The Occupy movement’s loosely articulated goals and sentiments have apparently moved across the pond once again this week, first to Spain then to Greece where Unions are protesting the new austerity measures imposed by the government in an effort to re-assure their ‘rescue’ creditors. Spain is currently in a double dip recession with an unemployment rate of 25% while in Greece 50.8% of workers under 25 are unemployed. A CNN iReporter in Greece, Costas Liveris, said “I’m furious because even after the elections we got promises but nothing [from the government],” he said. “It’s the same policy but just a different party.”
Are these protests Occupy movements? I don’t think so since these groups were protesting in direct response to actions that were impacting, or were expected to impact immediately, the quality of their every day life. In both Spain and Greece people were in the streets, protesting in anger and out of real fear. The Greece protest was organized by unions, the more spontaneous ones in Spain appeared to be in response to additional austerity measures planned by the government. In Spain people have resorted in recent weeks to scavenging from trash bins in some neighborhoods as their unemployment benefits have run out and they find themselves living with friends or ‘squatting in buildings that still have water and electricity’.
Here in this country we still have a relatively low unemployment rate of about 8%, people here are in no way experiencing the imminent threat of a continuing downward spiral in our economy with no likelihood of improvement. In contrast to the European protests the Occupy movement here was fomented on rather abstract ideas about who to blame and who to hold accountable for the financial crisis of 2008, without any concrete or well articulated objectives to provide focus for either the participants or the observers. As such the movement gathered supporters from both the far right and far left and everywhere in between. Kenneth Minogue has said of such movements, “An ideological movement is a collection of people many of whom could hardly bake a cake, fix a car, sustain a friendship or a marriage, or even do a quadratic equation, yet they believe they know how to rule the world…” I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. But it’s not the whole story or maybe not even the most important part of the story. The only people who are usually available for long-term protests are students, those not fully employed and those who are retired, and of course those who are professional agitators. Short term protesters are more likely to resemble rest of us. Don’t get me wrong, I am one of the 99% and I believe in peaceful protest. It is a tool, a useful tactic in a democracy as part of a strategy for change or to bring issues to the attention of the public in a forceful way.
Minogue has also recently observed, “The most difficult of all tasks is making sense of one’s own time. Often, the problem is trying to understand why people – especially institutions – continue repeating the same self-destructive things they have gone on doing for so long. Why, for example, did 14th-century French chivalry lose battles by sheer mindless bravado?” he asks. And then he tells us why. “The French chivalry were supreme in the arts of the tournament, and they thought that a battle was just a tournament on a grand scale.” They misjudged the scope of the arena, they misread the context their actions inhabited.
This in a nutshell is the problem in assessing any current movement, either as a participant or as an observer. Especially for a movement as nebulous as Occupy. They claim to represent the ‘people’s views’ and to promote ‘need over greed’. How do they measure that? How do you know if they have made any progress? What are the political goals? For any one who has not been paying attention this is a well financed movement here in the States. So what do the ‘financiers’ hope to gain? Do they hope to turn this movement into a political movement with measurable objectives much as the Tea Party has done?
The Occupy Denver and Occupy Washington D.C. are planning to Occupy the Debates. Yes, the Presidential debates. They will be protesting for the ‘people’ and against the ‘two corporate parties’. Planned activities include doing a survey, having a People’s Forum with live entertainment, Poetry Slams and “opportunities to share stories and a People’s Dialogue to discuss the top issues that are chosen in the survey”. Sounds almost like fun; does not seem to carry any great risk with it or any significant outlay of work. Sounds almost like a sixties Sit In doesn’t it? They too seem to have been caught up, victims if you will, of the wrong framework.
So, why Occupy?
Why Occupy when every city in this country is full to over flowing with opportunities for civic-minded people to make a real and lasting difference? The list of organizations who need volunteers to do real work, with real people, for real change is immense.
Why Occupy when you could be Useful?
This post was written in response to the Daily Post Challenge Mind The Gap
- Occupy Wall Street: Isn’t it interesting (cloudandmountain.com)
- Tactics of Waste, Dirt and Discard in the Occupy Movement: A Photo Essay (discardstudies.wordpress.com)
- Strike in Greece (theredskweekly.wordpress.com)