Occupy Wall Street: The Endgame?

I am a strong believer in rule of law as a pillar of a free society. But, as I’ve also said (e.g., regarding Al-Awlaki’s killing), there are other valid concerns too.

Mayor Bloomberg, in ousting the Wall Street protesters from their encampment, was asserting the rule of law. The right to free expression does not include the right to live in a public park (preventing others from enjoying it; not to mention the other sorts of public nuisances the occupation entailed.)

Photo by Lucas Jackson, Reuters

We have the same issue here in Albany, with “occupiers” in a local park. The Governor wants to enforce curfew laws and evict them; but the local D.A., David Soares, doesn’t want to prosecute.

I am no fan of “Occupy Wall Street.” I don’t approve of dividing us between 99% and 1% or any other percentages, especially when the minority is deemed the enemy of the rest. The notion of “enemies of the people” has a foul historical odor that should make us cringe.

There’s also the idea that the rich get their wealth at the expense of the poor; that people who are struggling economically are struggling because a few have monopolized wealth. That is simply incorrect as an economic diagnosis.

And the idea that “profit” is a dirty word, that profits are a form of theft, and corporations make too much profit. (If so, how come my shares in big corporations have done so poorly?) “Corporation” may be a dirty word too – but if you think about it for two seconds, the vast bulk of what you buy from corporations you’re altogether happy to get, for what you pay. That is the essence of the “capitalism” the protesters denounce.

The Occupy movement casts itself as the mirror-image of the Tea Partiers, both manifestations of populist anger. But notice how different the two are in their modus operandi.

The Tea Partiers never “occupied” anything. Instead, they aimed their efforts directly at the political process, organizing as activist voters, supporting and opposing candidates according to their stances. They believed in America as a democracy. And certainly they gained considerable success, in the number of candidates elected, and the resulting impact on the course of events in Washington.

The “Occupy” movement, in contrast, seems to be engaged in an exercise in ‘sixties nostalgia, reprising the era of street protests. The absence here of actual political activity is striking – as though just demanding change can somehow make it happen, with nary a thought to what steps might be taken to actually achieve it. (Never mind the lack of clarity on just what changes they seek.) But I have the sense that (unlike the Tea Party), they don’t actually believe they can achieve anything.

Besides, if they did envision some alteration in corporate behavior, why not at least occupy a corporate headquarters (like their ‘60s forebears occupied campus administration buildings)? Or if there’s some legislative fix, why not occupy a capitol building? But no – they’ve occupied parks!

Today, it’s the stock exchange. Obvious symbolism, but this too seems misdirected. How is this kind of agitprop going to advance their goals (as the Tea Party’s political action did advance its goals)?

The "Bonus Army," 1932

But, for all I’ve said, I do not approve of what Mayor Bloomberg did, or Governor Cuomo’s stance. Their efforts to invoke small-beer legal provisions, using armed force, to thwart a mass political movement, seem un-American to me. The heavy-handed manner of the NYC police action, in the dead of night, trashing the protesters possessions, was a brutal evocation of the shameful 1932 assault on the “bonus army” encampment in Washington, DC.

Again, rule of law is important, but is not everything. Freedom of expression is also a vitally important value, and in balancing between the two, I would bend over backwards in favor of free expression, with great care to avoid repressing it. In cases like “Occupy” I would make every effort to work with the protesters to find a resolution that would enable them peaceably to do their thing. I would certainly strive to avoid action that might be seen as confirming the idea of an American ruling class oppressing and stifling the proletariat. That, indeed, is not the America I know and love.

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One Response to “Occupy Wall Street: The Endgame?”

  1. Kim Draiss Says:

    I don’t believe it. I actually agree with EVERY word you wrote. (Maybe I’m coming down with something…)

    [FSR: Perhaps you missed where I said it’s actually religious believers who go to Hell and atheists who go to Heaven.]

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