Posted by: captainfalcon | October 10, 2011

OWS

This is a good debunking of some of the criticisms levied at Occupy Wall Street.  It is best read in conjunction with this, which is hathosistically ham-fisted. Money quote from the first one:

5) “They have no demands!” This is the most bizarre criticism of [Occupy Wall Street] as a social movement. As one organizer puts it, ‘We haven’t had a shortage of demands and solutions. We’ve had a shortage of mass movements.’ Moreover, it’s pretty predictable what will happen once demands get issued officially. If they’re too ambitious, the movement will be dismissed as socialism. If they’re moderate, it will be dismissed as stealth Obamaism, and the protesters will be condescendingly asked “why can’t you just participate in the political system as it is?”

They have no demands is a misguided critique because there’s nothing irrational about expressing targeted displeasure without making demands – the more demands you make the more opportunity there is for (a) intra-movement fissures to develop and (b) proponents of the status quo to craft a marginalizing counter-narrative. And, as Pasquale points out, it’s clear that Occupy Wall Street has some definition; it is meant to express displeasure at the difference between economic remuneration for financial sector workers, and everybody else. It is left inchoate whether what’s displeasing is the disparity in remuneration per se, or the means by which financial sector remuneration is guaranteed. (That said, the fact that Occupy Wall Street isn’t protesting hospitals or tech firms suggests mere income inequality isn’t the issue. The perceived problem has something to do with how the financial sector gets compensated.)

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Responses

  1. Generally a nice read. I find it’s counter-objections to the “They’re breaking the law” objection somewhat unpersuasive – rather than address the laws being broken, and why it is acceptable in this case to break those laws, it simply asserts that many WS firms also have broken laws.

    What the heck does “hathosistically” mean? I’m guessing it derives somehow from hathos…?

    Incidentally, did anyone notice side-ring comedy act of Occupy Seattle? A small group of protestors set up camp in Westlake Park (a minor park smack in the middle of downtown Seattle). Westlake Park cannot legally be used for camping, so the mayor asked the protestors to instead camp out in City Hall Plaza, 1 mile away (and still in the middle of downtown Seattle). The protestors found this to be a point of principle on which they could not budge, and insistently stayed in Westlake. The police were sent in to insist that all tents be taken down, and made a couple dozen arrests in the process. The tents were taken down, and most left the park for the night (although some stayed in the rain without tents). This mostly transformed it into a daytime occupation, but protestors still refused to move to the Plaza. Yesterday, the police announced that sitting on the ground under an umbrella illegal unless you actually had a hand on the umbrella holding it up, because an umbrella resting on the ground is a “structure.” In another fine splitting of hairs, tarps open on the ground are not structures, but if those tarps are tied down to anything then they constitute structures.

  2. I agree its vindication of the lawbreaking is underdeveloped and veers toward a tu quoque, but it outlines a reasonably sober argument the normative premise of which is that: we ought to tolerate or encourage benign civil disobedience (the transformation of a soulless corridor into a celebratory and educational space) that effectively protests very harmful lawlessness.

    Also, my search for case law holding that umbrellas are structures was unavailing.

  3. The first point (“they’re all just spoiled hippies who can’t get a job”) is particularly galling. It basically implies that OWS condones sloth and stupidity, and that those who have well-renumerated jobs in the financial sector are smarter and more hard-working than those in the OWS movement (and their sympathizers). Not only do such attitudes reveal an unhealthy superiority complex, but also a total inability to recognize issues such as the structural inequalities built into the US economic model, or the cosy relationship between Wall St. and its supposed regulators, or at the very least, the myriad of factors that can cause individuals and families to suffer financial hardship (disability, lack of health insurance, unstable families, etc.)

    • It also has given rise to numerous people saying things along the line of “if they want jobs, they should go to job interviews instead of protesting.” This in turn is fundamentally misunderstanding the purpose of their protest. I’m sure everyone, including the protestors, knows that the odds of their being employed are increased more by going job-hunting than by camping outside Wall Street. But the odds of making structural change in our legal and economic system are far greater through protesting. Which is to say… they do not protest to get jobs for themselves; they protest to get jobs for America. And it is somewhat depressing that the response to someone doing this is to sneer at them.


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