So we’re into the third week of the protests in New York, and the annoyance of the status quo players is really starting to shine through. Their problem with this whole deal seems to be confusion. What do they want? Where’s their list of demands? What do you mean they have no leaders? I think those folks in New York have hit onto something. Without a clear leader to attack or buy off, without detailed lists of policy changes they can refute, the powers that be can’t figure out how to respond. So the fallback position seems to be simply to demonize the group as an undirected mess. It’s anything but, however.
The mainstream media is as confused as anyone. They have no idea how to portray this nascent movement. Without clear soundbites on specific positions, the press is unable to use their dismissive stock and trade, that being writing a story that’s little more than competing soundbites. Lacking a clear position from the protesters, they are unable to find someone to quote saying the exact opposite and call it journalism. So, more often than not, they’ve just ignored the whole affair. It doesn’t fit neatly into the socio-political dynamic they’re comfortable with and earn their livings on, so they have no idea how to cover it.
There are no clear leaders in New York because this is the very essence of a democratic exercise. Every day, protesters meet in quorums to openly discuss issues relating to the protest and larger concerns. Every one involved has a voice and is included in the discussions. We’ve seen how easily our “leaders” are corrupted, just look at the President who currently bears little resemblance to the man who was elected. Recently, he’s been talking tougher but it’s pretty obviously a reelection campaign strategy. He doesn’t really want these policies to pass, and he’s counting on GOP obstruction to frame next year’s election. And once he wins, it’ll be right back to four more years of G.W. Bush-extended. We all see it, and we all now know that’s how it’ll be. It’s no wonder that confusion about the motivations of the protesters rein, we haven’t seen legitimate democratic activities like these in a long time in this country.
Why is their no list of demands? Well, for one thing, this is a peaceful protest, not a hostage negotiation. And specificity would only serve to dilute the message. If the group comes out to say “We demand you tax the rich,” would that change anything? Even if the government capitulates and does it, would that solve our problems? Not even close. End the wars? Nope. Jail the bankers? No way. Don’t cut Social Security? Nada. Affordable health care for all? Not in the least. Specific policy positions no longer serve any purpose. We have an overall systemic problem.
We could argue all day over detailed political positions, and even if every one this protest group supports gets enacted, that still isn’t enough, it still won’t cure the rot corrupting the heart of our once great democracy. No, our problems go far beyond simple (or even complicated) policy issues. These people in New York seem to understand that in a way the politicians, corporations, interest groups and the media don’t. Hence, they just don’t understand or know how to deal with a protest that isn’t based on a catchy slogan or in direct opposition to a specific law or policy action that can be summed up on a tee shirt or bumper sticker.
Eventually, inevitably, there will be real changes advocated from this. But for now, it’s far more important to show that we, the people aren’t powerless. We can gather together, we can create a voice capable of shouting down the din of the corporate-political moneyed interests and the media that serves them. Once the people on a large scale understand that, we can bring about progress on our own, regardless of and in spite of the institutions that have controlled and pacified us for so long. Then real, effective, long-term change can occur.
This protest, and the others like it springing up around the country, are about that awareness. They’re not pushing for a vote on an agenda, or tax reform, or regulations, or stimulus bills, or bailouts. Those issues are just the means used to divide and conquer us all. Once we get past the petty divisions separating us, then and only then can the changes we truly need come about. That’s what Occupy Wall Street is about.