Occupations and Reactions


The “Occupy” movement has been spreading like wildfire these past weeks, fanning out from its perch in New York’s Zuccotti Park to spots across the world. It’s hard for we social-justice types to contain our enthusiasm: sure, the movement lacks leadership, it doesn’t have one coherent, focused message, and winter is coming. But still, it’s heartening, after decades of John Birchers and free-market fundamentalists and “Tea Party Patriots” to see Americans (and others in concert) protesting what folks like me think are the right things to be protesting.

This is true locally as well: even here in “let’s protest-the-least-relevant-stuff” San Francisco, where putting a small local-coffee-store kiosk in a popular city park or opening a progressive Trader Joes grocery store arouse (utterly unnecessary) ire, the Occupy movement has taken root — so much so that in neighboring Oakland, heavy-handed police tactics led to a widening of the movement and even a general strike. So unprecedented is this in America that most of us probably don’t even know what a general strike is or remember the last time one took place — it’s something consigned to history books, images of black & white laborers from a century ago on rattling streetcars.

And so, at the behest of some friends, I took off one lunch a few weeks back to march in San Francisco’s first such event; a week or so later I was in New York, and in addition to seeing the 9/11 Memorial (quite well done; you forget how massive those buildings were) I made sure to stop in Zuccotti Park to check it all out. I was only there briefly, but this excellent piece gives a nuanced, insightful picture of what these protests are all about.

For me, really, what I find most incredible is that the conversation in America is finally shifting to an honest criticism of our values and mores; growing up, I was always taught that, however corrupting it might be for some, the quest for ever-greater fortune is the right quest to be on. Refusing a promotion, turning down more responsibility, refusing to work gratuitously long hours… these were all things likely to brand you as “lazy,” “bitter,” even “worthless.” Given the ending of the Cold War (or, actually, even during it) anything that smacked of the Communistic was considered heretical, a sure-fire pathway to corrupt officials in dachas making the masses stand in line for toilet paper and fear deportation to Siberia. Oh, I know, it sounds a bit shrill and extreme to, say, liken the Tea Party movement’s cries of “socialism” with Stalinist excesses… but the very reason the teabagger crowd (as they’ve also come to be known) uses those words is because they know that, deep in our subconscious, those associations are in place.

This is my biggest hope for the movement: that it continues to awaken us to the skew inherent in our values. Of course, they could also use a more focused set of ideas, though it is in the nature of such organically-springing movements (in this case aided by social media and other new technology) to be hazy at first. Still, some of our sharpest minds are on the case — and so am I. When I was in New York I decided to do my part: I drafted up a proposal for what I think the Occupiers should be demanding. It’s a bit radical, but also not unprecedented. Check it out here.

And feel free to comment below: what do YOU think the Occupiers should be demanding?