My problem with the Occupy movement

I don’t especially mind the lack of coherence or structure in the Occupy Movement.  Thanks in large part to Dahlia Lithwick’s persuasive column on the Occupation, I have a better understanding of why the Occupiers choose to remain vague about their goals and decentralized in their decisonmaking.

What bothers me are the sites they are choosing to Occupy.  The location of the original Occupation makes sense because it’s on Wall Street, the epicenter of the problem they are trying to confront.  But cities like Oakland, Portland, LA, Detroit, & Ann Arbor are not power centers for Big Finance.  For the most part they are financially precarious municipalities that are already at a disadvantage compared to their neighbors, struggling to provide basic services to their populations.  Their mayors and police forces have enough on their plate without having to worry about crime and sanitation and infection control in a new encampment.

Meanwhile, no one is occupying the suburbs, exurbs and rural areas where most of the affluent live, comfortably shielded from the Occupations and the various externalities they generate on the surrounding neighborhoods.  With the exception of Wall Street and Washington, D.C., none of the encampments are located at sites where they could personally impact people in positions of state or national power, or anybody in the “1%.”

While I don’t understand why Mayor Bloomberg felt it necessary to stage a stealth break up of the Wall Street camp at 1am, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the mayors of these cities to say enough is enough when those externalities start to disrupt daily life for those who live and work in the city.  (People do actually live and work near Zuccotti Park besides investment bankers and hedge fund managers, after all.)  The Occupy movement still enjoy plenty of good will from Americans, based on poll numbers.  To retain that good will, they will need to adjust their tactics and remain flexible, however.  They should resist letting single-mindedness and conviction become myopia, or allowing self-expression spill over into selfishness.  There is absolutely no reason for the mayors of central cities and OWS to be on opposing sides, when in truth they face common threats.

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2 responses to “My problem with the Occupy movement

  1. Central city mayors & OWS occupations can-should definitely find common interest, but when the Portland or Oakland cops are busting heads in the Occupations, I take issue with the mayors for their choice of response, rather than with the Occupiers for their choice of venue.

    I see Wall Street as a fairly singular site in the American economy and iconography–Occupy Troy or Occupy Southfield might be closer analogues to OWS than Occupy Detroit, in terms of their relation to the seats of financial power in the region (or Occupy Orchard Lake, or Occupy Franklin, in relation to the beds of financial power), but a couple of points in the other direction:

    1. Occupy Troy wouldn’t have the same PR impact as Occupy Detroit. Nobody knows where Troy is. Occupy is as much about message as about geography–outside of Occupy Wall Street itself, the Occupations are more significant in visibly showing national support for OWS than they are about literally encamping the financial districts.

    2. In many cases, the national Occupations are “being the change they wish to see in the world”. Occupations are feeding and clothing the poor and the homeless–it’s not that the Occupations are *creating* issues of “crime and sanitation and infection control”, it’s that they’re taking those issues, which already exist in those cities, bringing them into the light, and attempting to address what pieces of them they can. (Salon has a good piece on some examples of this, here: http://www.salon.com/2011/11/17/ows_inspired_activism/

    3. Logistically, where would you set up an encampment in Troy? Do they have public parks there? Or would you just have to set up camp on the medians of the boulevards?

  2. Pingback: Occupy, Take 2 | Motown To Tree Town

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