I’m a little bleary eyed this morning. I was up fairly late watching the live streams from #occupysacramento, right up until the arrests began. For about two and a half hours, I watched video and followed Twitter streams, even adding my own commentary as it went along. And realizing there is a bigger problem right now for the “Occupy” movement than the media or even Wall St. itself.
It’s the people who want to attach themselves to it.
Some of them are well meaning. They truly want to help, but have no real clue how to, and in some cases, no real idea why. They want to be a part of something, often connecting with the frustration and anger that the protesters are expressing. But they aren’t protesters themselves. They just want to be a part of it. For those folks, all they really need is some education, and they’ll be ok.
Some, however, are more than “not helpful” – they are setting the efforts back. One in particular comes to mind: Michael Moore.
I have liked his documentaries. While they have a specific bias, I expect that from a documentary filmmaker. That’s what makes the films interesting. But for some reason, he seems to think that his filmmaking style will appeal to the average Joe. And he couldn’t be more wrong. His bombastic on camera stylings, his penchant for snark do not play well in the average American home. He may be 100% right, but his message gets lost in his antics.
But he represents a bigger problem, which was evidenced last night. As I watched the #occupysacramento situation, I saw a calm, peaceful group of protesters discussing what was likely to happen as they stayed past the curfew given to them by the Sacramento PD. They laughed, sang, chanted. And then I saw the @mmflint tweet saying that police were moving in to make arrests – that it was happening right now! I looked at the multiple live feeds. There were no police to be seen. No flashing lights, no jackbooted thugs. Just some folks hanging out.
Arrests did come, nearly two hours later. Definitely not “right now”. Moore wasn’t on the scene, and I don’t know where he was getting his information, but it wasn’t based in reality. He certainly wasn’t looking at the live video.
There were others as well. Like the tweet saying that riot police were moving in and threatening the protesters. Not even close to reality. In fact, there were some police in riot gear. It’s standard procedure when dealing with groups of people. They did not threaten at any time. When the arrests finally came, the police calmly and methodically went to the group of protesters, explained to them how the arrest would happen, assisted each protester individually to their feet, and escorted them to the area where they would be processed. It was done respectfully, without any animosity from either side, no vitriol. A far cry from the “riot police threatening protesters” meme.
What these folks fail to realize is that hyperbole does not move the cause forward. In non-violent protest, you lose your potency when you get people riled up. Non-violent protest works best when the protesters are calm and peaceful, yet resolute. Rosa Parks did not yell and scream that she was being oppressed. She. Just. Sat. Down.
Those who want to paint this as class warfare welcome the hyperbole. It makes them look all the more reasonable. Why deal with the real issues when you can simply let the loudmouths spew exaggerated information, then simply poijnt and them as say “See! They’re just troublemakers!” ?
The over-inflated, over-the-top, stick-it-to-the-man portrayal of this movement by some who want to attach themselves to it will do nothing to move it forward, and everything to set it back.
Meanwhile, there are other groups trying to glom on as well, trying to move their agenda forward with the #OWS movement as a source of momentum. This isn’t really any different than what the Republican Party did – successfully – with the Tea Party. They co-opted the Tea Party energy and translated it into Republican votes. So it’s no surprise groups like MoveOn want to try the same thing. But this movement isn’t about political parties. Those kinds of distinctions are meaningless. The movement is, first and foremost, about getting corporate influence and corporate money out of politics, and holding Wall St. accountable for bad acts that have left the American economy in shambles. Groups trying to use this momentum to move their own agenda will only alienate potential supporters and dilute the effort.
Others jump is as well, like those that will show up whenever there is a camera with “Stop Aid To Israel” and “End The Fed” signs. They have an agenda that has nothing to do with Wall St. or the #OWS efforts. They just see the lights and a place they can promote their cause. They may or may not have a good cause or point, but their presence gives the impression of speaking for the #OccupyWallSt effort. It doesn’t, but convince Mom and Pop who see it on TV of that.
And then there’s groups infiltrating, trying to change the subject, telling the protesters that they should be working to “end the Fed” and leave Wall St. alone. Again, it’s a move that dilutes the focus – and in this case, that’s exactly the goal.
Matt Stoller explains very eloquently why the #OWS movement is so puzzling for some:
This dynamic is why it’s so hard for the traditional political operators to understand #OccupyWallStreet. It must be an angry group of hippies. Or slackers. Or it’s a revolution. It’s a left-wing tea party. The ignorance is embedded in the questions. One of the most constant complaints one hears in DC about #OccupyWallStreet is that the group has no demands. Its message isn’t tight. It has no leaders. It has no policy agenda. Just what does “it” want, anyway? On the other side of the aisle, one hears a sort of sneering “get a job” line, an angry reaction to a phenomenon no one in power really understands. The gnashing of teeth veers quickly from condescension to irritation and back. Many liberal groups want to “help” by offering a more mainstream version, by explaining it to the press, by cheering how great the occupation is while carefully ensuring that wiser and more experienced hands eventually take over. These impulses are guiding by the received assumptions about how power works in modern America. Power must flow through narrow media channels, it must be packaged and financed by corporations, unions, or foundations, it must be turned into revenue flows that can then be securitized. It must scale so leaders can channel it efficiently into the preset creek bed of modern capitalism. True public spaces like this one are complete mysteries to these people; left, right, center in America are used to shopping mall politics.
So, while the Occupy Wall St. folks are protesting Wall St., they face significant battles from within. For the movement to have an increasing chance of success, they must keep at bay these efforts to “direct” their focus, to “hone” their message. They have to keep the myriad other groups from co-opting their momentum. And they must continue to speak to the average American and ignore the calls to fit into the political system. And that may be the most difficult battle of all.