iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
GET UPDATES FROM Curtis Roosevelt
 

Occupy Wall Street: "Action, and Action Now!"

Posted: 12/13/11 01:36 PM ET

These protesters -- who are not identified with either political party, who have, as yet, no agreed upon program, no manifesto, are not particularly "left" nor "right" and are dedicated to being peaceful (if given a chance by the police) -- must have given Washington's politicos pause. A movement without any obvious, recognized leaders creates fear for those who want to categorize everything, box it in with a label, and try to make it "easy" for us to understand -- or misunderstand.

But analysis is what columnists do. Thoughtful writers like EJ Dionne explain:

Everyone on the left side of American politics, from the near end to the far end, has advice for Occupy Wall Street. I'm no exception. But it's useful to acknowledge first that this movement has accomplished things that the more established left didn't.
Dionne then notes:
The breakup of some of Occupy's encampments signals a new phase for the movement. This does not have to mean its end. On the contrary, it is an opportunity ... Thus the question going forward: Will the Occupy movement play into the hands of its enemies by living up to the stereotypes they are trying to create? Or will it instead move to a phase that builds on its success?

His advice? "The occupations have done their work. Now it's time to occupy the majority." A nice thought, but what does it mean? I don't know, and Dionne doesn't explain.

The many local leaders of the various protest movements across the country probably have regular contact through Twitter, Facebook, etc. But each place of occupation -- a campus, a business building, the White House or the local jail -- will dictate to a substantial degree the protesters' options. Students may want to focus on policy issues. Others may just want to vent their anger and frustration. Some may think of themselves as liberals. Others will wonder how close they are to being on the fringe of the Tea Party.

The OWS movement comprises a group too diverse to be pigeon-holed. Their strength lies in their apparent weaknesses. Their very powerlessness is significant.

My particular disagreement with Dionne, one of my favorite columnists, is when he suggests that occupying places has run its course as a tactic. When a protest movement does not have a manifesto, or focus on a single issue, or any publicly recognized leaders to speak out for it, I feel occupying sites is the only option. And it's obviously effective.

Is there a chance of violence and bloodshed? Indeed, yes. In most instances "occupying" is against the law. It violates other people's rights: Ask the residents and merchants in the vicinity of Zuccotti Park.

The whole purpose of "occupying" is to be visible and thereby create friction, disruption, and inconvenience, interfering with business, slowing or bringing activity to a halt. Without causing as much chaos as possible -- peaceful though it may be -- there is no point in occupying. (There is a reason sit-down strikes are illegal for labor unions, but I expect to see Occupiers try it.) When mayors and city halls offer alternative sites for the Occupiers in order to reduce the dangers of disruption -- and police intervention -- it shows clearly that the authorities do recognize that the purpose of the occupations is to create disturbance.

Inevitably the police are called in, and it also seems inevitable that in carrying out the law they know no course of action that is not brutal and abusive. And how the Occupiers have prospered from it! The police response has made OWS a success, and that success will continue for occupiers all over the country. Sometimes their actions will constitute a "lawful assembly" but most often they will not. Expect to see the police in their militarized outfits of riot gear lined up shoulder to shoulder -- ready to commit violence. Expect to see midnight raids continue.

Our citizens will be divided in their response. Law and order is the American way. Except when it isn't. We sometimes forget about the violence protesters were subjected to when supporting the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Or when protesting against the Vietnam War.

When the cause is plainly just protest can be tolerated, even approved of, in our society. But the cause has to receive widespread recognition, and that will take time to accomplish. The protesters need to keep making it plain at every site why they are protesting at that place. Why this building, why this campus, why this institution must be made obvious -- even if not approved by all those who will be inconvenienced.

Wall Street was relatively easy. Like it or not, we all understood both the place and the symbolism. Even the people inside the Stock Exchange building got the message, whether they admitted it or not. The intellectual form or content of the message is not that important; being understood is crucial. Even if the message is primarily an expression of frustration, disillusionment, and anger, people will get the point, whether they agree or not.

Back to Dionne's closing paragraph:


The movement should remind itself of its greatest innovation, its slogan: "We are the 99 percent." This is an affirmation that it is trying to speak for nearly everybody.

But it won't. Those in power are too entrenched. They have money and influence "in high places" and are well organized enough to use it.

Dear Occupiers, movements like yours take time, guts, and endurance -- and remember, as Mahatma Gandhi would remind you, non-violence is a very effective political path. But be prepared to suffer for it. There is a long road ahead. One thing you can count on: the more disruptive you are the more Americans will disapprove. Don't watch the polls. Ignore them. You're not running for political office. Your task is to arouse this country of ours, bring us to our senses, create a groundswell, the political pressure that demands from our president and the members we elected to Congress that they focus on the problems that are plaguing us, and then act on them.

As FDR said in his first inaugural address, "ACTION AND ACTION NOW!"