Thursday, October 27, 2011

This "Occupy" Joke Is Getting Dangerously Serious

With all due respect to the people on the front lines, the “Occupy Movement” is not only a joke, it’s also an insult to the traditions of American democracy and to our ancestors who fought and died to preserve them. That isn’t to say this “Occupy” thing won’t become serious or that more our fellow Americans won’t be hurt in the process, but there is no way to deny that it started as a goof.

Back in July, a Vancouver-based counter-culture magazine called “AdBusters” and its Media Foundation (which describes itself as a “global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age” and whose goal is to “topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century”) thought it might be interesting to apply the “Arab Spring” model to a problem and a public space in the U.S.

The way they put it, “A worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics is underway right now that bodes well for the future…The beauty of this new formula, and what makes this novel tactic exciting, is its pragmatic simplicity: we talk to each other in various physical gatherings and virtual people's assemblies, we zero in on what our one demand will be…and then we go out and seize a square of singular symbolic significance and put our asses on the line to make it happen. The time has come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America. On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.”

Putting aside the sheer, Underpants Gnomes ridiculousness of it and the fact that they got maybe 1,000 people to camp out, there is one obvious problem with the plan: A “global network” can’t lay claim to anything in these United States, whether it’s “our democracy” or “a square of singular symbolic significance.” Only pranksters take to the streets in protest “for a few months,” and as any American campaign worker knows, people who truly believe in making lasting change don’t book round-trip tickets.

When they set out to get Americans fired up about economic inequality, the clowns at AdBusters didn’t understand the sleeping giant they aimed to awaken. America is the only country in the world founded on an idea, not an identity – and a big part of that idea is that everyone gets a fair shake. Those Canadian pranksters and their global network of promoters couldn’t know that three decades of policy-enabled wealth hoarding and the psychotic search for the “four-and-a-half-cent nickel” has left a generation of young people questioning the very idea of America. These foreign hipsters didn’t understand how dangerous their little stunt was because their detachment from the economic problems our nation faces affords them the luxurious perspective of students conducting a sociological experiment on our streets.

After Scott Olsen, a man sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, was shot in the face by a man sworn to protect and serve the people of the city of Oakland, California, we should all understand how dangerous this “Occupy” thing truly is – and that it’s not funny any more. Because none of them have any idea why they’re doing it, it’s time for the “occupiers” to go home.

In many ways, the “Occupy Wall Street” protest experiment is like the candidacy and presidency of Barack Obama – which is to say that it can be whatever you want it to be, but it will disappoint you if you refuse to see it for what it actually is. The closest to the truth is the way it will be seen in New York City; which is as a story about a bunch of people who camped out in the park until the free food ran out, their parents made them come home for Thanksgiving, the NYPD moved them out, or the wind off the Hudson River drove them indoors. It was entertaining to watch, but we can’t have mobs of people roaming the streets – and life goes on (New Yorkers never kid themselves). What makes it important is the way in which it perfectly demonstrates the failure of Baby Boomers and the so-called “Greatest Generation” to speak the truth to the generations that followed them.

Anyone who has tried it knows that direct democracy doesn’t work, can’t work, and isn’t necessary in a representative democracy. To allow these committed young people to believe otherwise is cynical and exploitative. The protesters don’t need the patronizing support of former hippies any more than they need the pornographers of the professional left using them as a backdrop to proselytize for their cause-of-the-week or phony, newly discovered populism. What they need is for someone to fill in the elusive Stage Two that neither the Underpants Gnomes nor the AdBusters people could put their proverbial fingers on; the thing they called “a demand that awakens the imagination and, if achieved, would propel us toward the radical democracy of the future.”

I’ve got you covered, merry little pranksters, so pay attention:

It is disgraceful that the next generation of young Americans to vote in every election from the age of eighteen will be the first generation of young Americans to vote in every election from the age of eighteen. The most radical thing that can happen to American democracy is to introduce the energy and ideas of tens of millions of new voters to a system primarily designed to accommodate and serve them. The “First Generation Project” would seek to register 17-year-olds to vote while they’re still seniors in high school, and encourage them to vote in elections at every level of government. The participation of The First Generation would fundamentally change the focus and direction of public policy and federal spending – and there is no organization in the world that can move markets and advance ideas on the same scale of the United States government. With the cooperation of Generation X, Generation Y, and the Millenials, the First Generation will, literally, change the world.

In terms of a policy agenda to get behind (because any lasting change comes through public policy), it makes no sense for Election Day to be a workday or for it to be held on a Tuesday. A federal law should be passed moving Election Day to Monday, and making it a federal holiday. This would dramatically increase turnout as well as early voting, and would give poll workers a big head start in counting ballots. It would provide participation in our democracy with at least as much media coverage as an event like Final Four or the Super Bowl, and it would have all the added economic benefits of a four-day weekend – which could be particularly good for tourism in Washington, D.C.

Of course, none of these ideas are as important as the fact that there are riots in American streets because of a prank dreamed up by some phony, foreign counter-culture wannabe revolutionaries – and we need to get our young people home where they’re safe.

The time has come to end the “Occupy” movement as it has existed for the past month-and-a-half and move into its next phase. In Act Two, the protesters return – but they have mercy on their overburdened local first responders and re-locate to the public space our federal government provides for just this kind of thing, the National Mall (conveniently located on the front steps of Congress). Unlike the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street, which at last check was working on a statement that rejects government, the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party as “bought,” the Occupy Congress protesters are smart enough to work within our centuries-old system of government by building alliances to pass a law making Election Day a federal holiday and a Monday. Then, unlike the Occupy Wall Street protesters who didn’t stop until people got hurt, they’ll know when to go home – and they’ll have work to do (registering high school seniors for the First Generation Project) when they get there.


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