesters in London line up at Starbucks (listed as SBUX on NASDAQ) for a latte and to charge their iPads.

 

Sympathetic media outlets have been falling all over themselves trying to bring some semblance of coherence to the protesters’ message (if one could call it that). Al Gore, waxing poetic, calls it a ‘primal scream of Democracy’. I think that’s funny.

I used to scream, primally, when I was kid and didn’t get the toy I wanted. I figured out quickly that wasn’t the best way to do it. Good articulation (well, good for a 6 year old) and a clear purpose gets you where you want to go.

But that doesn’t quite fit onto a sign. “The revolution is coming” does, and it is primal indeed.

 

-Ke Ding