I had a weird revelation the other day: the ultimate success or failure of the Occupy Wall Street Movement will not be determined by the protesters themselves, but by the 1% and all of their political and media enablers.
But believe it or not, the 1% do feel . . . well, probably not guilt . . . but at least a vague and deeply disturbing apprehension that they may have to pay for what they’ve done in their sociopathy. And it is this that will help ensure the Occupy Movement’s continuing success.
One of the strengths of the Occupy Movement is that there are no formal demands, no formal leaders, just a large and growing mob of people agitating against the status quo for very many different reasons. Of course, this isn’t just “rebellion for rebellion’s sake” – despite the diversity of interests represented in the movement, there are a number of broad issues about which pretty much everybody protesting is justifiably upset.
One of these is outrage over the huge inequalities in wealth and income in the United States. For all the critics who have decried the Occupy Movement’s lack of formal demands and concrete ideas for reform (and I admit to being one of those), nobody doubts that this is the movement’s fundamental grievance. Occupy Wall Street’s burgeoning popularity is the only reason Eric Cantor felt it necessary to schedule a speech ostensibly about “income inequality” – although it really wasn’t – at the Wharton School. And it was his fear of Occupy Philadelphia that caused the coward to then cancel that speech.
Another is the growing realization that we’ve somehow engineered a political system in which the government only needs to be responsive to that tiny percentage of people that has all the money. If this weren’t so, if our elected officials were truly responsive to their actual constituents, you’d expect to see them falling over themselves to enact massively popular legislation . . . but you don’t see that.
For example, imposing a surtax on millionaires and the uber-wealthy in order to put teachers, firefighters and cops back to work is (to a surprising degree even with Republicans) an enormously popular idea – except with millionaires and the uber-wealthy. So Congress will not impose that surtax. Closing the loophole that allows hedge fund managers to pay a 15% capital gains tax instead of the full income tax on the millions of dollars they rake in every single year makes sense to everybody – except the millionaire hedge fund managers. And therefore Congress will not close the loophole. And on and on and on. So it has become increasingly clear that our elected representatives don’t actually represent us.
A third broad issue with which everyone is concerned is the massive amount of private debt regarding which we are told we are just going to have to suck it up and pay back in full. But of course AIG – just as a f’rinstance – didn’t have to do that at all. It is true that AIG paid what it owed to Goldman Sachs and the other Big Money Boyz banks in full, but only because the federal government bailed it out with taxpayer dollars. AIG actually skated on its debt – it didn’t pay what it owed the banks, we did.
So not only are the 99% supposed to pay all of our debts in full – we are expected also to pay for the bad debts of Corporate America and the top 1% when they just can’t get their money up.
That’s enough to piss anybody off.
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But I would suggest that the great strength of OWS – its leaderlessness, its formlessness, its lack of concrete political goals about which people can argue – also constitutes its greatest weakness. And if the 1% and their enablers ever figure this out, then the Occupy Movement will end not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but in suffocating silence.
Right now the Occupy Movement has captured the media’s attention, such as it is, because it is new, because it isn’t going away, and because no one yet has figured out what it specifically wants or how to deal with it. Great. But let’s not ever forget that the media didn’t want to deal with OWS in the first place – and it can always decide that it doesn’t have to.
After all, OWS had been camped out in Liberty Plaza Park for a couple of weeks before it drew much media attention at all; it was only after NYPD cop Tony Bologna was caught on video pepper-spraying several female protesters for no apparent reason that the national media decided there might just be a story here. Subsequently, the mass arrest of protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge helped keep the story alive, as did Mike Bloomberg’s transparent attempt to oust the protesters by insisting he had to “clean” the park, as did the great video of Jesse (“Ministry of Truth”) LaGreca slamming Fox News – which quickly went viral and ended up getting LaGreca invited to appear on the roundtable segment of one of This Week’s episodes:
But suppose Bloomberg, Wall Street, and The Powers That Be all just settled down and decided to accept the fact OWS is going to be “occupying” Liberty Plaza Park for as long as they want? What if the word went out to the NYPD that the protesters were to be treated with kid gloves, and were to be arrested only if engaging in illegal acts that substantially interfered with others’ rights (i.e., no more arresting people for stepping into the street as they moved around a signpost or street lamp)?
Without conflict, I doubt the media would continue covering the story. I know, I know . . . the Occupy Movement and its supporters like to tell ourselves that OWS is “getting too big to ignore” but I don’t believe that for a second. Without conflict, the corporate media could easily decide that there was no longer a story about a group of protesters with no formal demands camping out for yet another month. Time and again I am reminded of Paul Krugman’s post That Iraq Feeling about the media’s refusal to cover the weeks-long Wisconsin protests earlier this year against Gov. Scott Walker:
[In] January-February 2003,  anyone watching cable news would have believed that only a few kooks were opposed to the imminent invasion of Iraq. It was quite spooky, realizing that hundreds of thousands of people could march through New York, and by tacit agreement be ignored by news networks whose headquarters were just a few blocks away.
I have absolutely no difficulty envisioning all the cable news networks reaching a similar “tacit agreement” not to cover Occupy Wall Street.
And without a way to continuously drag the Occupy Movement’s complaint before the general public – which, right now and all “social networking” aside, only TeeVee really provides – the movement will over time be degraded in the public’s mind to an amusement, and then to a trifle, and then to no more than background noise easily ignored and easily dismissed. What happens then?
Howard Kunstler, an OWS sympathizer, believes that regardless of what happens it is inevitable that the movement eventually “goes apeshit”:
After a while [exercising the right of peaceful public assembly] gets boring, especially for young males with a lot of testosterone surging from loin to brain. They want to do more than bask in the radiance of their own righteous wonderfulness. They want to engage their large muscles, even if in the service of an idea, for instance the idea that they have been swindled. It is at first a vague idea, but large. But pretty soon it coheres emergently: swindled out of our future! Yes, it is so. . . .
That’s when the yoga acrobatics and the hat crocheting are put aside and the street people – their ranks swollen into a horde-like meta-organism – start to express things beyond the right of public assembly. Something unseen goes through them, perhaps like the pheromone that transforms a field of grasshoppers into a ravening swarm of locusts. Being people, they cannot take wing. But they can press forward and up against things, and they can surely break the glass in those sleek curtain-wall buildings (so much for “transparency”) beyond which the bankers sit cringing in their expensive clothing.
Surely we are heading toward a moment like that. The bank employees upstairs must be getting a little nervous, anyway, just glancing out the windows at the moiling mob below.
I actually disagree with Kunstler about this – I don’t think a violent eruption is inevitable at all. In fact, remember the 700 or so who were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge: no one resisted, no one got violent, every person submitted peacefully to their arrest. The idea of peaceful protest, after all, is central to the Occupy Movement’s entire ethos.
In fact, the only way I see any kind of violent eruption breaking out is if OWS’s opponents calm down and just accept its presence. Occupy Wall Street recently has been very vocal in its refusal to be co-opted by any political party or outside group, but its greatest danger is probably not co-option but incorporation. By its continuous presence it may simply become integrated into everyday life, assimilated as background noise, and ultimately disregarded as “just something those people do.”
Were that to occur, I can envision at least some frustrated protesters lashing out, hoping to stir up interest again, but that would spell the end of the movement’s success as well. Once the corporate media can paint OWS with the standard “violent, dirty, hippie, thug” brush, all support for the Occupy Movement will dry up for good.
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Which is why it is so very fortunate that the 1% are probably incapable of seeing this. I do think Kunstler gets it right when he speculates that “the bank employees upstairs must be getting a little nervous, anyway, just glancing out the windows at the moiling mob below.” I imagine that this is why they are so eager to know what OWS wants -- because then they might be able to strike a deal.
But . . . wait! We don't have to imagine this at all. Because we know for a fact this is definitely what has the worried.
But . . . wait! We don't have to imagine this at all. Because we know for a fact this is definitely what has the worried.
Andrew Ross Sorkin –
professional fluffer for the Wall Street Banksters financial news columnist – admitted a few weeks ago that his first visit to Liberty Plaza Park came after OWS had already been there for weeks, and only after he received a phone call from one of his johns very important CEO sources:
I [went] down to Zuccotti Park to see the activist movement firsthand after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank last week, before nearly 700 people were arrested over the weekend during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?” the CEO asked me. I didn’t have an answer. “We’re trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this,” he continued, clearly concerned. “Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?” (emphasis added)
That was nearly three weeks ago, but despite more than a month of exceptionally peaceful protest the 1% seem still to be worried about their personal safety and the prospect they might be torn to pieces by a ravening mob of the disenfranchised, dispossessed, and disillusioned. Writing for Wonkette, Ken Layne asked on Friday:
Has the number of bodyguards and plainclothes police and private security in obvious public view on New York’s Upper East Side dramatically increased since, say, the last time your editor was in town about a year-and-a-half-ago? Because it was outrageous yesterday. We are reminded of Russian Mobsters with their dozen musclehead black-suited thugs outside every “luxury goods” store or “hooker nightclub” in Eastern Europe, in the 1990s. (emphasis in the original)
The very fact the 1% so obviously feel personally threatened seems to me evidence that, deep down and underneath it all, they know that they deserve to be. This also explains why for so long we have had to listen to them demand not only that they be forgiven their gross incompetence, their lavish lifestyles, and their outrageous compensation, but that we also agree they deserve our adulation. They need to convince us we should idolize them because – if they don’t – they're afraid we’ll realize they deserve the French Revolution treatment instead.
So be of good cheer! The greatest danger to the Occupy Movement is that it will be ignored, but because it preys on the guilt of the superstitious, cowardly lot (yeah, I went Batman) that make up the 1% that danger is probably minimal.
Although they’ll never realize it, the 1% itself will help to ensure the Occupy Movement’s growing popularity and eventual success. Their own conscience -- no, not conscience -- their own evident terror at being finally called to account gives the game away.