If you have had trouble figuring out what the Occupy movement is all about and why it seems to have emerged out of nowhere and be everywhere, you are not alone. I get that the economy is rough. I get it people feel disaffected and want to protest. I get the concept of the 1% and the 99%. But that is not enough to explain either the speed, intensity or the duration of this protest movement.
The other issue with Occupy I found fascinating was reaction of elected officials to the movement. First there was Nancy Pelosi quick to criticize the Tea Party movement but now she seemed to be almost thrilled with the Occupy movement. I could not tell whether she saw it as a Democrat counterweight to the Tea Party or what? Then other politicians weighed in at the Federal level trying to make clearer distinctions.
It was tough to call the Tea Party names then turn around and praise the occupy movement. The Tea party protesters tended to have a clear message and demands. The Occupy movement seemed to be waiting together to reach consensus about their demands. Their conclusion was if you are not down here freezing your butt off with us 99% you are the 1%.
The lingering pressure from local business disrupted or shut down by the Occupy movement encampments in many large cities put the local officials who at first praises the occupy protesters and then tired of the hassles they were causing. Here in the Bay Area we have had occupy protests in all three major cities: San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland. San Jose and San Francisco officials got it right telling the Occupy folks you can protest all you want but no camping overnight (San Francisco relented on this while the Mayor election was going on but after Mayor Lee was re-elected the camping is being curtailed), no blocking merchants or streets, no violence—and we mean it! That actually seemed to work best since everyone knew where the bright line between acceptable free speech protest was and where it ended. In other locations, like Oakland the line kept moving and the police found themselves ordered to close the encampment one day and then apologize for doing so the next. The protesters were angry and confused, the police were furious at their weak politicians for not supporting them, the Mayor looked like a fool, merchants were forced to shut down because the public was too uncertain about the safety of downtown Oakland to go down there. It got out of control fast.
What is this about?
There have been many reports about the nature of the protesters. In many cases these people seemed like they were right out of the Berkeley free speech movement. In other cases it felt like beneath the surface there was a subtle form of organization and choreography going on. Some reports said labor unions were paying some organizers. Other reports accused George Soros sponsored organizations of fomenting and supporting the Occupy movement. Hopefully enough unbiased journalists are covering this story that someday we will have a better picture of the movement origins, organization and operational objectives.
By I have my own opinions which I confess are conjecture and may be wrong. But it started to come together for me around several themes I think are driving this including the following:
- The President’s policies have failed and his approval poll numbers show him as likable but weak, ineffective and vulnerable. Obama’s decision to essentially abandon governing in favor of near full time campaigning has not changed his approval numbers. He is running scared.
- The President’s base is terrified and angry. The labor unions, environmental groups and other groups who invested heavily in him in 2008 are disappointed that he has delivered so little for them. They are angry and fearful that he will do what Bill Clinton did and pivot to the center to win re-election throwing them under the bus. They are terrified because they have nowhere else to go and a loss in 2012 will un-do everything they worked so hard to achieve.
- The occupy movement is a message to Democrats to stick with the agenda. It is a tactic of the unions, environmental groups and any other left leaning causes sharing the same frustrations. It is a hang together or hang separately call to action. It is a classic Saul Alinsky tactic of vilifying your opponent—the 1% —and trying to win back the affection of the blue collar labor union members who are telling their leaders they have had enough of the jobs killing, coal hating president.
- The reason is the only thing the unions fear more than a loss in 2012 is a revolt by their own union members—the 99%. They see the President as a failure and can’t believe that the Obama they elected is now throwing them and their need for jobs under the environmental bus with his job killing regulations, opposition to domestic energy production and low energy prices that will bring back the high paying, union jobs in manufacturing, housing, transportation and services across the economy.
- And then along comes Andy Stern’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (how ironic) praising China and its political and business model. Why can’t America be more like China, Stern writes. He praises the jobs created by China’s massive growth. He praises the growth in tax revenues and wages. If only America had a plan as assertive and clear as China things would be better. At first I wondered if this was veiled criticism of the Obama Administrations, but as I kept reading it seemed to me that Stern was longing for the comfort of a benevolent socialist as if THAT is what he thought he had elected in Barack Obama only to discover after the fact that while Barack’s heart was with him his lack of experience made it doubtful Barack could deliver—he could only vote present. Or should I re-phrase that by saying Barack Obama has merely been “occupying” the White house for the last three years.
So there you have my theory on the origins and meaning of the Occupy Movement.
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