Say Goodbye to the Occupation
Tom Jensen from Public Policy Polling has some new figures about the Occupy movement’s dwindling stature in the public’s eyes:
The Occupy Wall Street movement is not wearing well with voters across the country. Only 33% now say that they are supportive of its goals, compared to 45% who say they oppose them. That represents an 11 point shift in the wrong direction for the movement’s support compared to a month ago when 35% of voters said they supported it and 36% were opposed. Most notably independents have gone from supporting Occupy Wall Street’s goals 39/34, to opposing them 34/42…
I don’t think the bad poll numbers for Occupy Wall Street reflect Americans being unconcerned with wealth inequality. Polling we did in some key swing states earlier this year found overwhelming support for raising taxes on people who make over $150,000 a year. In late September we found that 73% of voters supported the ‘Buffett rule’ with only 16% opposed. And in October we found that Senators resistant to raising taxes on those who make more than a million dollars a year could pay a price at the polls. I don’t think any of that has changed- what the downturn in Occupy Wall Street’s image suggests is that voters are seeing the movement as more about the ‘Occupy’ than the ‘Wall Street.’ The controversy over the protests is starting to drown out the actual message.
Occupy was inevitably going to become unpopular, just as the Tea Party has, and just as any social movement that criticizes the status quo eventually will be. The reasons are probably too numerous to catalogue here, but the all-consuming tribal demands of partisanship in America, the resurgence of a highly polarized media sphere, and the inevitable, subtle effects of concentrated corporate media ownership each play their part. But even if the national media’s coverage of the Occupiers had been incessantly positive, the act of occupation itself is demonstrative and antagonistic enough to guarantee that, with time, a public generally averse to real ideological conflict was going to want all the arguing and unpleasantness to just go away.
They shouldn’t, of course, and it won’t.
Whether it’s in the rather amiable and inviting Occupy manifestation of today or in some other, future, and more menacing form, widespread unrest and discontent are unavoidable byproducts of a social order that features great imbalances in wealth and power. Occupiers, then, are just the start; and whether or not they’re also the finish is ultimately the decision of those presently in control. In the meantime, there are smart things the members of Occupy could do, and there are dumb things they could do — but from here on out, Occupiers would do well to pay little if anything attention to these kinds of measurements.
Following the widespread — and possibly Federally coordinated — evictions of Occupy camps throughout the country, it’s now become rather essential that Occupiers determine what they’ll do for a second act. A lot of people are responding to the Zuccotti eviction, and its counterparts elsewhere, as if they were catastrophic defeats. As you can guess from my earlier writings on this subject, I’m not nearly so pessimistic. In fact, I’m glad that the Occupiers have been forced from their camps. The occupation of public spaces had become tired, rudderless, and indeed carried many unnecessary risks. Shifting their model to incorporate new forms of protest and collective action should be, and I believe will be, a good thing for Occupiers. It won’t just separate the hangers-on from the truly devoted; it’ll open up a space within the movement for new people with new ideas to come to the fore.
A new story from The New York Times is encouraging. You’ve got to recognize that there’s some spin being peddled by Occupy spokespeople and organizers, but even still, these people don’t sound defeated — they sound liberated, motivated, and most importantly, optimistic:
In New York, where the police temporarily evicted Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park early Tuesday, and in other cities, dozens of organizers maintained that the movement had already reshaped the public debate. They said it no longer needed to rely solely on seizing parks, demonstrating in front of the homes of billionaires or performing other acts of street theater.
They said they were already trying to broaden their influence, for instance by deepening their involvement in community groups and spearheading more of what they described as direct actions, like withdrawing money from banks, and were considering supporting like-minded political candidates.
Still, some acknowledged that the crackdowns by the authorities in New York and other cities might ultimately benefit the movement, which may have become too fixated on retaining the territorial footholds, they said. “We poured a tremendous amount of resources into defending a park that was nearly symbolic,” said Han Shan, an Occupy Wall Street activist in New York. “I think the movement has shown it transcends geography.”
I especially liked this portion of the article, which gets to the heart of how and why the evictions may soon be seen as a blessing in disguise:
William A. Galston, a senior fellow in governance at the Brookings Institution, said Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots were grappling with what many new movements face. “What do you do for an encore when you’ve gotten people’s attention?” he said.
While grass-roots movements influenced many major social changes in the United States in the last century, Dr. Galston said that after they garnered attention, they invariably moved on to concrete demands, which the Occupy Wall Street effort has been criticized for lacking. The Tea Party, for example, has sought to repeal President Obama’s health care law.
Being kicked out of their camps will hopefully affect the Occupiers like being kicked out of the nest affects a bird or leaving the womb affects a newborn; it’ll force them to grow, mature, change. As Galston puts it, Occupy has gotten our attention. Now they need to do something with it. And no matter what it is, it’ll require much more than a sleeping bag and a tent.