The belief that the masses are a power that can really influence history, or even more so, throw down the established order is part of the propaganda of the French and American Revolutions, and is one of the most effective myths of modern society. The notion that any of these movements succeed because of popular support, or rather that popular support is what determines their success allows modern “popular” governments to legitimize their existence, from the old Soviet “People’s Republics” to liberal democratic regimes of the “Free World”. The failure of the Occupy Wall street movement to electrify or mobilize people against the bureaucrats and international finance illustrates the ineffectiveness of modern political activism and the futility of public protest in several ways.
The fact is the only way a “popular movement” succeeds is when there is a tightly organized cadre behind it that mobilizes the protesters behind a brave cause, pushing it and perhaps manipulating it. But when the time comes to take the reigns, it will never be “the masses” that seizes control, but daring men who prepared and acted at the right time. Lenin’s Bolsheviks, for example, were not “workers and peasants” but a tightly organized revolutionary group with cells and hierarchy. As Kim Il-Sung, the leader of the Korean Revolution once said, “Only when the masses are organized and mobilized can they win the revolutionary struggle. Therefore, the leaders of the movement must go among the masses and awaken them so that they themselves wage the revolutionary struggle as masters.”
The “Occupy” protests, like most political activism, have hitherto leaderless and without any direction. At most, it has a few organizers here and there, but these leaders are merely a hodgepodge of misguided bourgeois students, focusing not on the important issues, but on identity politics. Protests show people bandying about causes from anything from the usual sexual deviant identity politics to things as absurd as “Cyclists Against Wall Street”. It seems the idea of unity of purpose was lost on people who preferred to make this protest about them and their interests or hang ups rather than about the genuinely negative effects international finance and the bankers are having on not just the American economy but the world economy.
Then there are the methods, and here once again the OWS failed. Without direction or clear cut leadership it was aimless, chanting here, a drum circle there, holding up signs and idling in a park. The name itself; “Occupy” in the past meant a literal military occupation, but today it just means squatting and occupying space, to the inconvenience of commuters and everyone else at best. The protestors themselves made easy fodder for the media, which picked up the most freakish looking eccentrics, or the most absurd signs to highlight. This is another factor which nearly all of these grass roots “activists” fail to grasp, especially student movements- appearance matters. Here a page should have been taken from the civil rights sit ins in the 50s and 60s. Those protestors realized the power of the media in highlighting what they were doing. They were generally told to wear their “Sunday best” to these protests so when images of these protests were broadcast across the United States and the world, they were images and footage of clean cut, well dressed and well groomed young men and women being abused. Whatever side one takes on the issue, psychologically this creates sympathy instantly for the protestor. One can also look to the political movements prior, both of nationalist and communist leanings. These generally marched wearing suits or distinctive uniforms, singing marching music or performing services for whatever cause.
What do we see at OWS and in many other protests today? We see blue hair and tattoos; strange piercings; white, middle-class college students in dredlocks dressed as if they were homeless! How can they expect to resonate with their supposed 99% audience when they carry themselves like vagabonds and derelicts? If anything, these protesters, with their ample time and disposable income are at odds with the vast majority of the working class. The average working class man here as elsewhere has very little sympathy for the activists for this reason among others but they are hardly going to join hands with eccentrics who look abnormal!
While there may be people with legitimate grievances, and even a few members of the working class among the Occupy Wall Street protesters, the vast majority of the “activists” shown do not project an air of seriousness or importance to the protests, but rather one of neglect. Neat and clean clothes, a suit and a dress perhaps, portrays an image of professionalism, seriousness, and good character. One should remember the advertising trick of using a person in a labcoat to promote a product regardless of its actual health benefits. How one appears is sometimes as important as what one says. It does not matter that the homeless looking derelict OWS is a Mensa genius, this will be lost on the bystander who has already subconsciously tuned him or her out. Of course, even trying to set such guidelines would be impossible, one would be hard-pressed to get these activists to even agree on the color of the sky let along any sort of cohesive political platform.
Not too long ago we had the bomb throwing anarchists who believed in propaganda of the deed, or revolutionary outlaws organized underground. These men, for better or worse, at least were willing to burn for their views. Today our self styled revolutionaries believe squatting in a park and holding up placards will change the world. Any comparisons to the media manufactured “Arab spring” or any protest movements of that sort, even, must be dismissed. Whatever legitimate grievances say, Libyan protestors may have had initially, their protests were hardly “peaceful” and certainly peaceful protestors don’t come to possess predator drones and NATO armaments that quickly.
The media didn’t have to work hard to portray the OWS protesters as misguided or obnoxious, while those in the Middle East, especially the manufactured ones in Libya and Syria were romanticized with constant unverified accounts
(continuing today in Syria) of atrocities against the population by pro government militias and soldiers. The reason for the “success” of such protests is outside interference, subversion and opportunistic elements in the military taking advantage of the situation. These “protests” are simply outright rebellions/military coups funded by and probably directed by western powers to destabilize and remove governments that are not pliable enough to suit them. The same thing happened in a way in 1989 to Nicolai Ceausescu where public protests ended in his kangaroo court trial and execution by elements of the military. Had these protests carried on they did without the military overthrowing Ceausescu for example, the result would have been similar to Tiananmen Square or the periodic protests in Myanmarover the last few decades.
Without serious outside support and organization, any protest is bound to fail invariably. But it serves the governments to hold up as examples “peaceful protest” movements as these movements placate both the more hard-line activists on one hand into believing at least they have the “right to free assembly”, free speech and so forth while also discrediting them in the eyes of the majority. Whatever message they may have is lost on the masses that only see a few misguided college students and eccentrics disrupting traffic on the way to work, or whining about something they don’t fully understand. This is not to say that there weren’t intelligent, well-read people at the OWS, but by and large these were needles in the haystack. At the end of the day, these protests have not and will not weaken or change any political decision already made because they don’t threaten the system in any significant way. The government infact needs these types of protests just to show how free a society is that it can allow this “freedom of expression”. The government’s response to protests that genuinely threaten its coffers however, are far different as tax protestors can attest. Why? One can hold up a sign saying “end the war in Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya/Vietnam” for a few hours but at the end of the day they are still going home, paying taxes, consuming and therefore funding each bomb and bullet going to those causes. Real change requires real sacrifice and the coddled population of the western world can’t be bothered to get up off the sofa or miss the game!
Alas, as stated earlier, most of these protests don’t have real aims, just the most shallow notion of whatever ideas are en vogue. They protest more for the sake of protesting than out of any belief in what they are protesting. While some protests have a worthwhile cause, today it seems just about anything can rile up a protest, as can be witnessed by the Pussy Riot case, the shameful “ slutwalks”, and New York City’s latest protest against regulations on the size of sugary beverages. Or they pick up on some foreign conflict and demand something be done, without a clear cut understanding of the nature of the conflict or what would have to be done; enter Darfur, “free Tibet”, etc. There is no doubt the “1%” of Wall Street, hand in hand with the political elites, are traitors who shamelessly line their pockets at the expense of both their country and their souls, but most protestors had no real answer as to what is to actually be done. Wall Street carries on with business as usual, Zuccotti Park is empty, and the political elites today are the same as they were a year ago and all the years before that.
And still the question remains – What did Occupy accomplish?