End the Occupation, Start the Transformation

It’s time for the Occupy protestors to leave.

Leave the parks, the public spaces, the sidewalks and roadways, indeed all places where they have sat for the past several weeks.  This should be done peacefully and without delay.

This morning, a 23 year old woman died at Occupy Vancouver, likely related to a drug overdose.  At Occupy Wall Street, Halifax, and many other cities, complaints continue to mount about basic sanitation, rape and sexual assault, drug usage, even weapons and fights.

Drumming at many sites disrupts the ability of school children near the protest zones to study, even sleep.  And polling data from across the U.S and Canada show a dramatic drop in support and sympathy for the cause from the very 99% that movement claims to represent.

In popular media, from South Park to Internet memes galore, the “Occupy” branding has become a joke, and that is the worst thing that can happen to any wave of change still in embryo.  If your movement becomes a punch line, so does your message.

The Occupation needs to end….so that the real work can begin. Members of the 99% have succeeded in occupying Wall Street.  Now is the time to start repaving it.

Let’s not kid ourselves: 1% is a small number of people in any context, let alone political power. Arguably, in most non-democracies, the ruling class is even smaller than that, and the amount of power they wield much, much larger. Even the vast majority of those who endorse that other populist movement – the Tea Party – are not nearly as wealthy or powerful as the individuals, companies, and groups that they support.

It’s the standard hypocrisy of the Right to sway individuals among the very people they oppress through their economic policies to stand up and shout down those in support of emancipation.  “Useful idiots” exist for all ideologies, but among those who actively work against progressive change that would benefit the idiots themselves, that hypocrisy is most obvious, and nothing new.

The idiots in the Occupy movement, by contrast, aren’t necessarily wealthy or white or born-again Christians, but they do represent another kind of 1%: the professional protestors who show up to everything.  Good economic times or not, rain or shine, whether it’s women’s rights here or social housing funding there, they find a way.  Such civic participation would be awesome, but for their complete lack of any rational faculty.

But this 1% does two things very well: they are very good at claiming to represent the whole movement to the press, and they produce memorable sound bites.  These are the people that kill the legitimacy of progressive movements.

One example that stands out for me happened early on during Occupy Toronto.  A young twentysomething self-declared artist was cited in the Globe and Mail (will update with the link once I find the quote) saying that “Why should I have to work?  I should have the right to be paid to do what I love”. Most activists, even the most leftist, would acknowledge the present-day reality that while you wait for more changes to go through the system, you’ve still got to haul your ass to the café or the warehouse or the storefront or office where you work and earn some cash.  Still, out of the dozens who were there, this was the guy who got quoted.

Ditto for the drummers: you only need six or seven to make enough noise to keep people awake at night. Unfortunately for them, their intended audiences – the elites – live miles away from the protest zone.  All you’re going to do is annoy the poor people that you’re protesting for.

What the Occupy protestors need to do now is what the Tea Party has done on the other side: win and keep an electable political party.  The way you do that is to control your extreme elements.  This is something that, according to one survey, the more radicalized Occupiers actually oppose.  On this front, they need to learn from the Tea Party, who have become veritable king-makers in U.S. politics despite having a decentralized, highly diffuse populist base.

Stateside, the mission is clear: infiltrate the Democratic National Convention at all levels, and start nominating your own candidates who will back the Occupy movement.

And start duct-taping your extremists.

Conservative elites have long made effective recruitment of the stereotypical “poor, God-fearing redneck living in a shack” demographic as electoral cannon fodder to keep them in mansions and caviar.  Normally, it was these people – in Canada, former Canadian Alliance candidate Betty Granger talking about the “Asian invasion”, or Cheryl Gallant’s continued and baffling faux-pas on abortion, climate change, and homosexuality – that would derail election campaigns because of their lack of a filter between their mouths and their brains.

With the Tea Party, however, something new happened: they managed to win the support of the redneck demographic, but then got a muzzle on Cletus before he could get caught on tape talking about the evil Zionist Negro conspiracy that got Obama elected.  And it worked. You’ll get articles here and there identifying individuals within the Tea Party as racist, xenophobic, misogynistic dinosaurs, but they somehow don’t catch fire and taint the entire movement. By getting Republicans to embrace the movement, the Tea Party got an air of legitimacy.

That’s where the Occupation needs to go, before the idiots among them start getting all the press.

OWS has made their point.  Their cause is a just one.  1% of the population or less controlling 40% or more of the economic destiny of the nation is unacceptable.  Having financial institutions that get away with murder and then get taxpayer bailouts for being “too big to fail” is unacceptable.  Stripping away funding for even basic necessities such as public schools, community policing, drug rehabilitation, and social security while the CEOs of bailed-out corporations still award bonuses to themselves in the millions is unacceptable.  If the purpose was to raise awareness, they have done so: a majority of the nation is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

But they will lose that support if OWS goes the way of most other progressive protest movements of the past twenty years and fails to get support from a legitimate political party. This isn’t about “selling out”, this is about actually having a real effect on national decision-making. This is about actually getting what you say you want.

And as comfortable as it is for me to sit on my fat suburban ass typing on my computer about these issues instead of braving the police barricades and tear gas canisters, I am, nonetheless, a politically active citizen, and I actually vote.

And the longer the occupiers do what they’re doing – without direction, without a purpose beyond just showing up – the sooner that people like me are going to stop associating them with freedom fighters and advocates of the public good and start associating them with criminals, drug users, rapists, lazy middle class hipsters, and park-bench revolutionaries.

If a candidate emerges that supports the principles of bettering the financial system, arresting the erosion of the middle class, and supporting reform of the existing democratic process, then I will vote for them.  I want to help make the changes the Occupy movement advocates for, but I want to contribute in a way that will get real, tangible results.

My question to the Occupiers: will you do the work to put a name on the next ballot? Or will you relegate your own movement to being a mere footnote in the history books?

Occupying something is easy.  You just have to show up.  But changing something means pounding the pavement, not just sitting on it.

As we all approach the fourth year of economic instability wrought by the 1%, it is high time for the Occupiers to put the drums away, get up, take a stretch, and start walking your talk.

The 99% is counting on you.

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