- Apr 12, 2008
- Reaction score
- real world
The Occupy movement does not represent “the 99%,” as its defenders like to claim. They are not a cadre speaking up for the vast proportion of the population against the tyranny or greed of an imagined “1%.” Judging from the speakers I have seen and heard, either on news broadcasts or the multiple sites offering live-broadcast or YouTube coverage, the people in the various Occupy camps represent a petty sub-sample of the hard left; i.e., a range of angry students, homeless and their advocates, and – not insignificantly – some just outright strange people. Like the guy who asked for a moment of silence in “solidarity” with the man who earlier in the week fired shots at the White House and is now charged with trying to assassinate President Obama. The real 99% are surely not looking for solidarity with a potential assassin.
Nor are the real 99% looking for representation from self-selected tribunes who, almost by design, appear surly, wilful, unexposed to the complexities of life or politics, and who are almost as unbearably righteous as some of their predecessors in the anti-globalization movement. Charm is not a big property with the Occupy bunch. They bristle with contempt for those outside their precious circles, and enjoy a morbid, almost innate hatred for capitalism in so far as they may be said to understand it. Which is a lot less than the degree to which they are, in all their pseudo-rebellion, both its beneficiaries and offspring. What other system can you think of that offers “camping out” as a form of quasi-permissible political protest?
The lawns on which they park, the buildings in front of which they demonstrate, the mass media that gives them attention, the universities many of them attended – the very luxury that allows whole swathes of people to take two or three months, squat in a downtown park, and apparently live quite satisfactorily – all came from, or was enabled by, the system they thoughtlessly despise. Not to mention that all those iPhones and laptops, the backpacks and sneakers, the espresso machines and digital cameras didn’t manufacture themselves. The Occupiers are only too comfortable using the products and the largesse of capitalism while railing against it.
Some people try to make the movement’s incoherence, its refusal to declare what its goals are, as something approaching a strategy in itself. Ah, yes – the old “we have no strategy” strategy. Apparently, not knowing what you’re doing or where you wish to go is now something of a mystic state. Declining to nominate a spokesman, decrying the very idea of leaders and leadership, working to “consense” all your scattered issues is the new way of building a movement. These are the callow suppositions of those perfectly inexperienced in politics or life. For some to follow, others must lead.
For them, process, like the dreaded mic checks – the cult chants of their general assemblies – is all. Sure. We’ve had halfthoughts dressed up as insight, incoherence and obfuscation baptized as enlightenment, too many times before to buy this stale mix one more time.
The Occupiers may be charged with another inconsistency: a deep discourtesy toward those their occupations have hurt. They have made no accommodation for those in the immediate vicinity of their protests, hurting small business, fouling certain small shops with human waste, making demands or threatening some of them (as happened in a number of places in the United States) and damaging the performance of a great number of people who are definitely in the so-called 99%. A little alertness to civility, some regard for fellow citizens, would have done a lot for this movement, but it was too self-absorbed for that.
Whether it has run its course, or whether bravado, and a little help from the big unions will allow some of them to stay on, numbers reduced over the long winter, is a bit of an open question. However, it already has run on long enough to convince most that it is more tantrum and indulgence than a serious protest.
Rex Murphy offers commentary weekly on CBC TV’s The National, and is host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup.