A year ago, the Occupy Wall Street camp began in New York. Similar protests sprang up quickly, and before long there was an Occupy [X] in spots around the globe. People marched, got maced, got arrested, argued and held assembly after assembly. The "99 percent" entered the national parlance. Reporters like myself got used to using Occupy as a noun.
The Breaking Time was on hiatus at the time, which turned out to be fortunate, as it gave me a chance to think on this topic for awhile and do some deeper analysis.
Longtime readers of my work know that I'm not particularly a fan of protest culture, feelings that I've occasionally put in harsh terms. In a nutshell, modern protest culture — especially the American variety — has become a kind of ritual theater with the powers-that-be, less focused on strategies for actual change than on demonstrating personal bravery and making insular groups feel good about themselves.
I believe that culture drastically overrates the importance of art and "making a statement" as opposed to figuring ways to get concrete goals accomplished. I believe it saps energy and resources that would be better spent elsewhere. I've seen protest culture disillusion too many good people because groups can't get better organized. I want more people of all types involved in politics, but I want them to tackle it as the fight it actually is.
That's my perspective, and is the shaker of salt you should take when assessing what I write on this topic.
However, while covering Occupy, especially Asheville's own coalition, I've found it interesting to see new activists cut their teeth. A lot of these people are — agree with them or no — genuinely committed to dealing with a host of very real social ills. A number have since moved to more local political involvement, like the clash over a Business Improvement District in downtown.
On a larger level, issues of wealth and class are a part of the discussion in a way they weren't pre-Occupy, and the backlash from law enforcement did illuminate how little respect too many police have for the right to protest.
But I think consensus structures are terrible at long-term political conflict. I've heard a number involved in Occupy say they missed a major opportunity by not coalescing around more definite demands (i.e. large-scale debt forgiveness) last year when their energy was higher and their opponents more off-guard. I've seen infighting reach absurd depths.
Part of me thinks that Occupy has simply reaffirmed the old protest culture, drawing another generation into the same vicious cycle. As I consider that dynamic a massive obstacle to positive change, I'm not happy about that. Perhaps more selfishly, I want my own generation to find a better way than those that proceeded it.
The signs are mixed, especially due to the extremely local nature of many of the movements. The DNC protests that were supposed to be a show of strength largely failed to materialize. Reports for today's marches are still coming in, but the count's about 1,000. Better than the DNC, but down from last year.
So readers, what are your thoughts? Is Occupy bullshit or a way forward? Fizzled or slowly gaining strength? Perspectives welcome below. Keep it civil and smart.