Day #33: Aloe Blacc – “I Need a Dollar”
When Occupy DC showed up across the street from my office at McPherson Square Park a little more than four months ago, I had mixed feelings. My faith in protests like these had long been squelched by years of ridiculous, unfocused left wing rallies co-opted by bongo-banging college kids and fringe political parties. But, 2011 was a crazy year. We had been steeped in the recession years for some time. Financial crises dogged Europe. And in the Arab world, dictatorships were toppling like dominoes. The times seemed ripe for a populist movement.
Occupy Wall Street found their inspiration in the Arab Spring. Except, they weren’t looking to overthrow the government. Their slogan, “we are the 99%” neatly identified the industrialized world’s own oppressive minority: the wealthiest 1%. The rich got richer at the expense of everyone else who seemed to be just existing in perpetual stagnation. But, even though the slogan sounded like a battle cry for socialist revolution, they weren’t calling for the redistribution of wealth, either. Democracy was swell. Even rich people were okay. The problem was that the democratic process had been hijacked by billion dollar corporations. The banking crisis had been the biggest concern. “We are fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.”
Taking the money out of politics? What 99 percenter wouldn’t want that?!
The problem was trying to translate all of that on the ground. The growing phenomenon had gotten people’s attention. It started to dominate political discussion (even drawing noted intellectuals like Cornell West and my favorite, Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig to the camps in DC), but it failed to do much more. It wasn’t that Occupy Wall Street didn’t have any real goals, either. A frustrated Naomi Wolf, who accurately pointed out that the media always seemed to be on-message against the group, flat out asked about their demands and they responded. A lot had to do with regulating the banks in a way that may prevent another banking crisis like we saw in 2009, when, mistakes or no, the federal government was forced to bail out institutions deemed “too big to fail (that magnitude of financial crisis is some scary shit). But, when you get down to it, you are talking about a bunch of people that lived in a mini-commune in a city park for several months while the rest of the 99% struggled to make ends meet. That’s what people will remember when they talk about Occupy.
When General McPherson’s statue was for some reason covered in a giant tarp (which may or may not have really been called the “Dream Tent,”), most people around here (myself included) felt like four months with Occupy DC was more than enough. It turned out to be a tremendous disappointment.
My advice to future left wing activists is to stop treating centralized organization like it’s the devil’s work. (Just look at the successes of the anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA groups). Even Occupy Wall Street’s website includes a ridiculous disclaimer that it is merely a de facto service. This is why things become so quickly unfocused and off-message, and forever co-opted by the bongo-playing hippies. Give the 99% a real reason to pay attention. They may still be listening.