Opinion » Ted Rall

Occupy Main Street

A coming out party for America's new radicals


Occupy Wall Street, in its second week as of this writing, is and was important. It is the first major street protest inspired by the economic collapse. It is also the first notable public repudiation of President Barack Obama by the left. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Canadian "culture jammer" magazine Adbusters asked people to converge on the financial district to protest corporate greed and to develop one specific major demand.

Several thousand were turned away from Wall Street by NYPD officers. A few hundred demonstrators, dominated by the scruffy white 20-something hipsters, wound up at Zuccotti Park. There they remain, noshing on pizza, hanging out, hoping to replicate Cairo's Tahrir Square while remaining committed to "absolute nonviolence in the Gandhian tradition," as Adbusters commanded.

Occupy Wall Street seems to be fizzling out.

For me and other jaded veterans of leftist struggle, failure was a foregone conclusion. From the opening words of the magazine's updates, which referred to participants as "dreamers, jammers, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries," it was evident that yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.

Michael Moore complained about insufficient media coverage, but this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street's perfidy, and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class--in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.

Don't just occupy Wall Street. Occupy Main Street. After all, college kid, it's not just your struggle.

While a lack of political education should not preclude a person from participating in politics, organizers should make sure they don't waste the whole time strumming a guitar and flirting. Zuccotti Park should have offered daily classes and study groups to reduce the odds that an attendee will sound like a moron when questioned by a journalist.

"I'm not for interference [with wealthy people]," The New York Times quoted protester Anna Sluka. "I hope this all gets people who have a lot, to think: I'm not going to go to Barcelona for three weeks. I'm going to sponsor a small town in need." Earth to Anna: Rich people know poor people are suffering. They don't care.

Also, lose the clown clothes. It's not the early 1960s. How about showing up on national TV looking decent, like it's casual Friday?

Revolutionaries should not expect fair coverage by media outlets owned by the corporations they hope to overthrow. They also shouldn't make themselves so easy to mock. Press accounts reveled in photos of topless women and the dudes on stilts who always show up at these things.

A protest is a stage. Ideally you want viewers to come join you. At bare minimum, you want them to approve of you.

Reporters quoted demonstrators who sounded as ignorant about current affairs as members of the Tea Party, albeit nicer. History has proven that an absolute commitment to nonviolence can never effect radical change. This was shown again on Sept. 23, when police used orange plastic nets to "kettle" and arrest about 80 Occupy Wall Streeters who had been marching peacefully through Greenwich Village. According to numerous witnesses and media accounts, none resisted. Cops went wild, beating several men bloody and macing at least one woman after she had been cuffed.

Sadly too many people will look at the YouTube videos and say to themselves: I'm willing to suffer for a cause, not a scene.

In July, Adbusters wanted the "one simple demand" to be "that Barack Obama ordain a presidential commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington."

What do we want? A bipartisan blue-ribbon commission to study campaign finance reform! When do we want it? When the committee completes its work!

That uninspiring demand has been set aside in favor of something hardly worth taking a rubber bullet for: "a vague but certain notion that the richest percentile of the country remains fat and happy as the going-on-5-year-old recession continues to batter the middle and working class," as The New York Observer put it.

They should have demanded something majestic, reasonable and unobtainable. Like the nationalization of all corporations or the abolition of securities exchanges.

The aggregated wealth of the superrich has been stolen from the rest of us. We should not ask them to give some of it back. We should take it all, then jail them. Rich people are bad people. Someone has to say it out loud.

Street demonstrations have always relied on a sense of menace. The rich and powerful never relinquish prerogatives voluntarily. Only violence or the credible threat of violence can force them to give up what they stole.

Despite the protesters' many missteps, which were inevitable due to their lack of experience and political seasoning, the Occupy Wall Streeters should be commended. Sure, they did some stupid things. But they have taken a first step into history.

See you in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6, when the October2011.org coalition will begin the occupation of Freedom Square near the White House. Our demand is simple: We will not leave until the last occupation soldier and mercenary is withdrawn from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan.