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Norm Stamper Headshot

Occupy's Tactics

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Jane's aged dog is splayed out in the back seat, groaning softly. The animal is blind, incontinent, no longer able to navigate the stairs. Jane is taking her old friend to the vet's, to be euthanized. But she finds herself stuck in a long line of cars. She peers up ahead, sees through her tears that the bridge she must cross is jammed with wall-to-wall Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, an eighth of a mile deep. No one's going anywhere -- no backing up, no alternate route -- until the protestors decide to clear the bridge. Or the mayor or the police chief decides for them.

Other motorists have similar stories, each of them in the same logistical fix. A blue-collar worker will be late for work yet again, and likely lose his job. An elderly heart patient, fresh out of life-sustaining medicine, is stuck two miles from the pharmacist. A recently divorced man, on his way to pick up his son and take him to a movie won't make it. Several people in the bumper-to-bumper jam really, really really need to pee. One motorist's Camry is running on fumes. Another is rushing to pick up her daughter before the childcare center closes. These and countless other examples of real, not hypothetical people pose a serious challenge to the efficacy and credibility of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Most of these immobile motorists fully realize they're part of the 99 percent. They've been gouged by bailed-out banks, lost jobs and mortgages, watched as corporations, their executives awash in bonus cash, continue to buy legislation in the nation's capitol. These legions of potential Occupy recruits don't need to be reminded that they've been failed by a congress that won't tax the rich, a president who looked good in the warmups, even a supreme court ruling that corporations are homo sapiens.

But there's little chance they'll join the movement so long as they are irritated, inconvenienced, frightened, or put at genuine risk by some of the tactics employed by the Occupy movement.

Shutting down a critical bridge or snarling highway traffic during rush hour may be a grand, empowering experience. But it pisses off thousands who would otherwise, in their own enlightened self-interest, sign on to the cause.

I visited Zuccotti Park on a recent trip to New York. I saw the tents, heard the drumming and the speeches, read the signs. It filled me with awe and appreciation for those willing to make visible and audible their opposition to a miserable and unjust status quo -- not just in lower Manhattan but in cities across the country. But my time in the park also left me with a fatalistic attitude.

The politicians, eventually, bowing to growing complaints of business owners and residents, will order parks off limits at night and bridges open 24/7. The police will clash with demonstrators. There will be arrests and injuries and pepper spray.

(I'm not letting law enforcement off the hook. See here. Increasing militarization of America's police forces has certainly exacerbated clashes between cops and demonstrators. The use of pepper spray in Oakland, UC-Davis, Berkeley, Portland, and Seattle, to name just a few west coast cities, is especially troubling.)

It doesn't have to be this way. Surely there are tactics most can agree on, without one side feeling co-opted, the other claiming victory. Imagine demonstrators making a point about bridges and infrastructure and jobs by lining the sides of the bridge, allowing traffic to flow. The sight of 50,000 activists stretched out over miles would, I think, inspire awe and good will from passing motorists. (Imagine, further, the police working with the 99 percent, collaborating on tactics, and eschewing chemical agents.)

Some say the issues are too important, the timing too momentous for Occupy forces to compromise tactics that include, by design, blocking traffic.

I say, tell that to a mom trying to get her sick child to the doctor.