How Radical is Occupy Wall Street?


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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35 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Specifically, I’m interested in examining the influence of radical politics on Occupy, determining whether or not Occupy is indeed a radical movement; and, perhaps most vexingly, whether or not it should be.

    There was a story in the New York Post that has an interesting take on this.Report

  2. Avatar dexter says:

    “When we can put  a million people on the Mall says Berger, ” then we can have demands.”  I think when they have the correct demands, then there will be a million people on the Mall.  And I say that as a person who firmly believes that America needs a new set of guiding principles.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Since when do jokesters and pranksters make Demands? Expect enough mischief, enough troublemaking — and enough taking of things by force. Study not LBJ, but the unions, for inspiration. and come prepared to fight.Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    How can we say anything definitive about Occupy when Occupy encompasses not only groups of people in New York City, but also Philadelphia, Oakland, Los Angeles, and countless other venues throughout the United States and the world?

    So do the communists, and we can say some definitive things about them.  As well as the Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Presbyterians, etc., etc.  Geographic diversity is not particularly relevant here, I think. Diversity, yes, but on some basis other than geography.

    Essentially, they are no more easily reduced into one political category than are the American people as a whole

    I don’t think this can be true.  They are a non-random subset of the American people; therefore they must be more easily categorically reducible.  Easy? No, but definitely more categorically reducible than the whole populace.

    The problem, of course, is that for a significant part of the Occupy leadership, using the LBJ model Jackson delineated would be tantamount to failure.

    Therein lies the rub.  Follow the LBJ model and the movement has failed itself.  Refuse to follow the LBJ model and the movement simply fails.

    “this new human system we want to build.”

    There’s the problem–they want to build a system.  They lack all understanding of tradition, of the evolution of society, of the value of marginal change.  Like the French revolutionaries, or the Khmer Rouge, they want to build, and in doing so they can only end up destroying.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

       Like the French revolutionaries, or the Khmer Rouge, they want to build, and in doing so they can only end up destroying.

      Errm, I dont like Occupy wallstreet myself but I still wouldnt compare them to either the french revolution or the Khmer Rouge.

      And while we are thinking about violence and radical change, America’s rebellion against their rightful sovereign also falls under the category of destroying more than it built.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Not all the OWS folks; just those who are eager to rebuild human society in their preferred image.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          I’m w/Hanley: “This new human system we want to build” are like the scariest words I know, with a historical butcher’s bill unmatched by religions or empires.

          Nobody’s accusing #OWS types of anything more than a mastery of passive-aggressiveness; still, they are the philosophical heirs of less passive types.

          Further, a mob is a mob when a “system” cannot sustain, and goes kerblooey. This is why the ancients feared anarchy more than tyranny.

          The Occupation itself proved that man’s natural state is shitholiness.  It turned everywhere it went into a shithole.

          This “new human system we want to build”  is a chimera, for it requires a “new man” with a new human nature to populate it. Unfortunately, we’re still making men like we used to and always will.

          Few men who find themselves in a mob are capable of behaving like anything more than men in a mob, and there are as few today as there ever were.  It’s not that our minds or ideas aren’t strong enough, it’s that our feet will always be made of clay.Report

          • Avatar Liberty60 says:

            So in other words, you found a guy who said he wanted some sort of  transformation of society.

            Based on that slender thread of words, you went on a parnoid rant about how the Occupy people may LOOK like they are merely sitting there passively, but whoo boy, watch out- the hand of genocide is everywhere, so be afraid, children.

            C’mon. Am I the first Occupier you have ever actually engaged with directly? Sounds like it.


            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Would it have been more meaningful if he found a car with a bumpersticker that talked about desire for some sort of transformation of society?Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Lib60, if you’re going to respond to my comment, pls respond to my comment, which contemplates man’s nature and human history.  In toto, to the best of my ability.

              My semi-worthless LA Times gave a whole page on Sunday’s Op-Ed page for #OWSers to give their thoughts.  That you would think that any of your interlocutors here at the LoOG would be aware only of the dumbest of dumbasses in the protests is to miss the point of our great diversity here.

              If only because we’re blessed with the estimable Mr. Isquith and his links to its equally estimable apologists.  Unless you’d like to posit that Brother Elias is some sort of dumbass.

              [The history of the NY cab medallions is instructive, if not probative. Pls do keep up, Mr. Lib.  Today’s solution often becomes tomorrow’s problem.]Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              For myself, let me re-state that I’m not talking about OWS; just about those individuals who say they want to rebuild society.  I agree with Elias that there is diversity within OWS, and I actually suspect very few of them want to fundamentally rebuild society, but only to tweak it around the edges.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                hrrm. is becoming Germany (or something similar, in broad sweeping terms) rebuilding society? I’d say yes, but it’s not radical reconstruction — it’s a conservative thingy.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:


            be thankful we’re stil making shmucks like you. If every guy was one of those “ambitious types” we’d ALL be dead (translate that to civilization would be impractical.)

            New men appear all the time, that’s why men have such a spread in terms of intelligence (though women are on average smarter — the tails!)Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Down with the Internet! Up with Big Brother!

          ((if you aren’t getting the reference, refer to what that mask above means.))Report

  4. Avatar dexter says:

    The violence of a revolution is directy proportional to how far down the masses have been driven before they rebel.  Now OWS is asking politely for some changes.  If the middle class descent goes on for a few more years there may be some people put against the wall.  Also, Mr. Hanley, if you knew anything about DFHs, you would know that, for the most part,  they are much more enamored with Dr. King than McVeigh.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      The violence of a revolution is directy proportional to how far down the masses have been driven before they rebel.

      I suspect it has more to do with who’s leading the revolution.Report

      • Avatar dexter says:

        Mr. Hanley, if that is the case then you should name names.  Tell me which one of  the OWS leaders reminds you of Pol Pot or Robespierre.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:


          That reply missed my point entirely.  If OWS has no Pol Pots, then driving the masses in the U.S. down further before a hypothetical OWS rebellion will not produce a Pol Pot level of violence.

          And of course Pol Pot did not perpetrate most of his violence in the revolution, but after, and not against the colonizers, but against his own people.  That’s why I say I think the level of violence has more to do with who’s leading the revolution than how oppressed the masses were.

          The comment was not, in any way, an anti OWS comment, but just a critique of your claim.Report

          • Avatar dexter says:

            Mr. Hanley, I am a little confused as to what claim of mine you were critiquing.  You are the one that brought up past tyrants and I just asked who were the new demons.  I do not want a revolution, I want an epiphany.  The dire conditions of many people in this country is a travesty and something needs to be done about it.  Personally, I find OWS much less frightening than the gun toting teabaggers from last summer.  During a recent discussion somebody here talked about how some people were superfluous.  That may be true if all one cares about is how much money your portfolio gained last quarter, but it is vitally important if it is your child that is hungry. The New York Post Jaybird mentioned was about a lady with a PHD who is now working for minimum wage.  How wrong is that?Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              dexter, I was critiquing this claim:

              The violence of a revolution is directy proportional to how far down the masses have been driven before they rebel.

              It sounds reasonable, and I certainly don’t think I could make an argument that it’s entirely wrong.  I just think the leaders of the revolution will do more to determine the level of violence than will the level of oppression that precedes it.

              It wasn’t intended to be a critique of OWS or of your position vis a vis OWS’s issues, etc.

              The New York Post Jaybird mentioned was about a lady with a PHD who is now working for minimum wage.  How wrong is that?

              I would have to know this particular person in more detail obviously, but having a Ph.D. myself and knowing lots of other people who have them, I’m not a priori sure it’s wrong at all.Report

  5. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    I can only speak for myself and the Occupy group of which I am a part.

    The people in my group (Occupy Irvine) are a mix of newly active college students, veteran progressive activists, and some newly active middle aged middle class middle management working professionals.

    If I had to generalize, what motivates the majority of people is the sense of unfairness, that while the 99% are stagnating, the 1% are reaping abundance. Add to this that we are being told that we must accept “austerity” while the 1% continues- yet again- to reap generous abundance.

    Actually, we do have some things in common with the Tea Party- witnessing the bank nailouts truly radicalized a lot of people- the people I speak with mention it constantly. Except unlike the Tea Party, we aren’t angry about taxation so much as what is being done with the taxes we do pay.

    We are also having the internal discussion about reform versus radicalism- as a middle middle middle, I of course see reform as a best option.

    What strikes me as truly absurd, however, is how modest of a reform it would be  be to eliminate Occupy; if we adopted the tax and spending policy which was in place as recently as the 1960’s, (Progressive tax rates, social safety net, labor unions) people like me would nod and go back home.Report

    • Avatar Scott says:


      Except we aren’t in the 60’s which would seem to argue against a 60’s style taxing and spending policy.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        We aren’t in the 1910’s but that doesn’t stop anyone from advocating for pre-New Deal policies.

        I am not seriously advocating that the government CAN restore those policies- labor unions declined for many resons having nothing to do with the government.

        But we can esily erase the deficit with sensible tax reform and ending the wars. Its just that the political will isn’t there.

        Yet. But we hope to change that.


        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Lib60: Private-sector labor unions declined for reasons having everything to do with government, which subsumed its invaluable functions:

          —Minimum wage

          —Worker safety [OSHA]

          —Work or starve [food stamps, feeds yr kids at school]

          —A roof over your head [Section 8 vouchers]

          —A pension [Social Security, Medicare]


          • Avatar Liberty60 says:

            Completely true, but there was more, wasn’t there?

            For instance, labor unions were an essential part of the WWII generation, much like fraternal clubs and organizations.

            They declined also, for similar reasons. The generation of people who saw value in collective action in the military of WWII also saw value in being part of a larger organization- the values that were famously lampooned by social critics in the 1950′ and 60’s.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Bowling Alone and What’s the Matter w/Kansas, I make it, Lib60.  The subtitle of the latter is How Conservatives Won the Heart of AmericaOnward Kantian Soldiers! will never make the top 10 because as the exquisite GK Chesterton put it,

              The truth is that Tolstoy, with his immense genius, with his colossal faith, with his vast fearlessness and vast knowledge of life, is deficient in one faculty and one faculty alone. He is not a mystic; and therefore he has a tendency to go mad.

              Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic. Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The thing that has driven them mad was logic.

                Is that because logic is inherently maddening, or is it because man is mentally too weak to deal with logic?  Working from an evolutionary p.o.v., I opt for the latter explanation.

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      is how modest of a reform it would be  be to eliminate Occupy; if we adopted the tax and spending policy which was in place as recently as the 1960?s, (Progressive tax rates, social safety net, labor unions) people like me would nod and go back home.

      Even more modest than that, perhaps?  If we adopted the policies in place in the late 1990s (under Bill Clinton)?  Or am I wrong about that, do you think?Report

  6. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I think the “Getting kicked out of Zuccotti and flashed bombed and pepper-sprayed will be good for the movement” meme is looking weaker by the day.  Following my earlier essay, it seems clear to me that maintaining Occupation, physical presence, disruption, and the resulting visibility, however much it repulsed some observers, was critical to sustaining the movement, given its ontology.  I don’t expect a spring renaissance.  Being dispersed and spread to the wind by means of a prejudice of state force was the unironic setback, perhaps fatal, that we should have straightforwardly presumed it to be.  That being said, the disruption was far more profound and last much longer than the early naysayers said it would and resulted in a shift in the national conversation of an extent no one imagined it would.  All in all, a remarkable accomplishment.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Or not, Mr. Drew.  You don’t speak to the “substance'” of #OWS, only to its annoyance value—which I confess was substantial, if only for having to see it on the news and read about it here.

      Being dispersed and spread to the wind by means of a prejudice of state force was the unironic setback

      You don’t want to seriously argue this, do you, Mike?  They got more slack than any public nuisance has any right to expect.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        You are right – all along I have been speaking strategically from their persepctive, not evaluating their views.

        They were given time, I don’t deny this.  I was just attempting to describe what happened when the inevitable (barring their being insufficiently committed to force the confrontation) came.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Man, talk about the winter of your discontent!

      I hold OWS in hardly any esteem at all, but the current lull is do to the weather and finals.  They’ll be back.  And heck, in the 40% chance Not Obama wins the White house, they’ll be able to build momentum all next year and really be able to rally *next* winter with NewtMittHitler as a focal point.

      I mean, what are they going to do, get jobs or something?Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 says:

      The forces that made Occupy such a success haven’t lessened or gone away- the middle class is still feeling insecure, they still see the welathy brazenly manipulating the levers of government, and still hear talk about taking away the fundamental social safety net.

      Political movements are measured in years, not weeks or months. The Occupiers are still here, still connected, still working. The civil rights movement didn’t vanish once the lunchcounter sit-ins ended.


      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        They can still be there for as long as they want.  It may not seem to you to be the case, but in reality the question we are discussing is how much attention they are being paid in the media at any given time.Report