Sunday, October 16, 2011

Another Night in Grant Park. . .With Occupy Chicago

Last night I observed the Occupy Chicago protests in the LaSalle Street Financial District and Grant Park--where the General Assembly meets daily to discuss what they stand for. The last time I was in Grant Park was on election night of November 2008 when Barack Obama made his victory speech. Overall, I was more hopeful for meaningful change on that night in 2008, than I am after visiting Occupy Chicago.

Ultimately, the Chicago Police Department arrested 175 protestors after I left. But, the cops seemed more supportive than hostile. It is truly a grass roots movement, and during the General Assembly anybody can speak their mind. In my view, such an inherently leaderless movement with the lack of any message discipline at all cannot effect change in modern America. The status quo simply holds too much wealth and power to be disrupted without a carefully orchestrated plan and message. Plan beats no plan and message beats no message.

Many speakers made cogent and important arguments regarding our economic realities. Some wondered about a so-called criminal justice system that incarcerates many poor people of color but allows powerful bankers to trash the economy with apparent impunity. Others noted that while valuable public workers like teachers, cops and firefighters face declining standards of living and job losses, financial elites enjoy mega-compensation for running an increasingly dysfunctional financial sector. One speaker highlighted cuts in social services that are apparently necessitated by the bailouts of Wall Street and the ruined economy. Many protested the fact that our economy fails to produce opportunities for even the highly educated, a key betrayal of the longstanding American social contract that promised prosperity to those who worked hard and earned a university education. These are well-founded points, backed by solid evidence that shows that financial and corporate elites have, in fact, rigged our economy so that they rake in millions regardless of merit while the vast majority of Americans face declining economic fortunes. It was inspiring to see ordinary Americans gather in peace to make their views known on these critical points.

But, many highlighted longstanding grievances having nothing to do with the current crisis that brought out the protestors. Thus, one speaker discussed the need to abolish the death penalty and another decried the number of mentally ill people we incarcerate in America. A flier shined light on the new book, The Assassination of Fred Hampton, that alleges the FBI murdered the Black Panther Leader in Chicago in the 1970s. An immigrant claimed he did not come to invade Chicago, but to occupy Chicago. These obvious wedge issues have long operated to entrench the power of elites, to divide working classes, and to ultimately give the powerful an additional political lever to use law to enhance their profits.

Worse, some spoke about nonsense or even made offensive points. An invitation to the next American Communist Party Rally in DC was issued (I forgot the date). The American Socialist Party also spoke. One speaker urged support for Rand Paul. He also urged the crowd to insist upon an audit of the gold held by the US. Another speaker argued that we should get rid of all corporations. Signs argued that "capitalism will never be democracy."

In the end, it would be difficult to craft a message of more limited effectiveness than that I witnessed at Occupy Chicago last night. Arguing in favor of communism over capitalism at the same time as supporting Rand Paul seems almost calculated to alienate as many potential supporters as possible.

I fundamentally support the key points motivating the protestors: Wall Street holds too much power and our government must prune it back; middle class workers need more jobs, more opportunities and urgent recapitalization; and our economy is rigged in favor of the very wealthy.

Unfortunately, without message discipline and a plan to really challenge the status quo, the success of the movement will prove fleeting and next November we will again be faced with limited choices for real change. The Occupy Wall Street movement needs a platform.


  1. what can be done to generate a platform? how can the message be organized?

  2. Jessie C. (Memphis Law)October 17, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    I agree that this movement needs a solid platform. Official websites, flyers, meetings, etc. could help narrow the movement's purpose and get its message across. I completely agree with the author that there has to be one clear purpose of the movement and not a catch all like a political party. Right now the movement just shows a dissatisfaction for the current status of corporate affairs without having a clear message or solution to the problem.

  3. I would agree that they are in desperate need of a message and soon, but I am more optimistic than you seem to be. Even though there is a need for organization, the energy found in the protesters is amazing. The movement is still pretty young, about 1 month, give it some time to mature and it could develop into a force for change. Also, from what I've heard demands are beginning to solidify, including the end of corporate personhood.

  4. If they don't soon figure it out, they're going to waste their opportunity to effect change. Chicago is the third largest city in the country, and if they could get their crap together there (and in LA and in NYC and in DC...) then maybe, just maybe, we'd have ourselves something other than anger.

  5. It seems as though they have a message. Their main problem seems to be that they allow too many to speak for them. Excellent post.

  6. Steve Newbold said...

    The message doesn't even need to be an agreement on an ideology. The message simply needs to be a method for the best ideology to win out which we do not have here.

    The solution is not that complicated. There are 2 ways we can do it.

    (1) Direct Democracy; or
    (2) Republic that forbids an Artificial Person (corporation) from donating or funneling money in anyway to anyone in government or running for office.

    Number 2 would be very difficult to enforce and therefore No. 1, as extreme as it sounds, is probably the only way out of this mess.

  7. Steve,

    Excellent post! Thank you for spearheading and organizing our collective effort to post about Occupy Wall Street here on the Corporate Justice Blog. You deserve a great deal of credit for this effort!!! I agree with you, we can't let the message die with the bad weather. We have to keep up the pressure on this important and fundamental dialogue.

  8. I agree completely with this post. I was recently in Nashville, TN and walked by the Occupy Nashville Protesters. While I understand they have important messages to convey, they are not doing so in a way that gains supporters or even on-lookers. One participant even urinated on a government secretary as she was walking to work one morning. How is behavior like that going to get you anywhere?

    Yes, I agree that Wall Street has acquired too much power. However, these protesters must shed the perception placed upon them that they are just lazy citizens who won't look for jobs that are out there. I believe that the economy is terrible now and that the status of the economy has led many to the situations they find themselves in- no jobs, no homes, no food, etc. But, it is safe to assume that at one point, some if not many of these protesters had jobs and are educated enough to know there is a better alternative to effect change.

  9. FalenC (Memphis Law)November 28, 2011 at 11:04 PM

    I'm so glad I found this post. I could not have said it better myself. My biggest issue with the occupy movement is that there is not a "clear message." Yes, we understand that they are unhappy with the current situation. However, I feel that is all we know. Where do you go from there? I do not feel that simply relaying that message will change anything. I feel that there needs to me more than simply displaying the disatisfaction with the situation. What is the actual solution to the problem here?

  10. Melissa T (Memphis Law)November 29, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    I am shocked by what Elizabeth said about a protestor urinating on on a secretary. I agree that behavior like that damages the legitimacy of the movement.

  11. This post is so refreshing. I am glad to hear from someone who went to a large Occupy movement and their take-away from it. I think this is evidence enough that the OWS movement has got to figure out a central message and stand on it. While the 99% is a diverse group of people, not all of these diversitys should be on display. The movement is losing credibility because of the vagueness of its message. If the OWS movement wants to enstill substantive change it has got to regroup and create a stronger platform that everyone can rally behind.

  12. diversities* and instill* (my hand types faster than my brain works sometimes).