Back in 1974 or so, I took a class on the politics of protest.
The following isn't meant to be an argument for or against the Occupy Wall Street movement. (I happen to think it's important) but about the way the protest is developing and how the establishment is responding to it.
The establishment had come out of the '60's having learned to respond to mass movements very effectively. I think, in fact, that's one of the reasons there haven't been many since then. They knew better how to respond, and even more importantly, how NOT to respond.
(Well, that and the backlash by middle America against the protests. The protest movements learned from the backlash, as well. (Gay rights and feminism). But mostly, I think the establishment learned how to deal with opposition very effectively.)
One thing that was an absolute no-no in the face of non-violent protest was a forceful response.
Pouring syrup on young people sitting at a lunch counter and punching them. Letting loose dogs on them. Power blasting them with fire hoses. Pulling them off buses and beating them. Meeting them at a bridge and charging them with batons. Throwing them in jail.
Not a good idea unless you want to give the protest movement legitimacy.
Strangely enough, the second best strategy by the establishment is -- to do nothing.
You wait them out. You cooperate. You give in a little.
Even better, you "co-opt" them. That's the best strategy of all.
You say to the protest encampment, "Please pick a person who can speak for you and who we can liaison with."
Then you take that person into your sphere of influence, and you say, "Wow. I'm really impressed by your commitment to free speech. How about if we appoint you to our blue ribbon committee. Or, you know, we could pay you a small stipend to help us understand your movement."
And you keep doing that. Taking them in, watering it down, being as soft as a marshmallow. Until you own them or you've dissipated the energy. I think, really, that happened rather quickly to the Tea Party movement.
But what you don't do is dress up in black uniforms and helmets and guns bristling and pepper spray or punch them in the stomachs. This isn't a slam against the police, but against the 'look' of the authorities right now. Not a real good image. Especially if you use force.
I guess the Occupy Wall Street movement is fortunate that the current mayors and university presidents don't have anyone on staff that remembers the process of co-opting. They are helping grow the movement through their ignorance. Doing all the wrongs things all over again.
Now, if the protest movement won't also repeat past mistakes, for instance, by being foul-mouthed and violent -- maybe history won't repeat itself.
But more likely:
Here we go again.
POSTSCRIPT: I keep hearing the talking heads talking about the "winter" being enough to stop the movement. That's idiotic. Maybe the numbers will fall for a few months, but as long as they can keep it going until spring, it will come back stronger than ever.
Winter? Hey, let's say I want to get to that other field, and there is a five foot fence. Big deal, man. I'll climb the fence.
How weak do they think this protest is? (You know, unless they're right. But like I said, if they keep being filmed beating and pepper spraying protesters, I think the movements got some legs.)
I mean, the 1% problem isn't going to go away over the winter.
6 days ago