Another Perspective

Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post had some interesting thoughts on the 'Occupy' movement in an article published yesterday. Her piece, titled 'What the Occupy protests tell us about the limits of democracy' explores the current situation and what it could mean for the political process if it is to continue without finding 'the point.' Her conclusion:

The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: It reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. Democracy is based on the rule of law. Democracy works only within distinct borders and among people who feel themselves to be part of the same nation. A “global community” cannot be a national democracy. And a national democracy cannot command the allegiance of a billion-dollar global hedge fund, with its headquarters in a tax haven and its employees scattered around the world.

Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, to whom the London and New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions in the Western world. They are designed to reflect, at least crudely, the desire for political change within a given nation. But they cannot cope with the desire for global political change, nor can they control things that happen outside their borders. Although I still believe in globalization’s economic and spiritual benefits — along with open borders, freedom of movement and free trade — globalization has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.

“Global” activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout,“We need to have a process!” Well, they already have a process: It’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.

While I disagree that the Occupy movement will ever have the momentum or strength to topple Western democracies (Applebaum cannot think this either though she implicitly suggests it; otherwise she wouldn't mock the link to the Arab Spring so forcefully) I do believe that the Occupiers would need to tap into the mainstream political process to accomplish anything of note. As we noted in our Live from Occupy Boston piece, the prevailing ideology in the Occupy camps seem to be a confused amalgamation of socialist and anarchical thought. They seem to be run under a very loose (at best) leadership structure. In other words, it doesn't seem like such formal political outreach is in the cards.

The most likely outcome then would be that the Occupy movement will attract some more celebrities and maybe a shout out or two from a national politician. A continued proliferation of Occupied city centers could keep the movement in the news. However, that type of momentum does not seem to be sustainable and things might unfortunately have to take a violent turn for the protesters to keep themselves in the spotlight. This would surely signal the end of any political hope for the movement; people might support the protesters in polls, but when push comes to shove, Americans don't tolerate violence on their turf.

So what then? Maybe, just maybe the movement will merit a brief mention in the history books when the Obama presidency is discussed or the Great Recession is covered, sort of like a Shay's Rebellion for the Millenial generation. Maybe it will go down as one of a number of protests of the era, linked unintentionally with the Tea Party. However, without real political initiative, real political change appears to be out of reach for the movement for the time being.

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