Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupying ambiguity

For two months, groups of people across the country have been participating in what’s being called the OWS for Occupy Wall Street, or simply, the Occupy thingy. This alleged movement has its ardent detractors and its equally ardent supporters. I’m somewhat in the middle with a slight leaning toward detractionism.

Early on, for a few days, this scattered demonstration was even tied by the media to uprisings and protests around the world, attempting to give it the illusion of global reach.

Fortunately, the media and others have backed off this slant, and rightly so. This is the U.S., not Syria. We are not a police state. Many of the events happening overseas are totally unrelated and dissimilar to what’s happening within the borders of the U.S. Thank God.

But what is happening here? It’s not exactly clear.

After two months, no clear message, purpose, or actionable objectives are crystallizing from these encampments. Instead, they seem to be devolving into chaos and worse as anarchists and other opportunists worm into the groups. At the same time, while unions briefly made a big deal about aligning with the occupiers, their involvement seems to have waned or gone covert.

While the media generally tries to present a favorable view of the protesters, what’s coming across is not so pretty. It seems the only thing the protesters want to accomplish is confrontation with police to artificially foment conflict that is intended to manufacture a bloodied photo op.

And this is going to bring positive change how?

I’ve been trying to maintain an open attitude toward all that’s going on. However, I cringe when it’s compared to the protests of the 60s and 70s. While the anit-war and anti-establishment protests of those decades had their failings and troublemakers, there were also clear overarching messages being communicated. The loudest call was to end the draft and end the war in Vietnam.

In addition to much clearer messages and goals, the majority of those who engaged in civil disobedience then understood that they were breaking the law and risking being jailed. The fact that they were willing to accept the consequences of their actions made them all the more compelling.

Too many of the protesters in the Occupy bunch seem to be wimpy whiners who are surprised that trespassing, spitting on the police, and defecating in public can get them jailed. Many appear to be freeloaders taking advantage of handouts while others just want to sit around and bang their drums all day.

The media appear just as na├»ve. Nearly every reporter makes a point to state, as if it’s somehow out of the ordinary, that when police go out to deal with these mobs, they are wearing “riot gear.” What the police are wearing are their work clothes and what they are doing is their jobs.

So what the heck is this Occupy thing all about anyway? Yes we can, what?

I’ve been following the news and doing some reading and still am not clear. It’s all very ambiguous.

Below are nine quotes from nine people participating in Occupy events around the country. These were posted on by iReporters, people who are not "official" journalists and in many ways are empathetic to the “movement.”
  • "It's time to stop taking care of the 1% who are perfectly fine the way they are and start taking care of the 99% -- the rest of us. And we're all in this together: you, me, the bus driver, everybody. It's not just a faceless mob, it's all of us."
  • "I lost my job a couple of months ago. The reason I'm out here is because I just feel there's a lot that needs to be changed in this country. It seems like the power has gone to the corporations and it feels like when I go out to vote that my say doesn't mean anything anymore."
  •  "I'm protesting because I am part of the 99% of the people who have been downsized by the government. People that have been waiting so long that have something to say about what's going on."
  •  "I am hoping that through all this that we can bring our country back to a place where there isn't rich-over-poor, where the economy is better balanced, where people can make a decent wage. We've let the money take over."
  •  "The reason why I'm here is to be part of this movement to get something done about the 1% that has all the money and the power. We are the 99% that is waiting around for this revolution to happen so something can be done."
  • "I don't have a job currently, but I just got laid off because, you know, the big businesses are workin' with the government. They take most of our taxes, and I understand that we have to pay taxes but it's not fair that we have to pay the most taxes and we're poor."
  •  "I'm just down here because I'm sick of big business and larger corporations working with the government to decide the policies that go on in our country. It really doesn't leave room for the 99% of the people that don't make a billion, two billion or 40 billion dollars a year, to speak their piece on what they think should be done." 
  • "The biggest reason I'm here is for the process. … What I'm really interested in about this movement is engaging in experimental democracy. There's something that is happening here that is totally unprecedented, in my opinion, except like maybe in a Grecian kind of world."
  • "I am protesting because this is what is right and things need to change. It just needs to be done. This is going to change things because it's happening all over the world. I'm here because I'm passionate about my future."
  • "I am protesting for numerous reasons. As we all know, the mass injustice done by the 1% and the way that the 99% of America are treated unfairly. We are going to take back democracy by using the ability of numbers because we don't have the ability of money or power."
From these statements, can you clearly discern the three top concerns of the Occupy movement?

Frankly, there’s nothing here but broad-brush generalities. There is nothing that could be formulated into an actionable plan. And most of the statements need to be bolstered with real facts and data, rather than emotionally-charged opinion.

So, how can the leaders, if they exist, bring some clarity to this movement so that it can actually gain traction and truly make a difference?

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Narrow the focus. One person stated, “I am protesting for numerous reasons.” Pick three! List the top three reasons people are protesting and state them clearly. Repeat them everywhere. Support them with facts and figures and stories! Keep lists of objectives and demands manageable.
  • Be specific. One protester stated, “There's something that is happening here that is totally unprecedented.” What is it that’s happening? How is it unprecedented? Why is it important that it is happening? How will it make a difference? Who will be impacted? Stop speaking in vague generalities. 
  • Support with facts and examples. One occupier claims, “I'm protesting because I am part of the 99% of the people who have been downsized by the government.” Who exactly have been downsized by whom and where? Provide concrete examples. Show data and statistics that prove your claims. Create a reasonable, convincing, and compelling argument. Use logic and facts.
  • Set clear attainable objectives. One activist stated, “We are the 99% that is waiting around for this revolution to happen so something can be done.” Seriously? I thought you were involved so that you could do something? But then, if there are no clear goals, of course nothing’s going to get done. Pick 3-5 attainable goals and state them clearly using proper grammar.
I could go on, but my point has been made.

Nothing good will come out of the Occupy movement until the “something” that needs to be accomplished is clearly defined and intelligently articulated. So far that is not happening.

And the whole world is watching, waiting, and listening.


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