Occupy Wall Street? Well, it’s an idea

I want to see if this “Occupy Wall Street” business goes anywhere.

I want to see if this “Occupy Wall Street” business goes anywhere. Right now it looks like amorphous street theater put on by a gaggle of lefty kids in New York, but it’s spreading — to Boston, to Los Angeles, to Albuquerque, to Seattle — and who knows where it will end.

The liberal magazine Mother Jones has faulted it for having no clear message, but that seems to me off the mark. A manifesto for a new political party needs a clear message. Street action only needs general discontent, and there ought to be enough discontent around to support a few weeks worth of camping out, chanting and sign-waving in a little park in lower Manhattan.

What is the nature of the discontent? What are the demonstrators demonstrating about?

“The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%,” they say on their website. “We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

That’s broad enough. I could join that one myself, being sufficiently fed up in my own life with the greed and corruption of the 1 percent at the expense of all the rest of us, which is what I think as I watch my savings shrink and the value of my home decline even as Wall Street tycoons enjoy hundred-million-dollar payouts made possible by our tax money.

One thing that has puzzled me is that economic discontent to this point has been almost entirely right-wing and directed almost entirely at the federal government, the great bugaboo of the Tea Party, while the plunderers of Wall Street get an admiring pass. “Job creators” is what fawning conservatives call the plunderers.

The shapeless movement that calls itself Occupy Wall Street, launched by a Canadian magazine, of all things, is not quite the left-wing counterpart of the Tea Party. It seems more akin to the ragged anti-capitalist demonstrations that occurred in Seattle in 1999 when the World Trade Organization convened, or other similar demonstrations in Europe, but I wonder if it might evolve.

When you talk about people losing their homes and their jobs, you’re talking about more than greenhouse gas.

One measure of the movement’s effectiveness is its treatment by Fox Propaganda. Fox star Sean Hannity sent a producer dressed as a hippie to film interviews with the New York demonstrators and then showed quick clips of the weirdest and most inarticulate ones they could find, in a sort of parody of journalism.

“Lunatics of the Left Wing,” said the printed legend on the screen. A bosomy model posing as a commentator opined that the kids were “just looking to go out there to dirty the streets,” and the producer himself talked only about the filthiness of the encampment.

So I gather that the right-wing establishment does perceive a threat.

Another thing I notice is how this little movement grows by way of the Internet and what we have come to call social media.

No longer does a political movement depend on three television networks and a couple of major newspapers to get the word out. The word goes out through Facebook and Twitter and whatnot. And no longer do we depend on the major networks and newspapers — or even minor networks and newspapers — to present to us the facts of what happened.

Every other demonstrator has a miniature video camera of some sort, and if a white-shirted police officer strides up to a group of young women who are being “kettled” and gratuitously squirts them in the face with pepper spray and then turns around and strides away, leaving them screaming in pain, well, you can be sure the incident will be on YouTube in short order, as indeed it is.

Not only that, but some other amorphous group called “Anonymous” — who the devil are they? — will quickly identify the officer (Deputy Inspector Anthony V. Bolgna) and dig up the fact that he still has complaints pending against him from the Republican Convention of 2004, when the NYPD ran amuck against demonstrators.

Before the television networks and the major newspapers can get off the ground, “Tony Baloney” is a hit on the comedy-news shows, and the official NYPD statement that the use of pepper spray was “appropriate” is already a joke.

It was simply the sort of piggish behavior that some of us old-timers remember from the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, except that now everyone can see it, right away.

Apparently it was this kind of instant communication that made possible the uprisings in Egypt and Libya, and it’s what the Wall Street occupiers are depending on.

“Kettling,” by the way, is a new one to me. It means separating groups of demonstrators and confining them to restricted spaces, as steam pressure is supposedly confined in a tea kettle, which seems to me a poor analogy, and it has been in use at least since an anti-WTO demonstration in London in 1999.

Cops might use their own arms, bodies and nightsticks to corral demonstrators, or they might use orange plastic webbing, like you see at construction sites, which is what the New York cops used.

The reasoning seems to be that if groups of demonstrators can’t move around and mix with each other, they can’t cause trouble.

If you or I tried it we would be charged with false imprisonment, but of course cops are special.

Besides being able to squirt you in the face with pepper spray even when you’re not doing anything illegal, they can “kettle” you for hours at a time, denying you food, water and access to a bathroom, without the formality of an arrest.

I’m not aware of any legal challenge to the tactic in this country, but one is pending in the European Court of Human Rights.

The kettle analogy is poor, because steam pressure cannot be confined in a kettle very long or the kettle will explode. Corralling seems to me more apt, but nobody asks my advice on these things.

I do have a friend in the big city who has visited the Occupy Wall Street encampment, and he agrees with Mother Jones that it lacks a clear message. There’s no “Out of Vietnam” or anything like that. Being disenchanted with the big-money gang that seems to control the government whichever political party is in power is not enough, he says.

I say it’s a start, though I have no idea how far it will go.

Categories: Opinion

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