Defining Occupy Wall Street By What It Is Not
October 17, 2011
Magicians, that other group of professionals who make their living by fooling the public with sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors, have as their unofficial motto: mundus vult decipi, decipi decipiatur (the world wants to be deceived, so deceive it). The Occupy Wall Street gang might think about adopting it.
OWS began in September as, what I call an extended flash mob. Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English defines a flash mob as "a group of people who organize on the Internet and then quickly assemble in a public place, do something bizarre, and disperse.” The difference here is the participants didn’t disperse, but instead pitched tents and makeshift shelters in a New York City park, hence my use of the word “extended.”
In those early, frolicking days, reporters tried to find someone, anyone, who could define the group and list its demands. After all, what good is a protest if you can’t say what you’re protesting? Some participants who claimed to be in the know proudly explained the group set each day’s agenda by taking a vote through texting and social media. It’s pure democracy at work, they said.
A movement, which is how a growing number of supportive journalists and politicians describe OWS, should have a definition, a purpose, a raison d’être. Without at least one well-defined purpose, OWS and its spin off wannabes become nothing more than rowdy and unfocused street festivals, but without the beer and turkey legs.
I cannot speak for OWS organizers and participants, so I cannot tell you who they are. I can, however, offer some examples of who they are not.
OWS is not a home-grown, populist, counter-Tea Party movement. OWS is a campaign started by Canada’s Adbusters Media Foundation. A senior editor for the Vancouver-based organization has been quoted as saying the group sent out e-mails about the idea in mid-July. They chose September 17 to coincide with the U.S. Constitution Day. The hacktivist outfit Anonymous helped spread the word. Anonymous is the leaderless cyber group that threatened to take down Facebook, released hacked e-mails from Bank of America, and played a role in this year’s Arab Spring by hacking government Web sites and releasing the names and e-mail passwords of Middle Eastern government officials.
OWS is not the U.S. version of the Arab Spring, which really began in the winter of 2010, but who’s counting? Try as they might, OWS cannot lay claim to being anything like the Arab Spring unless demonstrators are willing to die in their attempt at regime change, also known as full-bore revolution. As many as 37,000 Arab demonstrators and revolutionaries have died since last December, a number that includes about 30,000 in Libya and 4,000 in Syria.
It also is not the Prague Spring of 1968, when most of the parents or grandparents of the OWS demonstrators were going through their own political turmoil in this country. The Prague Spring, which gave its name to the Arab Spring, started as a peaceful period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia that ended with Soviet tanks literally crushing the movement.
OWS is not representative of 99 percent of the American people. Ninety-nine percent of the American people do not defecate on the top of a cop car. Ninety-nine percent of the American people do not have the time or inclination to sleep out in the open, smoke dope, and field test free condoms (they may think about it, but that’s a topic for another day). Ninety-nine percent of the American people do not want to make life harder for others by clogging streets, disrupting security, or making it difficult for those hard-working Americans OWS professes to support to get to their jobs and put in an honest day’s work.
And, 99 percent of Americans do not, repeat, do not advocate, nor give rousing approval to, calls for the US version of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror as did one goofy guy this week.
OWS is not a directionless and leaderless movement. Not anymore. Nature abhors a vacuum. So do organized labor and political action groups. That’s precisely why labor and liberal groups have moved in, sometimes by the bus loads. What better way to get media coverage and snare hundreds, maybe thousands, of well-meaning individuals who truly care about what’s happening in their country than by co-opting their leaderless movement?
And OWS is not against rich folks, just some rich folks, those easy targets for sloganeers and people who react before they think. In fact, OWS demonstrators regularly welcome with open arms (maybe even dope and free condoms) the usual rich-folk celebrities in search of a cause and a camera. Just this week, Kanye West showed up, resplendent in gold chains and designer clothes. Kanye West who last year earned an estimated $10 million. Kanye West who has an estimated net worth of $70 million. And the same Kanye West who tweeted that he spent more than $87,000 during the first six days after activating his Twitter account.
Maybe it’s like Bob Frapples said down at Sparky’s Diner yesterday: they don’t mind the stupid, rich people, it’s the smart ones that aggravate ‘em.
Mundus vult decipi.
John David Powell writes his Lone Star Award-winning columns from Shadey Hill Ranch in Texas. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.