November 21, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Update #1

In an earlier post I stated that Occupy Wall Street was straightforwardly a youth movement.  I still think that is basically true, but its character has begun to change in certain ways that merit a note.  The original gathering in New York appeared to consist mainly of middle class college students, not only from New York, but from other parts of the country.  They seemed to be a pretty typical body of college students, full of enthusiasm and naïveté, out to save the world from itself.  Some of the subsequent protests, notably the ones in Oakland, appear to be of a wholly different character.  The movement has begun to attract the underclass.

I suppose this was inevitable, but I cannot be blindly enthusiastic about the underclass either.  There is, to be sure, a huge population of Americans that we sometimes refer to as the working poor.  I have some sympathy for this group, having once been one of their number.  These people often have some real right to complain, but they are unfortunately not the sort of people who tend to show up at protest events, or at least not those who make the most noise.  Rather, that role often falls to what Marxists would call the lumpen proletariat -- those people who would not want productive work if they could get it, that are predisposed (for one reason or another) to have their way by violence or larceny, who come with a brick rather than with a sign, and delight in cracking the heads and breaking the windows of strangers while decrying how unfair life has been to them.  These are the people who will burn their own neighborhoods to the ground given only the opportunity, then blame the rest of us for making them do it.  These are the people who will turn a peaceful protest into a bloody riot.  Put them up against a militaristic police force like that of Los Angeles, and you are bound to get exciting TV.  The 2012 TV season appears to be shaping up nicely.

To continue in that vein, but on a different note, it is fascinating how the protests get covered by the right wing press.  They appear to have dusted off their rhetoric from the 1960's and found every word of it still serviceable.  Thus, they portray the protesters as drug-addicted, unclean, sexually promiscuous, lazy bums whose sole purpose in life is to defecate on a police cruiser.  This is eerily familiar.  No doubt some of the protestors do check one or more of those boxes.  The problem is, no crowd of ten thousand people or so is going to be composed purely of angels.  People get beaten, sometimes to death, at professional baseball games -- but no one suggests that baseball fans as a group are murdering thugs.  When we don't look at the crowd as a whole, we can paint them almost any way that suits us.

It may seem contradictory to say that the Occupy Wall Street movement is accumulating a bad element, and then go on to say that they are being unfairly characterized.  This is not so.  In Oakland, and other places, a non-constructively militant element has begun to assert itself.  This does not mean that the college students, the recently unemployed, and other constituents of the movement are inclined toward violence.  It means, rather, that protests are organic entities that attract different sorts of people at different stages of their development.  One cannot blame the entire crowd for the actions of one segment, but it is also true that one brick, or gun, or Molotov cocktail is bound to ruin everybody's day.  Everybody, that is, except the right and left wing media outlets -- each of which can find at least one brute in the riot on the other side that will hammer home their ongoing narrative.


  1. I am suspicious that the numbers of the lumpen proletariat are vastly over-estimated. Frankly, I met at least as many non-productive layabouts in the Defense industry as I ever did in the unemployment lines. While they were ranting and raving about those leeches on welfare, they were drawing good salaries to drag their feet and bilk the government.

    Of course, you are correct that OWS is being unfairly characterized. This is, after all, the same media that paints Obama as a Muslim Atheist Kenyan terrorist sympathizer, global warming as a crock, and Christians as persecuted. Overreach is their business model.

    Another flaw in our public media is this meme of equivalency. Yes, there are loons on the Left; but sheer honesty compels us to admit that the Right, especially Fox news, is completely out of control. Yes, Dems play partisan politics; but the current environment of automatic fillibuster and non-negotiation is unprecedented.

    And yet the media, which tries so hard to paint OWS as ugly, refuses to show history: that Republicans are acting ahistorically obstructionist, that the wealth gap is ahistorically large, that the rejection of science and embrace of religion by politicans is ahistorically pointed. We are in a period of truly frightening change, and all of it is coming from one side of the line.

    Despite OWS, we can't expect more than 50% of young people to bother to vote. Despite OWS, we can't expect anybody to understand bank regulation or support it. Despite everything that has happened, the American electorate simply can't be bothered to pay attention, learn a little history, and vote.

  2. P.S. I am starting to see why you like Ron Paul. I still think he's a demented racist whackjob, but at least he's honest. He says what he thinks, and it usually matches up to what he said the day before.

    I would be horrified if Ron Paul were ever to ascend to any position of real power (I can't even bear the thought of him as a committee chair), but I would miss him if he weren't in government. Somebody should be around to say the things he says, even when he's wrong.

    His kid, on the other hand... different kettle of fish. Oddly, it's the same with Romney... I think I would have liked the elder Romney a lot more.