Michael Drew, in the comments:
First the knock was that they’d never last. Now the problem seems to be that they hung on too long and things got a little ripe. I would counsel patience, Erik (if you are inclined – if you once thought there was potential here). I think you simply do not know the extent to which evolution is or isn’t taking place (and neither do I). I understand your reaction here, but I do think it’s fair to say that your observational-analytic metabolism is running at a high speed where this movement is concerned. If the early criticisms were that it would not last the winter and that would be a pitifully short life for an insurgent political movement, then how can we say that failing to evolve and grow up before the middle of November shows fatal sluggishness, sloth, and disrepair? It seems to me that phase one has run its course, and now assessment and change are the order of the day. But perhaps you are simply done. If so, you seem to be embracing your deflation pretty willingly and soaking up your expected praise from comfortable quarters for it…
And it seems odd to me to now become disillusioned with this movement’s flaws after declaring oneself broadly sympathetic to their message, when the flaws have been so apparent from the start, and to arrive at despair over the movement’s capacity for change and maturation only as the first real inflection point in its trajectory is being reached.
None of this is to say I’m much more optimistic than Erik about the movement’s future, (though I think he completely fails to note the very real points the movement has already put on the scoreboard in terms of changing the conversation, which might be durable), but it is to say that I don’t see the reason to change my fundamental approach to this group that Erik apparently sees to change his.
A couple points in response.
I have never been very keen on populism. It’s always been a concern for me even if I understand and value the importance of protest and dissent. So whenever there’s a movement like this or the Tea Party or whatever, unless there is some deeply profound moral issue at play (think segregation and the Civil Rights movement) I tend to approach it with a certain amount of wariness and cautious optimism. Perhaps this is my inherent conservatism bubbling up to the surface. I suppose I just worry about the mob mentality. Democracy is all well and good until someone loses their head.
Furthermore, I think that many of us are actually saying the same thing: the movement needs to mature and evolve. Yes, many people wondered if it would last the winter, but many people also wondered whether it would be a smart enough movement to realize that the weather isn’t the issue. A movement is more than a physical space, and I think OWS has foundered on the breakers of its own stubborn insistence that to continue they must continue to physically occupy somewhere.
The internet and social-networking tools available to a movement are more important in this situation than retaking a physical space. Unless you are actually trying to overthrow the state then a physical occupation is pretty secondary in the long-term. This is not Egypt or Syria, and unless the Occupy movement is attempting to do what they did in the Arab spring I fail to see what use the occupations have at this point, at least as a permanent and, yawn, rather boring feature. The trick is transforming the movement into more than a physical space while remaining in the public conversation. I admit, this is the tough part. Leaders in the movement should be working on it 24/7.
I don’t particularly care about what the OWS folks decide to do. I’m glad they shifted the conversation to economic inequality, but I think the lack of a serious set of alternatives to the current system is in a sense doing more harm than good at this point. People mostly want jobs, so perhaps it’s time for OWS to hone its message down to jobs. Right now the conversation has largely shifted to the ne’er-do-wells within the movement. Bad apples and such. This is unfortunate, but the movement’s business model left it wide open to this sort of public opinion meltdown.
One further thought on the crumbling of the occupations themselves. I think a lot of people will say this proves that a voluntary society can’t work. This may be true. But I would add that a voluntary system cannot work if all it does is exist on the charity of others. There needs to be a system of production, of self-subsistence, of growth and so forth. For that you need some bedrock of property rights.
The OWS folks occupied public spaces that then were no longer available to others in the public. Nor was there any potential that the occupations would be anything but transitory. This undermines from the outset any reasonable expectation of a voluntary society rising up in a sustainable manner. Of course, these were only protests so the occupations themselves were merely a function not a goal. But I think many in the movement don’t realize this and that’s why you see such horror at the evacuations.
But ideas cannot be evacuated. Time to work on the ideas.