The movement that is Occupy Wall Street has already claimed a sizable accomplishment: it has skillfully captured and illuminated the underlying mood of economic uncertainty in a large part of the country. It's full of wonderful, idealistic people who mean well and want to do even more. But after my second visit to Zuccotti Park, in New York, where the protesters have camped for some three months now, I left with the feeling that the movement has run its course and will soon melt away. In fact I would be surprised if it outlasts the Christmas decorations that are already sprouting up in New York.
There was a different feeling in Zuccotti Park during my first visit about a month ago. Even though the protesters did not have well defined objectives, there was cohesion. The movement appeared tailor made to project the mood of many Americans who were too busy, or did not know how to voice their feelings of economic despair. But my second visit to the group a few days ago put an end to my initial optimism.
This time I found the movement transformed. The cohesiveness that I'd noticed a few weeks earlier simply wasn't there any more. I spent some time speaking to a friend's daughter who is camped in Zuccotti Park. She is smart, well educated, caring, and very active in the Occupy Wall Street movement. She explained how life has become more complicated in the movement. Free food drew in the homeless; a hands-off policy by the New York Police Department made the park attractive to drug pushers and users; illegal immigrants sought out the movement as a haven; and crime has begun to raise its ugly head.
The movement believes it should be open to everyone with a cause, and must now find a way to integrate all these people and resolve the tensions that are being daily generated by by so many competing needs. "Every night the park becomes a social decision making council," my friend's daughter told me. "Decisions are made on a consensus basis involving everyone who is there. Our challenge is to represent all these causes." A worthy goal to strive for, but hardly one tailored to remaking America's capitalism.
Then there is the process of change itself. In America this process is democracy and politicians are its agents of change. Here the Occupy Wall Street movement has disconnected itself from reality. Politicians who appear at Zuccotti Park are at best ignored and at worst harangued by the protesters, my friend's daughter told me. But without channels into the levers of democracy, can one really change anything? I suppose one could forcibly overthrow the Republic for another form of government. But that is not the stuff the crowd in Zuccotti Park is made of. To their credit, I might add.
So that's where my second trip to Occupy Wall Street left me. Impressed that young people still care enough to challenge authority and bear the hardships of bare-bones living. Impressed that the movement has struck a chord among so many Americans. Perhaps the attention paid to Occupy Wall Street will inspire Americans to say "a pox on all their houses" as they head to the ballot box next year. But that's about the best I now expect from this movement as their occupation ends and the tinkling bells of the Salvation Army, holiday shoppers and Christmas carolers begin their occupation of New York and Wall Street.