Where does the Occupy Wall Street movement go next? To the dust heap of well-meaning ideas that died in their execution, I'm afraid.
I came to this sad conclusion recently after listening to thirty members of the movement who were taking a well deserved break at the Cobb Hill Cohousing Community in Hartland, Vermont. The group included protesters from California, Virginia, and Germany who were guests of three Vermonters who have been active in the movement almost since its inception. Most of the thirty had just been released from New York City jails. All were full of youthful energy and a desire to change America for the better.
But if you still believe Occupy Wall Street's objective is to illuminate and help correct the glaring inequalities in America, the message from the Hartland meeting would have disappointed you. Never a movement focused on specific changes, Occupy Wall Street now seems transformed into a chaotic grouping of utopian ideas that have more to do with social engineering than the gut-level issues that so anger much of America today.
During the question and answer session at the Hartland meeting, the protestors were asked to describe what drew them to Occupy Wall Street. Here's a sampling of the conversation.
"I would never have had the experience of meeting so many people from so many different backgrounds if it hadn't been for the occupation," said one member of the group. "We had created the most wonderful society in Zuccotti Park, all decisions were made by consensus, everyone had a say," said another.
Yet another occupier talked about the energy that the drumming groups in Zuccotti Park had generated. Another spoke nostalgically about getting off the subway near the park and watching a line of protesters waiting to use the rest rooms at the local McDonald's restaurant. A leader of the group said that she had joined the movement after deciding to take control of her life, live it as she wanted to, and never again let others dictate how she would inhabit this earth. "You should have seen the library we'd set up," offered a young man. A remark I found particularly humorous considering that New York has more free libraries than any other place on earth. Someone asked us visitors to help replace their musical instruments that "the New York Police had systematically destroyed."
I kept waiting to hear about what I had always assumed was the real mission of this movement, the reason why these civic-minded people had joined Occupy Wall Street in the first place: income inequality, the widely unfair distribution of wealth, and what to do about the persistent economic recession in America.
There was no talk of expansive plans to regroup after being evicted from Zuccotti Park and strengthen the movement to take advantage of the upcoming election year. No talk about leveraging "Occupy Wall Street," now an internationally recognized brand, for real change. The conversation was dominated by a litany of self centered thoughts, revolving around the words "I" or "Me."
When my wife and I left this gathering we felt deflated and sad. Reality had pricked our balloon. Perhaps our expectations had been incorrect about what this movement was all about, but we realized the Occupy Wall Street movement had wound up being occupied by Wall Street. It seemed to us that the protesters and their targets now thought alike: about only themselves.