OWS: 6 Weeks In; Still No Strategy

Alex Cacioppo — Contributing Editor — @ BylineBeat

(Brooklyn, New York) As I attempted to enter the Media tent, a facilitator said, “You’re not allowed here,” and extended his left hand against me in the imitation of a slow shove. A huge blue tarp protected a small warren of activists calling for volunteers as the cold snap of wind and hail wailed around the four corners of Liberty Plaza. A very early blizzard had swept over and around a hunkered-down encampment. “There’s fuckers in the tents,” this reporter overheard one man saying. Indeed, how else to keep warm? A tuba player surrounded by ponchoed revelers belted out a hearty rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” as the clouds punished the streets with sheets of small ice bullets. The global hub of what was promised to be the “booster rocket” for a Second American Revolution, according to the radical leftist outlet MarketWatch, was on my sixth visit to the miniature impression of a 21st-century Hooverville planted on the real estate of Wall Street’s backyard.

There is a perception that this scene, while resonant with many people (43 percent of the public, according to a CBS/NYT poll), is more symbolic than concrete; too much cipher and not enough pragmatic action and direction. The public deserves to know what O.W.S. stands for; they are mostly aware of what it opposes. The movement is now about a month-and-a-half old, very young for a social movement but old enough to begin to make serious decisions. A common perception that must be addressed somehow is that the Wall Street occupation is too frenetic and fragmented. Yet perhaps these qualities reflect the larger society itself. For the past two generations, our country has lost a sense of common purpose and with it has gone the public spaces needed to bring people together to find out what that purpose is going to be.

There are myriad root causes that explain the situation our country is in, and that may be the reason it has been so difficult to articulate a concrete proposal that will either galvanize and engage the silent majority or piss off the hardcore that will reject it for being too parochial or milquetoast. It is an open question, still; what are the steps occupiers should take, through the General Assembly, to transform this global moment into a global movement? What should be done, or at least called for, to make OWS more broad-based and accessible to the general public that shares their concerns but feels alienated?

There are two disparities at play, and only one is covered - the wealth gap. The richest 400 individuals in the United States own the equivalent assets of the poorest 150 million; 1 percent of the nation owns 40 percent of its wealth. A very successful campaign by the political right has convinced the pundits that Americans equate making the game fairer with something called “socialism.” By that logic, 57 percent of the public is socialist. That is the proportion of your fellow countrymen who believe “the money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people,” according to a Gallup poll from April and cited in a report by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a right-leaning think tank. This is before the Adbusters magazine issued the call that sparked all of this. Thirty-five percent of Americans, on the other hand, are fine with how the pie is sliced—as long as, we presume, it is some kind of apple cobbler with a crispy crust.

AEI also cited National Opinion Research Center data that show a blockbuster 11 percent approval of banks and financial institutions—almost identical to support for Congress. No surprise there, the cynic would say: a revolving door between them ensures that their money buys votes. But the other disparity is the confusion gap, the disconnect between the public’s very clear hatred of the financial sector along with its anemic support of a group that is attempting to challenge it through direct action. While the people are generally more inclined to blame Washington than Wall Street, they just as unequivocally want “to see major corporations have” “less influence” in our politics, the AEI stated in its November report.

The real finding is that about one-third do not know enough or have not made up their minds, and that is not their fault alone. OWS, in my opinion, must be more transparent if it wants to make a serious mark and not wane and fade, thereby risking being remembered as a passing fad that, while creating a catchy meme, did nothing to shape the consciousness of a generation and change the system.