Up to this point, my basic attitude toward Occupy Wall Street and its affiliated protests in other cities has been ambivalence. On the whole, I am in favor of expanding economic justice in the United States, and in a broad sense that seems to be what #OWS is about. I am outraged that a tiny percentage of the population controls the lion’s share of the wealth, and am outraged that the gap between that tiny percentage and the rest of the population is growing at an exponential rate. I also tend to be in favor of nonviolent protest and I am a firm believer in freedom of speech, even when (maybe especially when) I disagree with the content of what is being said. All that being said, it is now time for Occupy Oakland to STFU and go home.
When Iraq veteran Scott Olsen was seriously injured by a police projectile on Oct. 25 as the Oakland PD was attempting to break up the protest, I was outraged not just at his injury, but at the very idea that the police had suited up in riot gear in order to break up what had been to that point a peaceful protest. Inwardly I was pleased to see that rather than folding, the protest grew in its numbers following the incident and that the city government was performing what appeared to be a serious examination of its response as it pulled back.
When Occupy Oakland called for a general strike and the shutdown of the shipping port, there were many businesses that not only complied with the request but self-identified with it. The message of economic justice emanating from the protests had struck a chord and by any measure, the government’s response had gone far beyond excessive. There were many businesses whose windows displayed signs of support, and of standing with “the 99%.” Early reports of the general strike almost unanimously depicted a peaceful scene, shutting down the city as planned. There was even a reported incident of the protest policing itself and putting a stop to hooligans engaging in vandalism, which impressed me greatly. Unfortunately, all hell broke loose later and at roughly the same time those reports were coming out, I saw this image from the earlier (peaceful) part of the day:
One of my biggest problems with #OWS has been its confused, vague and unfocused messaging. When its “declaration” is (charitably) a stupid and self-contradictory stew of seemingly random extreme-left complaints, I cannot follow. When nothing in that manifesto is an actual policy proposal, leaving people who should be the movement’s natural supporters with nothing to support, I cannot follow. When the Frederick Douglass suggestion that policy demands are necessary gets dismissed as playing into the hands of the establishment, I cannot follow. When the protest proclaims “Death to Capitalism,” I cannot follow. When there is uncontrolled rioting in the streets, I cannot follow.
Capitalism has its faults, and they are undoubtedly legion. However, do the protesters really believe that “Death to Capitalism” is something that “the 99%” can get behind? Seriously, how fucking stupid are these people? Do they not have a single person telling them that maybe their messaging needs work? Do they have no one keeping an eye out for trouble-makers, and shutting those people down when trouble gets made? Idiots!
Oakland has tainted the entire movement with its clear inability (on the part of both protesters and government) to handle anything like this in a mature, reasonable fashion. Occupy Oakland needs to recognize this about itself, pack up camp and go home before they do any further damage and destroy the entire #Occupy project. The benefit of the doubt only gets you so far, and Occupy Oakland has gone beyond the point of safe return. One more incident, and the entire movement nationwide will be discredited (assuming it hasn’t already).
Will the nation tolerate this sort of crap with cold weather, Thanksgiving and the busy holiday season (not to mention the ramp-up for the 2012 elections) fast approaching? Absolutely not. There is only a small window of national patience remaining, and events in Oakland have left that window open only the tiniest crack. It won’t take much for the American public to decide that #OWS is more trouble than it’s worth, and accede to the police shutting down the entire movement nationwide.
I’m not willing to write off the entire movement just yet, but as far as Oakland is concerned? Occupy Oakland needs to shut itself down and go home. It’s making the very idea of economic justice look bad, and that does no one any good.
Shut it down.