17 thoughts on “Want to join the Occupy Wall Street protest? UPDATE

  1. Am I the only one who feels uncomfortable with the idea of lending my support to an effort when I don’t really know what it’s about? Anyone care to clarify what the protests are all about or make an argument for joining in without understanding?

  2. I don’t think you’re alone, ebeth. The vagueness of the motives and goals of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon are mentioned in almost every news story I read in the NYT, Toronto Star, and London Guardian coverage. But I also see in the most recent coverage that some of the protestors have clarified what the protests are about, at least to some of them, given the “manifesto” found here: http://nycga.cc/2011/09/30/declaration-of-the-occupation-of-new-york-city/

    As I posted a few days ago, there’s also some sense of the motivations of the “We are the 99 percent” available on this rather affecting and moving blog: http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/

    (I don’t think you’ll find anyone offering an argument for joining in without understanding — were you serious about that request?)

  3. I was wary of joining without knowing what moveon has planned, so I used a pseudonym and an gmail email address that does not have my name. I actually thought this was my paranoia from student days, but it is also the case that my university frowns, to say the least, on using university resources for political campaigns, and that includes my email account.

    I thought I wouldn’t share my concerns about not kmowing, since one does not have to do anything. They might plan, for example, something that I think may be illegal or harmful to ordinary people, and my signing up iss hardly a commitment to go do it.

    Greatlake sociallist, this is the second time this week that I’ve worried that there may be something upsidedown about Australia.

  4. Thanks for the info. I am not concerned about the lack of demands/mission/organization. Occupy Wall Street is an expression of profound disenfranchisement. The young, the jobless, the ones without power are given a voice in numbers.

  5. @ebeth Don’t worry, I thought the same thing. I’m not signing up for anything, pseudonym or not unless I know exactly what I’m doing.

    @annejjacobson It plays havoc with your blood circulation.

  6. @profbigk, Thanks for the links. This is helpful to clarify a bit what is at stake. The media have (intentionally or not) been doing a fairly poor job of giving any sense of what’s going on to those of us who can’t be there to see for ourselves.
    What I meant about joining in without understanding was something close to the sentiment CJ Anton expressed. There may be good reasons to involve yourself with a movement even if the movement doesn’t have clear cut goals or organization. I myself am wary of things I don’t understand (if the movement does start pushing for specific reforms what if they are reforms I think will only make things worse?), but its quite possible there are convincing reasons to put aside my concerns and lend a hand anyway.

    @CJ Anton, I appreciate the sentiment. The “We Are the 99%” blog is incredibly moving.

    @greatlakesocialist, glad to hear I’m not the only skeptic. There is little I can do from my current geographical location anyway.

  7. Agreed, ebeth, the media have been both scattered and belated in their coverage and background reporting! It’s been odd to watch this unfold.

  8. Agreed, ebeth, the media have been both scattered and belated in their coverage and background reporting! It’s been odd to watch this unfold.

  9. The Occupy Wall Street manifesto, which was also linked in one of the other FP threads, at least attempts to put some of the grievances into words. However, the grievances raise more questions than they answer.

    Some appear to be of questionable coherence or doubtful accuracy (corporations have none of the culpability or responsibilities of people?).

    Some are too obscure to deduce the actual allegation of fact (corporations use the military and police to prevent freedom of the press?).

    Some are so obviously expressions of partisan ideology – in a few cases, not particularly widely shared ideology – that it was probably improper to purport to present them as facts on behalf, impliedly, of “the 99%”.

    Some of them seem to reflect notional difficulties in grasping the nature of a body corporate and the relation it bears to actual living, breathing people.

    Almost all of it makes one wonder what real benefit can be gained from characterizing “corporations” in such a monolithic way, any more than you would characterize “people” similarly and protest on that basis. Even once you strip out all the loaded terms (“murder”, “hostage” etc.), and even retaining acts that large groups of people wouldn’t find especially objectionable, I would be very surprised if there were any single corporation in America that had engaged in even half of these acts, and extremely few corporations indeed that could plausibly be linked to more than a quarter or so of them. (Maybe the other corporations should be suing for defamation?)

    Most importantly, you will search the manifesto in vain for an intelligible set of demands, much less the raw material for a policy argument.

    There are a handful of instances where the expression of the grievance is such that at least one possible rational demand is implied (e.g., let’s outlaw corporate political contributions, or enforce product liability laws better). But for most of them it’s not clear at all what the drafters propose be done about it. Until they do, I suppose one shouldn’t jump to conclusions and try to resist the strong urge to wonder whether the solution (if any) these drafters have in mind for some of these grievances wouldn’t be worse than the status quo or trample on the rights of others in the process.

    I’d note that if you compare the manifesto to the complaints of the people on the “We Are the 99%” blog, not only is it unclear how a good many of the manifesto grievances relate to the situations of the people on the blog, but one may plausibly speculate that a number of them would be worse off without certain of those corporate behaviours complained of – however obliquely – by the manifesto. For example, several folks relate tales of surviving or requiring advanced medical treatments that would likely not exist without animal medical research.

    Finally, profbigk was recently speculating that skepticism over the efficacy of protesting might be keeping protest turnout low. I doubt that the publication of the manifesto, with its relative absence of an intelligible idea of what to ask for or what to do, is going to alleviate that skepticism.

    I encourage everyone to read the manifesto in print before seeing the movie version, but for those who simply can’t wait:

  10. Nemo, everone is pinting out the conceptual disorganization, it seems. But Paul Krugman’s editorial in today’s NY Times may be right:

    A better critique of the protests is the absence of specific policy demands. It would probably be helpful if protesters could agree on at least a few main policy changes they would like to see enacted. But we shouldn’t make too much of the lack of specifics. It’s clear what kinds of things the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators want, and it’s really the job of policy intellectuals and politicians to fill in the details.

    Rich Yeselson, a veteran organizer and historian of social movements, has suggested that debt relief for working Americans become a central plank of the protests. I’ll second that, because such relief, in addition to serving economic justice, could do a lot to help the economy recover. I’d suggest that protesters also demand infrastructure investment — not more tax cuts — to help create jobs. Neither proposal is going to become law in the current political climate, but the whole point of the protests is to change that political climate.

    And there are real political opportunities here. Not, of course, for today’s Republicans, who instinctively side with those Theodore Roosevelt-dubbed “malefactors of great wealth.” Mitt Romney, for example — who, by the way, probably pays less of his income in taxes than many middle-class Americans — was quick to condemn the protests as “class warfare.”

  11. I agree with Krugman that we should expect “policy intellectuals” to “work out the details” but only up to a point. I don’t really understand how the movers and shakers of Occupy Wall Street have organized themselves, but did the manifesto drafters include no such intellectuals? Given the massive amounts of student debt the 99% have racked up, I kind of expected that the protest could muster a somewhat more wonkish voice.

    There should at least be a coherent vision. The anti-Vietnam War protests at least had a basic solution in mind, even if the devil was in the details. Or take the US Declaration of Independence, which I believe inspired some of the structure of the Occupy Wall Street manifesto. There, at least the grievances were specific, could all plausibly be laid at the feet of an identifiable target (King George), and could all in theory be addressed by a proposed solution that was simple in principle (independence) albeit extremely complex in execution. That’s the kind of protest that gives huge numbers of people cause to believe that it might accomplish some good.

    Don’t get me wrong – there’s clearly something to be complained about here. The people in the “99%” blog, for example, are undeniably in a bad way. But they appear to be just as clueless as Occupy Wall Street about how they got there and what feasible policies would be conducive to collectively getting them out. One could be forgiven for worrying that the grievances of the 99% are not under the surest stewardship if the stewards are the manifesto drafters.

    Speaking of debt, which Krugman alludes to, one of the most common laments on the “99%” blog is about student loan burdens. It would be interesting to have a Feminist Philosophers thread devoted to that issue.

  12. I shall chew on how to write a post about student loan burdens, Nemo. I have long been anxious about mine, although the 99% blog sure has put my problems into perspective.

    You really mean it when you say those visibly suffering on the 99% blog appear clueless about how they got there? They seem quite eloquent about how they got there, or at least many/most do to me.

  13. PBK, I didn’t mean they’re not aware of the most proximate causes of their problems. They do talk eloquently about unemployment, underemployment, excessive debt, business going under, adverse decisions by their banks and insurers, and so forth. But that’s at the micro level, if you like. I guess I was referring to the macro causes, the ones many levels above that. And I don’t blame them, because even the “policy intellectuals and politicians” (in Krugman’s phrase) disagree about a lot of that.

  14. One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

    Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

    Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

    To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

    “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”


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