So up until this morning, I thought the “Occupy” protests were completely stupid, useless, and pointless. But after a conversation with a friend, I realized there is an insipid brilliance to the whole movement that I completely overlooked, and now I must compliment the organizers and participants on their forethought and genius.
Before I get into that, let’s go back in time to a dark secret that I’ve held onto for 24 years. In 1987, Gary Hart was the leading candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, until his affair with Donna Rice forced him out of the race. One bitter cold weekend in December, I got on a bus with other kids from my college to go to New Hampshire to participate in an organized protest, in order to try to urge Hart back in the race, chanting “Let the People Decide” repeatedly. Well, Hart got back in the race, and the people decided he was a piece of shit by giving him 4% of the vote.
Why did I do this? I had no fondness for Hart, nor his policies. Heck, I wasn’t even a Democrat (nor was I a Republican, btw, facts that haven’t changed since college). And certainly standing outside in 4 degree windchill wasn’t going to be a good time. But there were three things that swayed my decision: 1) I was bored and had nothing better to do that weekend, 2) there was going to be booze, and 3) it was promised that there were going to be girls there. And what red-blooded 17 year old wouldn’t make the same decision given the circumstances? As an aside, the weekend was a total disaster. I nearly froze to death and caught a nasty cold, there was no booze, and there definitely were no girls. But I did hear on the way up there for the first time the Bangles’ remake of Hazy Shade of Winter, and I shook Jesse Jackson’s hand. So that’s something, I guess.
Which brings us back to 2011 and the “Occupy” movements. Above and beyond all else, they satisfy my three requirements for going to New Hampshire: boredom, booze, and girls. They are a social event and a fashion statement for people of an age where their angst is high, and where their responsibilities are low. This, in part, explains the popularity among the current college and recent-college generation. But it doesn’t fully explain the draw, nor does it really get to the depth of the brilliance inherent in the movement.
One of my chief objections with the Occupy protests was that they weren’t really protesting anything. In my discussion with my friend, however, I realized that there was indeed something being protested, but it is up to each individual’s interpretation as to what the protests are all about. And therein lies the genius. For some, it is about protesting capitalism itself, and suggesting a social wealth redistribution. And those can claim the masses as part of their cause. For others, though, it is a more esoteric protest about encouraging free thought, and those people too can claim the numbers to be with their cause. Heck, I could interpret it as a protest about how Saran Wrap isn’t as clingy as it used to be (which it isn’t, and that really pisses me off), as a part of a larger “corporate America is screwing us” movement, and with no disingenuity claim the thousands of protesters all want more clingy Saran Wrap. It is a protest about nothing, but like Seinfeld, there’s a lot in the nothing.
This muddling of purpose has to be intentional. The TEA parties galvanized the right around reducing government spending, and the left needed to counter. But the left is fragmented, and there is no single issue upon which the left can unify. Obama led a campaign on “Hope” and “Change”, which was similarly esoteric to the formation of the Occupy protests, and rode a wave of anti-Bush rhetoric to the White House. With the Bush boogeyman long gone, however, and the support from the left eroding as Bush’s disaster of a presidency is essentially just being continued by Obama (with a sprinkling of Obamacare for good measure), there needed to be something to reinvigorate the left and create a positive message. To this end, the Occupy movement has accomplished its goals. It has created momentum going into the political season, and most importantly lit the fire of passionate involvement in the political process from some of the most fervent leaders of the left. All on the brilliant back of the vague notions of freedom of thought and expression, and/or angst around class disparities, on the back of a generation who is searching for purpose and meaning in life.
I get it now. I still don’t support it, because I’m older, married, and less angsty now. But I understand now why people would participate, and can’t vilify them for doing such.
Oh, and to the lying piece of crap that lured me to New Hampshire on the promise of an epic party for that miserable weekend: fuck you. And fuck you, too, Gary Hart. There, I feel better.