Yesterday, I paid a visit firsthand to Occupy Boston, the local branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’ve been writing and talking about economics and politics for a while and about the Occupy movement, so I figured it was time to do some primary, field research and go there myself. So what did I find?
First, the Occupy movement is certainly diverse. Take a look at this short, incomplete laundry list of issues:
- Corporate taxation
- CORI/Background Check Discrimination
- Workers’ Rights
- Gun Laws
- Political Corruption
- White Supremacy
- Disparities in Education
- Budget Cuts
- Bank Bailouts
- Voter Fraud
- Affordable Housing
- Corporate Crime
- State/Individual Sovereignty
- Foreign Wars
- Religious Intolerance
- 9/11 Conspiracy Coverup
The criticism that the Occupy movement doesn’t stand for anything is patently false. The reality is, based on conversations I had and the piles of brochures and other things I was given by volunteers is that the Occupy movement stands for far too much, so much so that it doesn’t know what it is.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the movement completely lacks focus. With a laundry list of issues that long, there has to be some common ground. For example, people cited Arab Spring in conversation, but they neglected to realize that Arab Spring movements had a very clear set of targets: Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Qaddafi, etc. In each case, the target was the incumbent sovereign government that created conditions of structural inequality or injustice.
The second takeaway from Occupy? They’ve done a good job of identifying the problems (as you can see from the partial list above) that are totally valid and worth addressing. But because they have no common focus, no common ground, they also have no set of solutions to advocate for. Again, going back to Arab Spring, the common ground was clear: get rid of the guy in charge. I talked to two volunteers (who requested that I not reprint any identifying information) who, when asked how they’d solve the problems that Occupy is addressing, shrugged and said that they weren’t sure, but something had to be done.
A third volunteer said that we had to end corrupt government, end the power of corporations, and redistribute the wealth accrued by our corporate/government complex. When I gently suggested that that was the effective goal of communism, the gentleman I was talking to loudly protested, “I’m no goddamn communist. I’m a ****ing American!” I gave up at that point trying to explain that communism was an economic system, not a political one, and that communism can work on some scales and in some contexts. (Israeli kibbutzim are one such example of successful communism)
This is the third takeaway from the Occupy movement, one they’ve self-identified as an issue for their members. In order to more effectively articulate what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed, they need to get better educated about economics and politics. Of the five people I talked to, none had even a basic grasp of the difference between Keynesian and Austrian economics, which are the two effective viewpoints being promoted by various political sects today. For those not keeping score, the Democrats tend to lean more Keynesian, and the Republicans (especially Ron Paul’s ideological base) lean towards Austrian.
The bottom line for the Occupy movement is that it’s got a lot of energy. The people in it have their hearts in the right place as the political, economic, and social issues at the heart of the movement are very real. That said, it needs to get better educated and better marketed in order for it to resonate deeply with the average person and give them something to aim their discontent at.
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