(Part II — Start Your Own Freaking Movement Then)
I’m so tired of hearing wannabe armchair know-it-alls and negative critics bitching about how the Occupiers are running their own protest. First, observers were mad that the protesters wouldn’t boil the movement down to succinct bullet-point demands that would allow them to cynically, glibly, shallowly treat the very big and complicated problems that our country is facing. Then, they wanted to tell protesters how they should conduct their direct actions: don’t block traffic or destroy property or be rude or obscene. Also, they wanted to make them leave their children at home (please don’t undermine the authoritarian indoctrination we are trying to give them) and stop looking weird. The last part kills me. Essentially, the critics didn’t have a beef with the protester’s thoughtful statements about politics and the influence of money on our society today. Rather, they were disturbed that this intelligent insight was coming from someone who didn’t comb their hair, wore a cape and/or a mask, or was covered in tattoos. The observers prefer that you look “normal,” thank you, and we appreciate your strict cooperation. Yes, please look legitimate when denouncing corporate America. We can’t stand to look at you…er, listen to you otherwise. Of course, a good number of the critics were, all the while, demanding protesters get jobs too, because bums protesting would be yucky and un-American.
To these obnoxious and annoying voices I want to say: “If you don’t like it, start your own freaking protest.” Be better organized and look/smell better and be effective. If you can fix the inequalities we face today, do it! Then, the Occupiers won’t need to be on the streets and they’ll go home. Show them how respectability does it. Damn.
But, I think you won’t. I think you won’t get your lazy butts up and actually do anything. I think you’d rather pick and complain. Honestly, I’d love to have you add your voices — or even drown the Occupiers out if it means you can accomplish what they can’t. The thing is, I think this is part of what the protesters have to do: they have to annoy you so badly that you gripe about it, and gripe about it, and gripe about it — just like you have been. They have to goad you into saying publicly that you agree with their message, even as you complain about their methods. What you are doing then is actually giving the movement its armchair legitimacy and taking the conversation from the streets where the protesters are living it and putting it in offices and meeting rooms and on talk shows. Even as you sniff at the protesters in doing so, you are repackaging the message so that politicians cannot avoid it. The government can clear parks and arrest protesters; it can’t censor MSNBC, CNN or Fox pundits as they cover the story and pester candidates with questions about the protests and responses. It also can’t keep citizens from blowing up Twitter about what’s going on or engaging in millions of conversations about it — even if derisive — with friends and colleagues across the country. In your own little curmudgeonly way then, critics, you are being part of the movement. Welcome to it.
Consider yourselves the 21st century versions of E.B. White. When the Bonus Army marched to D.C. in the 1930’s, White was sympathetic but critical of what the protesters were doing. Writing in The New Yorker, he expressed his own concerns that something of the greatness of the country was gone. It was still rich, he thought, but unemployment had broken the spirits of millions of men and this loss was as crushing as any ruined crop or wasted resources. However, White also dismissed the protesters as a special interest whose terrible condition separated them from their fellow Americans, who were not in the same boat. Feel sorry for the unemployed, he said, but don’t identify with them, Middle Class. Their pains are not yours; you have your own concerns on which you must focus. In short, White rejected the notion that it was the system that was broken, as so many others thought in looking at the country in the midst of the Great Depression.
Of course, many did look at the staggering unemployment and housing foreclosures and shuttered businesses then and concluded that the problem must have been the way the Wall Street fat cats and financiers had played the market on spec and banks had played fast and loose with reserves in the search for profits and corporations had responded to the downturn by slashing jobs and heartlessly forcing men onto the streets. It was completely credible for many to see this as a sign that the market had cruel intentions and the only party who could rein it in and force it to work for the betterment of all citizens was a strong regulatory government. Today, the absolute failure of safeguards to protect the market from the harmful effects of the greedy elite leads many again to question if it is the system itself that is the problem. Tired of being manipulated by the few and forced out of the political process that would help them respond to powerful interests, protesters see no other choice but to change the venue and work outside the system. I don’t know what’s so hard to get about that. Yet, critics and pundits keep complaining that protesters aren’t using the political process as they feel they should and expressing their discomfort in the face of recalcitrants who have had enough of the mendacity of the myth of the American Dream and are taking to the streets.
So, you critics and pundits who delusively believe you are so wise or expert in managing revolutions, you are today’s sympathetic but exclusive E.B. Whites. You think you are not one of these people on the streets — that you do not share a common tyranny (as White called it) with them. The truth is, you are more like them than you are the Koch brothers. It is just your snobbery that prevents you from promoting your self-interest here. If you can’t get over your middle class sensibilities and separate respectability from righteousness in your minds, you will never really be part of the movement. That’s okay, though. Keep doing what you’re doing and wrinkle your noses at those who see discomfort and disruptiveness as completely legitimate costs of fomenting change. You know in your hearts — and in your minds — that the protesters’ complaints are legitimate and that they are ultimately helping millions of Americans retake a political process that has squeezed them out in favor of the rich and powerful. That’s why you complain but you still sympathize. You retain your decency. Thank you for that, but feel free to do more. And, if you think you can do better, let us see it!