in Kulturkampf

Wall Street Uprising Is Not A Main Street Production

The New York Times reported on events in the city this weekend:

Throughout the afternoon hundreds of demonstrators gathered in parks and plazas in Lower Manhattan. They milled, held teach-ins, engaged in discussion and debate and in some instances embarked on marches through the streets and sidewalks, brandishing signs with messages like “Democracy Not Corporatization” or “Revoke Corporate Personhood.”

Organizers said the rally was meant to be diverse, and not all of the participants were on the left. Followers of the right-wing figure Lyndon LaRouche formed a choir near Bowling Green and sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Nearby, anarchists holding a red and black flag carried knapsacks, sleeping bags and tents. (Emphasis mine)

That’s the same LaRouche bunch responsible for the very first Obama-as-Hitler signage and the same anarchists who break things at G-20 meetings. So far, the crowd in New York “engaged in discussion and debate” is a zoo, not a movement.

I get the anger driving the protest — boy howdy! — but I don’t see any specific appeal to folks on Main Street yet, and I don’t see Main Street Americans responding. Anonymous, which has pushed this campaign to “occupy Wall Street,” has no clear set of goals, preferring to think the crowd will magically produce a set of demands by consensus. The “theory of change” seems to be (1) protest (2) ????? (3) change!

Perhaps in time, this will be seen as a seminal event. If sustained protests grow bigger, if their appeal grows larger than the readership of Adbusters, if a real agenda coalesces, then the “occupation” of Wall Street may be historic. If a Main Street movement does arise, the linkage may be set in the public mind without regard to these early dissonances. But I have a bad feeling that won’t happen.

Change takes organization. What’s happening on Wall Street right now is utterly disorganized. It is an assortment of radical groups proclaiming themselves the vanguard of something greater. I should love that to be true, but I don’t see it. So far, there’s no hinterland reaction from mom and pop and junior. Hacktivists aren’t exactly the proletariat, after all, as a Guy Fawkes mask doesn’t make you Joe Six-Pack.

Moreover, I see Anonymous being its own worst enemy:

If mainstream media wasn’t on the scene, that might be the result of zero media outreach by the non-organizing organizers. Putting up a web page is not the same thing, and achieves nowhere near the same effect, as an email blast to journalists. A series of cogent press releases is even better. But in order to maximize that attention, a protest should have a simple set of clearly-articulated demands around which it can rally. There is no such set of demands in this case.

No blogger has advocated longer for an uprising that would allow the activists to appeal to the middle. This is not that, and without some changes it cannot be.

ADDING: The photo above dates from 2009 and is not intended to represent events in New York City. That’s what the video is for.

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  • Jerry Rolex

    There was Reagan as Hitler…Bush I as Hitler…Bush II as Hitler…there had to be Nixon as Hitler, too.  Gerald Ford?…Chevy Chase had that covered – not a Hitler, though. 

  • Reductio ad Hitlerum ad nauseum.

  • Larouchies are leeches and are not participating in the organizing that is going on in Zuccotti Park. So, this is a nice smear but it is very cynical. Actual organizing is taking place and anyone who has any shred of idealism about living in a society where Wall Street doesn’t control the direction of politics should at the very least be intrigued. 

  • [email protected]:disqus But I am intrigued. I like that someone wants to spark a movement. In fact, I’m raptly attentive, since I’ve been begging for a movement to blossom in flames for a long time. My point is that, as of today, this particular movement is easy to dismiss. Unless and until it can coalesce around some coherent principles that speak to broader America, and visibly brings that America to the streets, it’s not a Main Street production. That doesn’t mean it never will be. I’m just saying it hasn’t yet.

    My critique isn’t critical, it’s observational. Jeff Sharlet tweeted last night that NONE of his journalist friends had known this was happening. The lack of planning shows in tweets about the need for blankets. Jeebus, it’s September in New York City, you’re gonna get cold! I realize that we all want that mythology of spontaneous combustion, but come on. 

    My flame is affirming, Kevin. Ever tried to hold a candlelight vigil without organization?

  • I’ve been following this from being disorganized to managing to get people from around the world to donate $2800 worth of pizza to the occupation. I’ve been watching as the hundreds of people in the park are maturing and figuring out what works and doesn’t work. The General Assembly way of organizing is refreshing. 

    I believe you are intrigued. You should be. But that’s why I cannot believe you lead with a photo of someone from LarouchePAC holding up an Obama is Hitler sign (which I know is from 2009 and not now). They just show up and stand by protests to get attention. What do you do? Start an altercation? Tell them to run away? Then a fight happens and police step in? 

    And how is what you are doing with this post any different from some right winger going to a rally like “One Nation Working Together” in October last year and taking photos of only socialists and communists in attendance and then saying “Look! This is who these people really are!”?

    Your post attempts to brand them as a group inclusive of fringe lunatics who consider Obama to be Hitler. I don’t think there is any proof any serious organizers of the occupation support LarouchePAC at all.

  • [email protected]:disqus I’m not attempting to “brand” anybody in the sense you’re using that word, Kevin. If anything, I’m looking at this like a brand consultant. What do you want the brand to be? I want it to be Main Street, not Nutt Street.

    Now as to “I don’t think there is any proof any serious organizers of the occupation” — just a minute ago, you tweeted me that there WAS no serious organization. And that’s part of the problem, too: it’s incoherent, as yet. A message has got to emerge. Regular folks have got to emerge as the face of the movement. Bearded college students are valuable and have lots of energy, but they aren’t Joe and Nancy at the kitchen table.

  • Jaime Omar Yassin

    You’re right, but only to a certain extent. I think we’ve seen in the past year or two the possibility of a small cadre making space in public, then making links to groups that it wasn’t really involved with, i.e., political groups, labor, people off the street. The cadre has the connections in cyberspace, the voice, and certain controls of the public sphere, the other groups can use that, and in the end, there can be a mixing of ideals and goals in the assembly-type structure. What emerges can finally appear to be like “regular folks”, and not just in a tokenized way. However, I think in this case, the occupying people are going to have to throw out those lassoes and links, rather than simply have people spontaneously join them. There are bigger ideological barriers for “regular people” in this country in terms of public organizing and spectacle than in others.

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