OLA is now the largest remaining “Occupy” around. The city government has tread lightly around the camp which is, bizarrely, on the lawn surrounding city hall. I’ve been baffled from the gate as to why OLA chose city hall, or why the national Occupi chose any number of the locations it did. The City of Los Angeles is prone to all the corruption one can find in any large American metropolis in 2011. Yet this city government’s connection to the world-wide financial meltdown of 2008 doesn’t even rank as marginalia. I do not understand why so many Occupi (That is plural for the camps, FYI…I just made it up. I think. I like it. ) landed in places that had next to no connection to the alleged point.
In LA’s case I assume it had to do with there being an empty space in front of a minor landmark, though the landmark in this case was, I repeat, beside the point. A few tents in front of the Chinese Theater might have been more interesting. Were the La Brea tar pits to…tar-y? One does often get dirty shoes walking about that park, the tar not being confined exclusively to the pit. An Occupy did spring up on Venice Beach but it was redundant immediately. The Hollywood Sign is inaccessible. Disney Hall? Not enough sidewalk. Perhaps a tent on various sidewalk stars down Hollywood Blvd and Vine Street would have been fun. There could have been an ”Occupy Peggy Lee” tent on her star, an “Occupy Lou Costello” tent, and on down the line.
The choice here is doubly odd because LA has a large financial district downtown not one subway station from City Hall. So OLA annoyed a largely left leaning city government and went almost entirely unnoticed by the big bad suits not more than a few steps away. Weird.
I visited twice and that was enough. It was easier to have hope something substantial would emerge from afar. The place was a tidy, confused mess, if I may contradict myself in 4 words. At any rate, as predicted, OLA is now defending its “right” to squat illegally on land that has no meaning in the larger picture, which is emblematic of the confusion of the entire movement.
Many Occupiers are busy congratulating themselves for their “accomplishment” – another perfect demonstration of pathetic public education system they emerged from. Everybody gets a sticker for showing up. Everyone’s ‘self worth’ is feted with a bull horn and a cookie. The concept of real accomplishment is utterly foreign, in fact, it is dangerous. The true “others” in this nether world are those who get things done. They must be fought.
In terms of ‘getting things done’ Occupy is an abject failure. 3 months in and not a single major bank as been shut down…or is even in fear of failure. No enabler in Congress is remotely concerned about his/her job. The middle class, who took it up the south side and continues to with the bailouts, is completely disinterested, if not disgusted. The sympathetic press – such as it is – has moved on, alighting only for the occasional graphic clip of pepper spraying or baton beating. What Occupy wanted at the outset (still a muddled question) has not come to pass, nor is any tangible action moving in that direction.
Still what one might call a success – if one is generous – did occur. There is a slightly greater consciousness of how rigged our system is. This is not nothing, though to my thinking it’s close. The population understood the system was rigged before Occupy showed up. Occupy did show us that some people are willing to do some thing about the appalling racket we call an economy. I give the protesters credit for this. Unless the encampments were merely a prelude and Occupy morphs into a vital, muscular movement – and quickly – I must call it like I see it: Occupy is a failure.
OWS failed on at least 2 broad fronts. It failed to focus and therefore it failed capture the imagination of the people. I realize that many solid thinkers have claimed that Occupy lacking focus was a media meme and untrue. Individuals, when asked, were clear and usually consistent. Money out of politics. Banks paying for their deceit. Reinstatement of Glass-Steagal. Nevertheless, the failure for any of this to coagulate into simple demands that every encampment could seize upon rests solely on the weird, off-putting nature of Occupy itself.
An excuse is an excuse. I don’t care how overbearing and manipulative the American media is. A movement like OWS, with a simple message and straight up demands should have been – could have been – heard and caused real change. (I admit, it still might, but the current moment, at least, has passed.) What’s happening in Egypt again is a case study in why simple demands that capture the gestalt of the moment are effective and flailing camp outs are not.
The issues here are generational as much as political. Left wing millennials often energized the movement but never sank their teeth into an issue. They got no guidance from thoughtful, left-wing Gen Xers or Boomers. Or, if they did, they rejected it out right. So the kids turned out to be kids; angry, often unconscious, passionate, and without focus. Left leaning Gen Xers and Boomers did them no favors by encouraging this lack of focus or at least not moving to seize the mic on occasion.
The tragedy of my generation – Gen xers – is that we are relentlessly cynical. Our “hope” is always tinged with the national failures of the last 30 years. Liberal Gen Xers did not put cynicism to bed in late 2011…at least not in any broad sense. Jon Stewart found the comedy in OWS – which is his job – and he, more than any Gen Xers I know, represents our attitude. He is our Walter Cronkite, the one we go to in order to figure out what we think.
Liberal Boomers failed here as well. Perhaps it was nostalgia for an era when youthful protest seemed to matter that stuffed any Boomer leaders from emerging out of OWS. Too often they happily took on the role of side shows. Aging folk singers making an appearance, tired radicals voicing support from afar. If the clips of Pete Seeger’s appearance at OWS had all been rendered in sepia tones would anyone have commented? It felt like a civil war reenactment. Look at the funny old man singing.
The trouble with nostalgia is that it’s lethal to wisdom. And wisdom from Boomers is what was needed most. Wisdom would have exposed the flailing nature of OWS right away. Realistic Boomers would have sussed early that the millennials needed a focus because those not hindered with their own sepia toned nostalgia would have remembered that they had a focus. No, not the war, which they failed to end. THE DRAFT. Which they succeeded in ending. The raw meat of the anti-Vietnam protests was the draft. OWS millennials needed raw meat, a reason to man the barricades beyond the intellectual mush of the last 30 years and random, albeit justified, anger.
In practical terms protesting for “social justice” and “economic equality” is errant nonsense. Protesting to reinstate Glass-Steagal and nothing else would have been, on the other hand, very useful. The spokesperson positions Boomers and Gen Xers did elbow their way into all emerged from the cesspool of the last 40 years of lazy academia. There were idiotic treatises on “horizontal decision-making” and fanciful diatribes about “creating a new world” - which only muddled the kids further. It seems to me that if 40, 50, 60, and 70 somethings had seized the mic early and often, all the hand jive horse shit would have faded fast. Grown ups make decisions. It is that simple. It’s the defining characteristic of adulthood. It’s how things happen. Adults who were unpolluted by the archaic and authoritarian poison of the recent and useless Left (There must be a few!) refused to stand up or were shouted down if they did.
So now the ‘movement’ goes forth. Somehow. Chances are good it will fade like all progressive movements (except gay rights) of the last 40 years. It may reconstitute as more radical and even less effective. But the problem has not faded. This we know. The problem will force a response. I imagine a rather large one at that and in 2012. Sadly, the chances of it being peaceful and progressive are now greatly diminished. The frustrations of 2011 will be co-opted by those who are masters at co-opting. The Big Business Right will continue its forceful return in 2012 (Did it ever really fade?). This time under the banner of “competence”. The message – self-destructive as it is – will be appealing because it is simple and direct, a pointer in basic salesmanship the diversity addled, mush brained Left would do well to learn.
All Occupy had to do was focus on one goal.