Who Occupies the Occupiers?


Christopher Carr

Christopher Carr does stuff and writes about stuff.

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38 Responses

  1. I’m not sure I understand the connection with Iraq.

    Also, how would your standards apply to the civil rights movement? A lot of people in Birmingham were just trying to get their morning coffee at the local restaurant; I’d imagine that, for them, those counter sit-ins were super inconvenient.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      That’s an interesting point about the Civil Rights movement. My thought would be that the large percentage of people who were torqued about not getting there morning mocha lattechino( or whatever they drank back then) fell into two groups. The first were likely to either be racists or support Jim Crow so there was no love to be lost ( and screw them anyway). The second supported the CR movement so they got how big a deal it was and just swallowed several packets of sugar. The CR movement had to tolerate a lot of hate and were in it for the long term so they just coped, wore there good suits and behaved in a dignified manner.Report

      • This, basically. Also, with the CR movement the laws being violated were, largely, the very laws that were being protested.

        But the bigger point I think is that it’s not a very wise strategy to significantly inconvenience – and, let’s be honest- materially injure one or more of the very groups with whom you’re trying to express solidarity.

        If a protest movement is to be successful, it must at the very minimum treat those whom it purports to represent with a high degree of respect. If it does not, it will quickly discover that it does not, in fact, represent those groups.Report

        • Who are we talking about re: not respecting, materially injuring, significantly inconveniencing?Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          MarkT hits the nub here:

          “…with the [Civil Rights] movement the laws being violated were, largely, the very laws that were being protested.”

          Breaking an unjust law then accepting the consequences, in order to rally public sentiment against its injustice.  This is civil disobedience in a nutshell.

          Gandhi willfully broke the British “salt laws.”


          In the current crisis, #OWS is breaking no laws except those we have all agreed upon: we have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, but not anywhere and when without limit, without concern for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of others.

          Dude, you’re fucking up my business, my livelihood.  Hell, y’all are killing the grass in the park I used to have peaceful enjoyment of during my lunchtime. Your First Amendment rights end at ruining my peaceful enjoyment of the park.  Esp for what is months now.

          #Occupy is more conceptual than coherent.  Well, here’s a concept—the 99% want their lives and their park back.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Your First Amendment rights end at ruining my peaceful enjoyment of the park.

            That could hardly be more wrong.  It is one of the lowest standards for free speech I have seen promulgated in recent memory.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

             Your First Amendment rights end at ruining my peaceful enjoyment of the park.

            I agree; ban cell phones.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              And bongo drums.

              And anyone wearing patchouli.

              And those anti-abortion protests with the pictures of dismembered fetuses.

              And nigras, let’s not forget to ban the nigras.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                To avoid misunderstandings, I am not accusing Tom of being racist, or of intending the line of reasoning I took in this snark (he’s clearly not that kind of person).  I am only critiquing the value of using “ruining my enjoyment of the park” as a standard for regulating free speech.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                The context was “months at a time.”  Indeed, that’s what’s been happening: people want their park back.

                Of course I wasn’t saying that a permitted protest on a single day or even a series of days isn’t allowable.  We have freedom of assembly, and it stands to reason we need to assemble somewhere.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I agree with Tom. There are a couple kinds of long-term “occupy” protests. In one type, the occupation has a specific goal that is directly connected to the occupation itself. I’m thinking specifically of the Bonus Army. Then there’s a long-term occupation that doesn’t have goals that are obviously connected to the space they’re occupying. This may not be the case with the actual NY protests, as they are occupying Wall Street itself, but how does occupying a campus lawn connect to big finance or the super-wealthy (unless your at Harvard, in which case, look in a fishin’ mirror, dude). I know the main point of a protest is to be seen and heard, but after a while all we’re seeing and hearing is, “We’re here, we have massive studen loan debt, get used to it!” I’m not sure that outweighs the rest of the public’s right to use those areas.

                I don’t, however, think that gives the police the right to use the kind of force they’re using.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                And Dodger fans.  Am I really supposed to see someone wearing a Tommy Lasorda jersey and just go peacefully about my business?Report

            • Avatar Joecitizen says:

              Ban cities. We should only have parks. People assembling in mass ruins the country side.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

      The early days of Iraq War protests represent an utter failure to attract people to an otherwise righteous cause (as history showed), borne at least somewhat of collective antipathy to what was perceived as obnoxious self-righteousness. Occupy Wall Street is currently teetering on this brink.

      Granted, I probably should have more-explicitly praised OWS’s conduct thus far throughout the post and pressed home that the Civil RIghts Movement was so successful because it was a model for what I’m talking about, of slow, steady activism. (Read Malcolm Gladwell’s article on the topic from last year if you haven’t. It is still somewhat relevant here and a spectacular article in general.)

      The difference between the two – the Civil Rights Movement and OWS – is the key insight here, and I’m afraid lots of people seem to be missing it. OWS is potentially hurting the people it intends to help, by disrupting the normal economy. The Civil Right’s Movement successfully targeted establishments that were particularly hostile to blacks. I don’t think there is a fair comparison here.


      • What actions did you have in mind when writing about OWS actions that hurt the already economically marginalized?Report

        • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

          Here is a passage from the New Yorker article:

          “Lasn and White quickly hammered out a post-Zuccotti plan. White would draft a new memorandum, suggesting that Phase I—signs, meetings, camps, marches—was now over. Phase II would involve a swarming strategy of “surprise attacks against business as usual,” with the potential to be “more intense and visceral, depending on how the Bloombergs of the world react.”

          In Boston, for instance, Occupy Harvard recently took over Harvard Square, shutting down all traffic and preventing people from getting to work or home from work or to and from classes. I see these kinds of desperate stunts escalating in response to authorities’s desperate stunts and with it this attitude that we’re building towards a revolution. Just as people with weakened immune states get disproportionately sick when winter comes, so too do the economically vulnerable suffer disproportionately when stability is disrupted.

          I see the movement shifting it’s tactics towards the more aggressive in response to aggression and think it should be going in the opposite direction – of out-classing pepper-spray cop.Report

          • Ah. I need to read the New Yorker piece, clearly.

            I agree with you, fwiw. I hope they don’t go the Yippie route (which is what this Adbusters stuff sounds like — a tired retread). And if I was King of the World, I’d institute the same “Sunday Best” dress code that MLK et al enforced.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        A hypothesis – there has never been a sucessful anti-war protest in United States History.

        (Vietnam ended due to a peace process a la Korea which then then broken and Watergate prevented any follow up US action)Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      The other important part of the sit-ins was they were doing something that they were arguing had every right to do – sit at lunch counter for a coffee (and similarly, sit anywhere they wanted on a bus, got to school, vote, etc)

      The actions *themselves* were cast a morally right (and they were!) even if (especially since) the current regime made  them illegal and thus disruptive.

      In contrast, no one thinks you should have an inallienable right to block traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, (for instance)


  2. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Wow, Chris.  Thank you for your kind words and your extraordinarily thoughtful response. I hold your writing in equally high regard.  Especially, thanks for the way your response takes up exactly the questions I raised.  (Not that there’d have been anything wrong if you’d reframed them to your liking.)

    Your thoughts deserve as much reflection as you gave to mine, and I continue to reflect.  While for the moment I may remain unpersuaded that yours is the best advice for the movement from its perspective, largely because in my view it remains just so difficult to conclude that one has arrived at an accurate understanding of that perspective, I do think I can now say that the last line of my post can be checked off: I think you have made the case here as convincingly as it can be made.

    I could try to explain why I remain unpersuaded, but I’m nototally sure it’s necessary.  I think these two posts stand each on its own as both point and counterpoint to the other, so I think I’ll just leave the debate there for now.

    But again, thank you for the extraordinarily attentive response.  I look forward to continuing to observe and discuss this movement, as well as various and sundry other matters, with you and the rest of the League.Report

  3. Avatar pete.mack says:

    Reason without passion has rarely led to societal change, especially for those already marginLized by society. Why should it be different this time? The Founding Fathers did not make freedom of assembly a fundamental right because it was convenient, after all.

    Not coincidentally, the occupy movement has done more toove the needle on the whole “shared sacrifice” boondoggle than Obama and the Democratic Party have done from within the system in more than two years.Report

  4. “…if you have a legitimate grievance, be respectful…wait for the police or the authorities to disgrace themselves…”

    Looking at the pepper spray incident that is fresh on everyone’s mind – does this qualify as ‘respectful’ on the part of the protestors?


  5. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    wealthy, bourgeois democracies whose most significant concern in life is whether to serve brie or camembert at the next meeting of the local gourmet group.

    Camembert. It’s a safer bet generally. Who doesn’t like it?

    The well-written sentence is something that, in our recent history, the left has owned, which is telling in a certain sense.

    This might be true, but damned if I know how you’d quantify something like that.

    One side has superior knowledge of theatrics, even if it consistently fails to see the full implications of its actions. 

    I take it you don’t see wearing colonial garb to a protest as good theatrics?Report

    • Personally, I prefer a nice sharp white cheddar or – if I’m in the mood for something milder – gruyere. Runny cheeses kind of turn me off.

      I have no way of quantifying skill in the English language; except if you consider the political affiliations of experts in the humanities, which converges back on your territory. I do think the left tends to bring more passion to politics – they’ll always have their Ciceros (a “liberal pussy” as one of my Latin teachers put it).

      “I take it you don’t see wearing colonial garb to a protest as good theatrics?”

      You’ve got me there. That’s awesome.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Oh God, gruyere is amazing. My wife is the expert in this area. I know beer and I make really good butter. She usually picks the cheeses.

        Political affiliations of humanities experts tend to be skewed by romantic attachments to the politics of their youth. Nevertheless, I keep telling people that it’s near impossible to be an academic in the humanities without being a thoroughgoing cultural conservative at heart, even though many would rather not admit it to themselves.Report

  6. Avatar Anne Murray says:

    Chris, thoughtful post thanks! But I do take one exception

    “affecting students who go to class (i.e. students who are not majoring in binge drinking, Daddy’s trust fund, or cultural anthropology)”  Why pick on Cultural Anthropology? (full disclosure non-trust fund BA in Anthropology)Report

    • Anne,  As a fellow non-trust fund BA in Anthropology holder I also caught that. But then I re-read and realized he said cultural anthropology so I felt better. My concentration was physical anthropology and I always thought those cultural folks were just a little off. LOLReport

      • Avatar Anne Murray says:

        But I’m one of those “off” cultural anthropologist though I love physical anthropology as well.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Clearly Christopher has no respect for culture.Report

          • Avatar A Teacher says:

            Yeah… it’s sometimes hard to come up with a stand in for the villain of “Over Used and Very Very Rarely Economically Viable Major that People Seemed Shocked There are No Jobs For and then Pissed That They are Making Over Priced Coffee at the Age of 30”.

            That said, I had a friend my Freshman year of college who was planning to get a BA with a Major in Recreational Management and a Minor in Human Sexuality.  I have no idea if she finished that plan but it’s fun to talk about….Report

    • I have nothing against cultural anthropology. Secrets of the Tribe is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time (since Grizzly Man, I’d say), and I find cultural anthropology to be a fascinating discipline. That being, said, drawing on my own experience, it seems like a lot of the students who didn’t really want to devote a lot of time to class loaded up on CA courses. 

      Being an interpretive discipline, CA is one of those courses that you take out what you put it – not unlike English or literature, and grades tended to be high because so much comes down to subjective interpretation. Of course, for people who want to party without failing out, CA was a good way to game the system, and this has nothing to do with the legitimacy or lack thereof of the subject matter.Report