In books section of the Financial Times over the weekend, there was a spread which ran about 4/5ths of a page which was dedicated entirely to reviews of a number of recent books on the "Occupy" movement, including "The Democracy Project", "Meme Wars", and "Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience".
The conclusion that reviewer Martin Sandbou comes to is that a 'sympathetic reader of these books will end up with the slightly exasperated feeling that Occupy wasted its chance as a political movement.' While, in fairness, I am not quite sure I can be counted among those who were sympathetic to aims of the Occupy cause, I think 'exasperated' nonetheless sums up my first-hand experience with the movement very well. Below I am happy to re-print a story I wrote after visiting Occupy Boston which describes that experience. I first published this post in October of 2011 here.
Live from Occupy Boston
In the shadows of The Federal Reserve building in the morning and the The Fiduciary Trust building in the afternoon lies the home base of Occupy Boston. Much like the Tea Party movement last year, the Occupy movement has sparked dialog in the country, something that I too often find lacking. Though I don't personally agree with the ideals of many of the protesters, I am thrilled to see Americans taking advantage of their right to be heard. I joined the Occupiers for about an hour last night to get a sense of the mood and speak to some of the participants.
There were people of all ages, many of them clearly veterans of various protest campaigns through their respective years. There were students, union members, clergy members, teachers and Iraq veterans all supporting the cause. The sounds were all there, from the beeps of and shouts of commuters and delivery drivers on Atlantic Ave. to the now world famous phenomenon of the 'mic check.' And of course it wouldn't be a proper protest without some acoustic guitars accompanied by kitchen utensil percussion sections.
The expected sights were there too. Tents dotted Dewey Square Park representing every color of the rainbow. Unmatched canvas tarps steeled the Occupiers' temporary homes against that night's forecasted rain storms. Guy Fawkes masks ironically outed members of Anonymous. There was even a blue VW van whose driver double parked so he could drop off some fuel for the participants. There were also the obligatory signs and flyers, dozens, maybe even hundreds of them littering the landscape. Some notables included:
- 'If you can't afford to miss work to be here, you belong here'
- 'Smash Corporate America and Capitalism'
- 'Too many problems to fit on one sign'
- 'War, economic crimes and the fight for socialism'
The protesters weren't the only characters in the story. Police officers, despite the issues and arrests from the night before, seemed far more interested in punching a clock than doing the same to any of the assembled throng. The five o'clock hour's arrival meant nearly fifty Bostonians passed by on their way to the suburbs by way of South Station every time the walk sign flashed on Summer Street. Curious passerby took a few moments to read a sign and ask a question or two, and representatives of various news outlets took turns looking the most awkward.
I wasn't merely there to observe, however. I wanted to get a feel for the voices of the movement. As a writer, however amateur, about legal topics, economic topics and the general zeitgeist, what better place to be, I imagined, than one of the outposts of a movement that has caught the attention of the world. However what I found at Occupy Boston was slightly disappointing.
True, I heard people speak with real passion about their plights. People told me how down and out they were, how much debt they had, and how angry they were with corporate America. I don't want to discount the real pain and passion I saw in some people's eyes. However despite giving participants every opportunity to articulate a strategy or desired outcome, the most I got from many of them were answers like 'restore democracy' and 'stop corporations from ruining our lives.' To the extent that some of the people I spoke to were able to provide more than these types of catch phrases, they spent their time extolling the virtues of strategies such as nationalising banks and implementing socialism. Apparently those who hate the banks also missed what happens to socialism in the hands of those in power.
Like the Tea Party, the Occupy movement is a good thing for our nation. Both of these political/ philosophical movements have gotten the nation talking, and have brought the dialog of common citizens to a level that brings patriotic pride to this humble writer's heart. And, like the Tea Party before it, the Occupy movement has clearly captured the feelings of a great many Americans. However, unlike the Tea Party protesters, the Occupiers don't seem to have any core, attainable goals in mind. As long as the Occupiers remains driven by feelings and an unrealistic desire for failed historical relics of political systems, I am afraid that the recent headline from The Times of London will continue to sum up the movement best: 'Passionate but Pointless.'