Opinion: Occupy Movement Stuck in Second Gear

Monday, January 02, 2012 - 10:48 AM

Occupy Wall Street protesters march through Soho. Occupy Wall Street protesters march through Soho. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Lots of year-in-review posts flittering around these days, and quite a few people looking back at the latest force to enter the political scene. Nobody can argue that the Occupy Wall Street movement hasn't had an impact, but it's hard to argue that it hasn't stalled.

It took a couple years for the Tea Party Movement see their polling numbers begin to plummet, as people saw through the shared concern for a government that most people see as too big, ineffective and wasteful, and noticed that it was fundamentally a conservative to right-wing movement.

The same pattern is happening with the Occupy movement now, except it's happening faster. There are assuredly a ton of reasons why it's happening so much faster; I'd even say that part of it may come from the wariness people have from being disappointed with the Tea Party, which also claimed to "really" be the voice of the majority. But while the Tea Party followed the law the vast majority of the time, the Occupy movement types have flaunted the law all over the country, even going so far as to block regular people from going to work and counting anarchistic vandals among their crowds.

But all that really is a sideshow to the ideas behind the movement.

Merely sharing a set of concerns doesn't mean you are with someone politically. You can be concerned about the size of government and want to trim the fat, or you could go the libertarian route and want to shut the doors of whole departments of the executive branch. Similarly, you can be for making college more affordable, or expect the government to pay off student debt for people who spent tens of thousands on degrees that aren't worth much, or even call a college education a human right.

Regardless of where the Occupy movement decides to fall on issues, and even if it got well-organized overnight, remaining a protest movement that does not mobilize toward electing friendly politicians or enacting friendly legislation will get them nowhere. Protests are a means to an end—namely, bringing attention to a cause and rallying people around it. If you don't then harness that attention, and organize those rallied, the momentum goes away.

You can already sense this happening as you peruse the Facebook pages and websites for Occupy groups around the country. The vast majority of what they used to talk about was when to protest next, how to draw attention to their complaints. They've accomplished that. Any mention of trying to work with other organizations to further specific goals is often met with complaints that they can't—not with unions, special interest groups, or Democrats.

As the saying goes, organizing liberals is like herding cats. Perhaps what this shows is that organizing the far left is like herding stray alley cats.

Will they get their act together and buy into the system enough to push for supportive candidates and legislation, or will they choose to stay in second gear and merely be permanent rabblerousers and complainers?

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.


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Comments [12]


you are right we need to do something, i heard about these guys they look like they are actually offering a solution

May. 08 2012 02:45 PM

big tough NYPD throwing peaceful people off public property.
It is going to be a hot summer, iraq vets coming home to no jobs and azz0le NYPD DI playing fascist, how long do they thing it will be peaceful.
However the NYPD will protest that they have the right to fix tickets, which causes them to give innocent people tickets to meet their quota, or plant cocaine on innocent people to make overtime.I see the makings of the 60's style radical groups, with a lot more volunteers, the tapes of the actions are infuriating.

Jan. 03 2012 10:30 PM

Am I the only one who sees that both these groups are smoke screens for the politicians First came the tea party complaining about their gripes and in great numbers. Then the party in power saw what good use they could get from a socialist group and their gripes. doesn't matter who started it.Just more political activist working their thing.So to hide the terrible job "that the facts prove" this administration has performed, will be partially hidden by the noise these two groups are making.The right is only interested in the votes not the ideals. The left needs the diversion of OWS who protests everywhere but Washington. The public gets the shaft again. "Change is when you get a flat tire"

Jan. 03 2012 12:28 AM
David Kearns

Nobody throws around a dumb car analogy (you can stall in any gear, etc...) better than a rabid centrist. Centrism is beyond delusional.

Jan. 02 2012 09:09 PM
Kitty from Colorado

Solomon - you explained it very well. Nothing gets done by protesting alone. It gets done by changing laws. And that means, it takes time, and many people of the same mind need to make themselves very knowledgable about the system, get themselves elected, then get laws changed. That's how our system works. And until these protesters figure it out, all they represent are a noisy bunch of whiners and rabble rousers intent on nothing more than being an irritation...sort of like gnats or yappy dogs.

Jan. 02 2012 07:16 PM

It came out pretty early that Occupy was started by the owners of Adbusters, Canadian anarchists. Then, instead of actually trying to change things by going to protest where it would matter, Washington DC, they start up all over the country. People realized pretty quickly that it is a sham movement more interested in disrupting commerce and hurting even more working class citizens by doing so. The American public sniffed out the real motives behind the facade and correctly deemed the 'movement' as a loony leftist joke.

Jan. 02 2012 06:49 PM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

"This site is a joke... it's like MSM disguised as small and independent. It's still the mainstream talking points... FAIL."

What's a joke is some weirdo coming on here and saying that the website of an NPR station in New York City is somehow disguising itself. The bloggers here represent the whole spectrum from far right to far left. I'm just the centrist of the bunch.

Jan. 02 2012 06:20 PM
Thinker from Kansas

This site is a joke... it's like MSM disguised as small and independent. It's still the mainstream talking points... FAIL.

Jan. 02 2012 05:38 PM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

"they believe the political system is broken and so that there is no point to vote someone into a system that is, by its very being, unable to fix the problems that exist."

Thank you for illustrating my point. They'll never get anywhere if all they do is complain and protest. To change things, they need to actually change laws... and doing that requires people on their side being in a postition to do so. Although I'd add that it would also be possible to do so by referendum, but that really only works at the state level.

Your second point is further illustration of what I'm saying. They need to adapt. Their polling numbers must have a lot to do with the childishness involved with trying to get special treatment as far as them thinking they don't have to follow local ordinences with park hours and whatnot, instead of using the attention they were getting to push for important things, as well as doing crazy stuff like blocking the port, not suppressing the black flag anarchist types, etc. They need to organize and be more focused if they want to have a real impact.

If occupy movement types are satisfied with staying on the sidelines and just being a thorn in the sides of the screwed up system, instead of working to make it better... then that's their choice. If they want to change things, they need to take a page from Alinsky, Wellstone, etc and organize, not just protest.

Jan. 02 2012 05:14 PM
Nick from NJ

I think you bring up several points/themes that could be examined in much more detail by themselves.

First, the idea that the Tea Party and the OWS Movements were created for the same reason, to effect change. I think the answer would be yes, but the institutions that each want to use are vastly different. You claim that they will not get anywhere until they start endorsing candidates that share their political beliefs. I think they would snap back, rather quickly, and say that they believe the political system is broken and so that there is no point to vote someone into a system that is, by its very being, unable to fix the problems that exist.

Second, you claim that the movement has stalled or plateaued. Well, it sure has stalled on the media attention front. This is because the cities have evicted them from their encampments. This was probably inevitable, but just being down in Zucatti Park isn't enough to get media coverage, especially not after the rather brutal removal process. Police beating people with battons and pepper-spraying them is a lot more fun to watch (for Americans) then a peaceful protest, so now that things have calmed down, they are just a blip between sports and weather. Also, you have the vomit-inducing coverage of the Iowa Caucauses and the whole election (18 Freaking months prior to it, which is ridiculous). God Forbid we don't get to hear every single word said by every single candidate!!

Third, I think a great discussion could be birthed by asking this simple question: Does OWS even care that they stalled? From what they have been saying, they want to be around for a while. I like that idea. I really do. Because what they stand for; Justice, Equality, and Basic Human Rights, are something that should always be in the American Psyche. And up until now, it hasn't. Christ, even now they barely are (just look at some of the legislation that just paced AUMF and NDAA). OWS has a lot of work to do, but I think they should stay the course. Don't start trying to get politicians into the mix, they are terrible and got us into this mess to begin with. Plus, at the end of the day, they aren't beholden to principles, they are beholden to money and party power, just see Barack Obama.

Jan. 02 2012 02:43 PM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

I explained myself in the post stephen. Protests only get you so far, and their polling numbers are falling. This will continue if their focus stays on protest, and especially if they continue to pull stupid stunts that interfere with regular peoples' livelihoods.

Jan. 02 2012 01:14 PM
stephen weber from Oakland, Ca

For the first two months the news each and every day was that clearly the movement was ending. Today you are saying it is stalling.

I'm sorry for your agenda but look at KTLA. Watch the entire parade (Rose Parade). Perhaps I write too quickly. But I expect there to really be a float at the end composed by this movement.

The new year had a New York incident at that park.
The Iowa campaigns have had constant news of Occcupy Members making a case.

Everyday there is something that they are doing or plans for a future event...

What exactly is stalling?

Jan. 02 2012 12:29 PM

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