(January 20, 2012) Now that the Occupy Wall Street protest and its hundreds of cousins across the globe have settled down, at least in the eyes of the news media and the general public, this should be the time to reflect: to stand back and take a critical look at prospects for the near future. Certainly, those who have been directly involved with the daily protest activities are the ones who should be consulted first. Still, those of us who have been unable to participate more than occasionally, if at all, also have some thoughts that might prove helpful.
Here at Tirekicking Today, we have no compelling knowledge or unique experience pertaining to protest. Neither do we have any profound recommendations to make. What we do have is a sense that something unique in American history–and that of the world–began last September. It's similar to certain protest movements of the past, yes. But it's also far different, largely because of its broader vision and its grasp of the simple fact that most of the troubles we face are tied together, no separate entities.
For the most part, our 10 suggestions are more common sense and logic than a treatise on what's worked in the past, or should work in the future. So here, for whatever they may be worth, are a few ideas that we hope might help invigorate and/or inspire the movement, now that 2012 has arrived and winter plays its impeding role.
1. Don't let single-issue protesters take over.
It's all tied together. That's what makes this movement different from those of the past, and that's what can allow it to remain as a force for a long time to come. So many protests of the past–especially those that arose in the months prior to George W. Bush's buildup toward the Iraq war–degenerated into a cacophony of meaningless noise. Screeching, single-minded verbal assaults served only to undermine the primary issue of that day. All too often, one loutish, laser-aimed speaker after another would take over the proceedings at least temporarily, focusing almost solely on his or her personal pet issue and referring to the fast-growing war preparations almost tangentially.
Far better to take full advantage of the power of having a purpose that encompasses virtually everything that's wrong in today's world, than to single out one transgression. Nothing wrong with devoting a period of time to one prominent concern–immigration, foreclosures, and so forth. But it's crucial not to lose sight of the big picture, because that's where the hope of making meaningful change at some point remains.
2. Stick with the lack of traditional leadership.
All of us are trained from childhood to believe that groups of any sort simply must have a leader, and that all the other members are essentially followers. Opponents just don't know what to make of a group that has no official leader, no firmly-set rules, no established procedures. Keep them bewildered. Let them scoff. But make sure your backers know that in this instance, lack of leadership is a virtue, not a detriment. It's a necessity, not an option.
3. Quiet down.
There's a time for noise, a time for silence, and a time for civil conversation. Protest movements and demonstrations need some of each. Nothing wrong with an improvised drum drawing the attention of passersby, or a genuine musical instrument issuing a more genteel call. Loud voices have their place, too–but only if they're sporadic, meaningful, and non-threatening. Shouting just for the sake of being loud has no valuable purpose, and is one more way to turn empathy on the part of passing pedestrians and motorists into animosity. Excess in noise and in behavior are sure ways to "turn off" the very people to whom you are striving to appeal.
4. Heckling and hectoring don't help.
Sure, bulling your way into meetings and gatherings of the opposition and trying to shout them down is a familiar, time-honored method of making your voices heard. It's also largely fruitless, and alienates any number of people who might otherwise be persuaded to lean toward your side. Loutish behavior might get you on TV, and can energize some of those involved and on the periphery, but it doesn't generate lasting support among a larger audience. With rare exceptions, not a single mind is likely to be changed by such antics, and some previously solid supporters are likely to be critical if the barging-in becomes too childish and whiny.
Arguing with people who are firmly or fanatically on the other side is a waste of time and energy, diluting the message that needs to be delivered. Let's not forget that millions of people think corporations and Wall Street are just fine, and that Occupiers are traitorous crybabies who should "get a job." They're not going to change, as a result of your neatly-crafted and ably-presented arguments. Not ever.
5. Foolish or not, appearance does matter.
So much of the antipathy directed against protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and against opponents of the Vietnam War, stemmed from the unkempt appearance of many of those who were involved. Sure, it's unimportant. Yes, we should all be able to dress and maintain ourselves any way we choose. Still, why make it easy for the opposition to score points, when a little bit of neatness goes a long way.
Similar cautions are worth considering when it comes to drug use. Drugs are illegal, after all. Not everyone uses them, or wishes to watch others do so. Many people abhor drug use, even if they fully support the right of Americans to ingest whatever they choose. Growing numbers, too, are adopting the position that every time an American uses an illegal drug, it's making the drug cartels in Mexico richer and more powerful–and more dangerous to the Mexican people, along with everyone else.
6. When asked about goals, keep answers brief and direct.
Few passersby will be impressed by a lecture or a treatise on some esoteric element of the basic theme of the 99-percent movement. A short, pointed response is far more likely to draw nods of agreement, while long-winded dissertations soon grow tiresome and annoying.
7. Take steps to draw in "regular" people.
In order to last indefinitely, a movement as broad-based as this one needs to enlist not just full-time protesters, not just experienced activists. Instead, you need to draw the attention–and support–of ordinary people who are an integral part of the 99-percent group, whether they realize or not.
8. Signs work best when the message is short and easy to read.
Squeezing a passel of issues onto a single cardboard panel won't get your basic message across. Far better to pick one or two crucial points, and state them in as few words as possible. There's a time for lengthy, comprehensive discussions and presentations of ideas; but displaying them on a hand-held sign being thrust and waved toward moving traffic or pedestrians is not that time.
9. Pick specific, temporary issues carefully.
This is already happening, with groups focusing on immigration reform and home foreclosures, as well as the concept of "Occupying" Congress. Many more can be addressed, from education issues to union rights and credit-granting processes. Regardless, please don't lose sight of the fact that it's all part of the same flawed, people-last process.
10. Keep it up.
Don't give in. Take heart in the knowledge that plenty of others, whom you'll never see or hear from, have watched the 99-percent movement closely and back most, if not all, of their statements and ideas. Sure, some have turned away, often because of the very broadness of the movement and the lack of conventional leadership. Even they might be drawn back, if those who remain keep the message alive–confidently and patiently, politely when needed and boldly when approprirate. Let it deteriorate into just another protest, and we've all lost.