Michael Greenberg wrote two articles for the New York Review of Books discussing Occupy Wall Street. He spent a lot of time visiting with the protestors in an attempt to understand who they were and what they wanted. The second article sheds light on the protestors and confirms my concerns. He summarizes the situation:
The people Greenberg quotes seem to be interested in something bigger than reform, something more akin to revolution; but, a revolution leading where? The most succinct expression of a goal Greenberg could quote seemed to be this:
That is an admirable goal, and some of the protestors actually believed it was time to specify demands that would generate movement towards such a goal.
Why the resistance to explicit demands? Greenberg received this explanation:
One supposes that if a revolution is what is desired, then it makes no sense to try to make incremental changes because that would always mean working within the system that you wish to overthrow. But if revolution is the goal, then the nation has to be convinced to support it. The protestors seemed to want to generate public support for goals that they refused to specify. They also seemed to wish to generate a revolution without generating an organization—as if pure motives by themselves could generate momentum.
David Runciman writes a well-deserved dismissal of the Occupy "movement." His article appears ostensibly as a review of The Occupy Handbook. It appeared in the London Review of Books under the title: Stiffed.
Runciman begins by disposing of the notion that Occupy could have any practical relationship to its slogan proclaiming "We are the 99 percent."
Runciman then estimates the actual number of Occupy protestors as being about 0.1 percent of the population. So it could be said that the 0.1 percent were contending against the 0.1 percent. As we have seen, this 0.1 percent itself was not particularly well organized or focused, so how could it claim that the 99 percent was with them?
Although the notion of the 99 percent as an abused majority was destined to fail, getting a large fraction of the population motivated to support an abused minority is definitely possible.
In the 1930s, the number of people over 65 consisted of about 5 percent of the population. These people were in the greatest need, but had the least political clout and were being overlooked as New Deal legislation was being proposed. A doctor named Francis Townsend organized a grass roots campaign to obtain a national pension plan.
"By focusing on the 5 per cent, the Townsend campaign made effective political use of the idea of victimhood. ‘Reduced to its essentials,’ Hiltzik writes, ‘the Townsend movement was a quest for justice for an oppressed and abused segment of the population. From this simplicity it drew its political potency’."
Runciman has a suggestion of a new 5 percent group that could use some help.
We must thank Runciman for reminding us that we can produce solutions when we have a specific problem to address, and for providing an appropriate target for our efforts. Addressing the needs of our youth will not require a revolution, but it will require dedicated people to come up with a proposed plan of action that makes sense within the context of the world and the economy in which we exist. And it will require these people to set up an organization to drum up support for the concept.
Goals, plans, and organization were all things that failed to emerge from Occupy. What a frustrating waste of energy and opportunity.