Asking the Wrong Question Can be Contagious

Posted on September 28, 2011


I came across an argument about Occupy Wall Street today that seemed to encapsulate a lot of the problems the group is facing at the moment, especially from liberals. A blogger, who will remain anonymous, complained that the group didn’t have a clear message.

Its almost impossible to honestly take a look at a group of people occupying Wall Street in the current context of capital-created crisis and get their message wrong. There can’t logically be a confusion as to what Occupy Wall Street is about. Though I’m pretty sure if relatively informed and apparently sane people keep asking the question long enough, they’ll get other relatively informed, sane people to wonder if they’re missing something and start asking about it, too.

Are there problems with OWS? Yes, and they’re worth talking about for the future of the endeavor. So far, some of the media criticism that the group is not representative rings a bit true. I doubt there are many people that would argue with me about the blinding whiteness of the group, and the fact that they seem to have a monolithic demographic profile. This is in contrast to a parallel movement undertaken by community organizations, and quite clearly shadowed, funded and influenced by SEIU and other unions and community groups. I reported on a characteristic action by one of these groups here  , when they invaded a BofA and demanded to speak to the manager with a list of demands. I shot some video of that event:

Here’s another report on a similar partnering in Chicago, that has had pretty much identical actions.

Its pretty obvious that there are two different demographics at work here. And parallel is putting it mildly, because they seem unaware and unconcerned about each other’s existence. If OWS can’t find its way into tapping into this people and its roots, it risks appearing to be–because it quite clearly is—a movement of college kids out of sync with those most affected by the last several years of economic crisis. That’s not bad, per se. There’s an argument that’s being made that the group has already succeeded in some ways, simply by hanging on so long and drawing people’s attention to the fact that there is actually something that can be done besides railing against politicians while voting for them. Even the New York Times carried a [characteristically pie-eyed] article about the spread of global extra-electoral movements. That’s something all by itself.

Meanwhile, the community groups I mentioned have made almost no dent and garnered very little mainstream media attention—though their focus is on a state, rather than federal level. So much for the irresistible power of a delineated message embedded in an easily printed/chanted meme. And I also have some concerns about where the community group/union movement will ultimately be directed, given the Democratic party fealty of the unions in question. If its just another way to blame Republicans alone for all our woes, while enlisting support for the President next year, then, no, hell, no. OWS seems to be cohering quite decently, given that they appeared out of nowhere.

As a final note about organization, in that light, I’ll merely share this quick anecdote about the reasonably well-funded community non profit that called me no less than five times this afternoon to let me know about a 2-part action the same day. When I arrived at the first address I had been given by one of the callers, there was nothing going on there, even after a near hour wait—at least to all appearances. Compared to this kind of dis-org, OWS seems to be doing fine.

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