The Rise and Fall of Occupy Wall Street, Part 2: The Journey is the Destination

In the first two weeks of the protests, they achieved nothing. Their tactics seemed similar to the NYU Kimmel occupation, except for lacking explicit demands. In the next two weeks, however, they were spectacularly successful. First, a mass arrest brought them to media attention. Because they were permanent, they were a sustained news story. The media had something to talk about on a regular basis, and it was even more outrageous than the Tea Party; so, they lapped it up, and the entire country learned of the protest.

This seems to have happened out of a necessity from the way the protest was set up. Occupiers committed themselves to a 24-hour protest regime. But there is only so much protesting that can get done sitting around; so, they got up and marched through the city on a daily basis. On October 1 this march took them to the Brooklyn Bridge, where, ignoring multiple warnings from New York police, they blocked traffic, and were subsequently arrested, as a group of 700. Most of the arrested enjoyed their temporary martyr status and went right back to protesting. The fact that they did not go home after being arrested separated them from the NYU Kimmel protesters, and placed them in the hallowed realms of the civil rights movement.

After the arrest, copycat occupations began all across the United States. Their goals were twofold. First, to hold a General Assembly where all could voice their complaints. Second, to successfully “take over” and “occupy” a public space, creating a sacred space protected against the evils of capitalism that could nurture and grow the General Assembly.

This second goal annoyed some police officers, so supporters of the protests were able to talk about the difficulty of their goal and the suffering they went through to achieve it. But what happens after these goals are achieved? You’ve set up shop in a park, everyone is happy with the Assembly, your “people’s mic” is obediently bringing the message to the crowd and Twitter. Now, what does the Assembly do?

For the majority of people, this isn’t even an issue. The act of occupation, and the difficulties it raises, is the primary focus. The journey is the destination! Occupiers busy themselves distributing food and blankets, linking protesters to each other and the bathroom, recruiting new protesters, working out disagreements within the group, and making friendly contacts with lawyers, media, elected officials, and, yes, local businesses. There are always improvements that can be made in these areas.

But seriously, what happens when the occupation is working? Why are they working so hard to make it last? Speak to three occupiers, and you will get five answers. Does the protest intend to change anything, or is the act of occupation its only goal? On the secret mailing list, the webmaster of the official website leans towards the latter:

I just removed Adbusters’ verbiage about the “one demand” from the home page of It makes no sense to mention a demand that doesn’t exist.

Some disagree with her, pointing out the unprecedented nature of a protest without goals, but others agree:

Let[‘]s forget about the demand and promote what this movement already is.

We are building the community we WANT in this world. One that feeds, shelters (if we could…), and cares for all it’s members. A community that hears every voice.

What does it mean to “build a community” that separates you from the parts of the world you don’t “WANT”? Does it imply opting out of the larger community? Does it mean opting out of America itself, and building a new country in its place? The webmaster, a few weeks later, reaches such a logical conclusion:

Our job is to help the people rise up, not to have a privileged white middle class discussion about how we should ask the government should “fix” itself through abstract financial reform. I want a revolution, not another broken promise from a corrupt government.

The only demand I’ve heard so far at the GA that I felt I could get behind went something like this: Rather than demanding something from the 1%, we should make a demand of the 99%. We demand that the 99% start forming general assemblies in their own communities. We demand that the 99% organize to take back the world stolen from them by the 1%.

There we have it, straight from the horse’s mouth: even if some Occupy protesters wanted very simple change, the person who runs the website would never declare success if some mere tax or health care bill was introduced. The goal of the protest, as defined by its organizers, is to replace the government with the Assembly.

Is this an achievable goal? It may be in the future, when the failing economy is finally working people harder than they can stand. But for now, no. The situation is bad but not bad enough to inspire socialist revolution. And the Occupy movement, living large off of donations from the corporate world, is doomed to rupture and die.

Whether it dies with dignity and grabs a bit of political power — disbanding the occupation, and reforming into a Tea Party-style group that meets up on a regular basis — or whether it falls apart as a core of true believers tries to stick it out through the winter is really up to the mob at this point.

(Part 3 later.)

Posted: October 18th, 2011 | Politics 1 Comment »

One Comment on “The Rise and Fall of Occupy Wall Street, Part 2: The Journey is the Destination”

  1. 1 crow said at 2:29 am on October 23rd, 2011:

    Great stuff, and great link to where the food is coming from.
    This is all very strange.
    It would seem that all these protesters do is consume and complain. As long as the food keeps appearing, they will never move again.
    It’s like a giant food bank, where the clients get to play at build-a-civilization, while mommy, or whoever-it-is, takes care of everything else.