Seattle has been occupied. Tacoma has been occupied. Good heavens, even Puyallup has been occupied.
If nothing else, Occupy Wall Street is a triumph of branding. Any collection of individuals with gripes about the status quo can call itself an “Occupy,” lay claim to some public space and instantly be anointed part of the international phenomenon begun by a group of enterprising protesters in Manhattan.
A mass protest of some kind was inevitable in the current pit of economic distress and widespread joblessness. There are legions of exceedingly unhappy people out there. To its credit, Occupy Wall Street has emphasized nonviolence; eruptions of public rage in years past have often degenerated into arson and angry mobs.
But as many have pointed out, this is a movement that isn’t moving in any clear direction. That’s the downside of letting everyone and every grievance on board.
The common denominator of “Occupy Wall Street” is populist anger about economic predators, the Gordon Gekkos of the financial world who enrich themselves in good times and bad – while the have-nots suffer. But resentment is not a policy.
Occupy Wall Street has a hard time getting more specific than that. No one has the authority to speak for the organization because there is no organization.
Factions within Occupy are opposed – to varying degrees – to investment banks, currency manipulators, obscenely overpaid CEOs, corrupt politicians, corporations in general, pollution, global warming, student debt, war, war-profiteering, the Electoral College, inequality, poverty and who knows what else.
Factions are in favor of banning private campaign contributions, capping carbon emissions, pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, legalizing drugs, reversing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (not a bad idea, actually), and on and on.
In general, if you can’t sum up a movement’s goals in a few precise words – e.g., “shrink government,” “ban abortion, “all power to the Soviets,” “remember the Alamo” – it will sputter out for lack of cohesion.
Being against fat cats and for underdogs doesn’t make it unless everyone signs on to something concrete. As John Lennon once sang, “You say you got a real solution, well you know, we’d all love to see the plan.”
As a primal scream, though, Occupy Wall Street has succeeded. Some screaming is healthy in a misery like this. The world is out of joint. Millions are out of work while the masters of the universe flourish. Change is needed. Ninety-nine percent of the country may not want the status quo shaken up, but close enough.