Dear Occupy Protestors: You Don’t Need Tent Cities Anymore. You’ve Already Won.
The nation woke up this morning to learn that the NYPD had evicted Occupy Wall Street protestors from Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the Occupy protest movement that has literally spread around the world. It has since been revealed that the eviction of demonstrators from public and private parks across the nation was part of a coordinated effort, at least as told by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. But the individuals involved in the protest movement should take heart. The end of tent cities does not mean that their efforts to bring attention to income inequality and corporate cronyism is over. Even if they are no longer literally occupying the public square, they are winning the public debate by continuing to drive the narrative.
The Occupy Wall Street protestors have consistently confused many political pundits, many of whom have misreported the demonstrators’ message as being anti-corporate or anti-capitalistic. But anyone paying close attention to the “99% movement” can clearly see that the goal of the protesters is to bring voice and attention to what they see as an outrageous level of income inequality between the richest 1% and the rest of the nation, and the corporate cronyism that has enabled the rich to get richer via lax federal regulations and continued tax breaks, without any increase in the jobs for up-and-comers that have been promised as result of lax regulations and continued tax breaks.
The world is far more aware of these issues today as a result of the Occupy protests than they were in September, before the first tent was erected in Zuccotti Park. To appreciate the impact of the Occupy movement, I present a recent report filed by Politico’s Dylan Byers, who noted just how Occupy Wall Street has affected the news:
A quick search of the news–including print articles, web stories and broadcast transcripts–via Nexis reveals a significant rise in the use of the term “income inequality,” from less than 91 instances in the week before the occupation started to almost 500 instances last week.
The truth is that, beyond grabbing media attention, having squatters take over a public or private park accomplishes little in practical terms. And the drum-circle imagery that has come from the protests has advanced the cause about as well as the ubiquitous images of tri-corner hat-clad Tea Partiers (or even worse, the individuals wearing hats adorned with tea bags.) Like the Tea Party movement that came before them, the Occupy movement has been a leaderless effort, and as such, the messaging and mission coming from Zuccotti Park has at times been as unfocused and as individualized as one might expect from a three month old and organic campaign.
While Zuccotti Park is currently under the purview of the NYPD, there are reports of court orders and efforts to reclaim the area to resurrect the tents. But any effort to “take back the park” risks making the protest and movement focused on a smaller goal of physical domain, instead of much larger goals of changing a system that many agree is unfair.
This is why it is time for protesters to move on from the tents, but evolve to the next chapter in the Occupy protest. Civil disobedience can be an unpleasant experience, and if keeping the occupy spirit in the news is the goal, there are many more effective ways to continue the protest (the interruption of a recent Chamber of Commerce event comes to mind).
Beyond altering the terms of economic debate in this country, the Occupy movement has also developed a new toolbox for social change, from the “human microphone” attacks that have begun to occur with regularity, to the musician who serenaded world leaders with a 45 minute Occupy-themed protest song in Hawaii, to successful efforts to get people to move their money to community banks and credit unions. Furthermore, no matter what becomes of the tent cities emptied by police, the Occupy Wall Street movement is now firmly encamped in our popular culture, where even lessers like Spuds McKenzie and the Noid live forever.
Perhaps the police are too late in bringing the fight to places like Zucotti Park, even as the 99% have already begun to bring the fight to the 1%.
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