Opinion: Occupy Tactics Weakening Its Message

Protestors climb on trucks at the Port of Oakland during Occupy Oakland's general strike.

Even I didn't see this coming, and I was expecting whatever eventual liberal Tea Party would arise to match or go farther than the activists on the right. It still remains to be seen where the heart of this movement will coalesce ideologically, but they've already gone far past the Tea Party in outlandish tactics.

Apparently the Occupy Iowa general assembly voted on a motion by a certain Frank Cordaro that is a sort of plan B, should political campaigns not bend to their will. They're not going to use the democratic process to rally the troops and support candidates that align more with them, potentially in party primaries. They’re going to literally try and shut their campaign headquarters' down.

To be clear, this isn't like those outlandish demands lists or signs at a protest event, where individual occupiers said wing-nutty things. This is before a formal vote of the general assembly of Occupy Iowa, about the tactics the group should use if campaigns ignore their message about corporate greed.  Here’s how it was pitched, according the Des Moines Register:

“You go inside or if they won’t let you in, you shut ‘em down. You sit in front of their doors”

It's not all that often that I have common cause with the two major parties and their political machines, but one thing I think pretty clearly goes overboard is interfering with a party's office, or that of a campaign or any other type of political organization. Staffers and volunteers have a right to work for what they believe in. Someone's rights end at the point where they begin to infringe upon the rights of others.

It's beyond myopic for these people to pretend they are doing some act of virtuous civil disobedience, when really all they're proposing is the political equivalent of crashing someone's wedding.

I wonder how these people would feel if the same was done to them. How would the Occupiers in New York City would react if a huge Tea Party rally walked right through the middle of their encampment and made such a ruckus as to make sure that the General Assembly got nothing done?

I keep thinking back to a fantastic article by Michael Tomasky, himself an overt supporter of the Occupy movement from about a month ago that talked about the way the budding movement was presenting itself. He compared the Occupiers' tactics with those of the Tea Party, the Civil Rights movement in the early 60s and the anti-war reactionaries in the late 60s. He focuses on the image these protestors are giving to the rest of the country, as a mass of people more concerned with expressing themselves than fighting for some sort of cause.

He thinks that the "genius of the Tea Party movement lies entirely in the fact that its public faces were, by and large, regular Americans,” but I think he's only partially right. The Tea Party tapped into a very real concern of a large majority of the country, that a recent Gallup poll illustrated nicely in revealing that twice as many people (64 percent versus only 30 percent)  blame "the federal government in Washington" for the economic conditions facing our country than they do financial institutions. Even 3 percent more Democrats in that poll blame government more than Wall Street. The only group in the poll that thinks otherwise also self-identify as a supporter of Occupy Wall Street.

The Tea Party tapped into that anti-government groundswell, and began coming back down in polls as people began to realize how extreme their positions were on so many issues. The Occupy movement is seriously harming its own cause with childish antics that get them arrested over insignificant things, and showing the vast majority of the actual 99 percent that they are very much not like us.

It's on the Occupy movement to prove to us that they really are like us, and here they are failing miserably. If they want to represent the overwhelming mainstream of America, they need to act like us. They need to act like the civil rights movement and take stances that the vast majority of the country actually agrees on and rally behind them responsibly.

What seems more powerful to you? Blocking the door of a campaign headquarters, so volunteers and staff can't get in and out, or rushing a $50,000 a plate fundraiser hosted by the Obama or Romney campaigns, and refusing to get out of those seats until regular people get a tiny bit as much attention as those millionaires do? Does it make more sense to refuse to leave a park and cry about civil liberties when you are arrested and fined for breaking local ordinances, or have sit-ins in the offices of the Jack Abramoff’s of the world?

Sticking to vagueness and unprincipled civil disobedience only shows that these people are very much not like us. So far they are acting much more like what Tomasky called the late 60s "carnival of self-expression.” I have zero confidence that the Occupy movement people will listen to Tomasky, or non-supporters like myself, but they really should take a lesson from the Tea Party, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, and quit taking direction from rabble rousing, stick it to the man left-wing types that will begin defining the movement in the mainstream soon, much like the right wingers that have come to define the Tea Party.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.