So we've had the occupation of Wall Street, demonstrations to object to crony capitalism, and now I believe it looks Boston did one, as well as Seattle, and now the Brooklyn bridge got "occupied" as they're saying. I'm normally in favor of anything that boosts democracy, public engagement and peaceful street-level demonstrating. It's a fundamental bedrock of our democracy, and when I see civil liberties, or concrete issues that need some good old-fashioned protestin' I am one of the first to support the efforts of those activists.
That being said, I think this current creation of occupying the financial district just to show a general undefined objection to the problems that can exist in capitalism, or other locations just to inconvenience commerce lacks any kind of real substance necessary for real change. I don't want to criticize people who are engaging in politics and taking the time to do so - I think many probably have their hearts in the right place, but these types of undefined demonstrations are exactly what quickly devolve into anarchist riots, police clashing with citizens, ending up like an old couple fighting at the dinner table, just bickering - no one remembering what got the argument started in the first place.
I really supported the recent efforts of demonstrators and activists to free Troy Davis. I think they had a specific goal, a specific concern, and an organized effort endorsed by a former US President, the Pope and countless other respectable figures from around the country and the world.
To me, when it came to the death penalty argument in Georgia over a man sentenced to die over eyewitness accounts of questionable integrity, you highlight a deep problem in our criminal justice sytem as a whole. There's organization, a clearly defined goal, and an effort to make a change. It didn't work. He was killed. But it may work by opening up the necessary dialogue we need to have about death penalty in this country, and our justice system as a whole. Those efforts matter. Those efforts make America better.
So... Back to the original point though, or lack thereof. When a protest doesn't have any clear gripe other than that "our system is run by corporate capitalist pigs who want to make a lot money", I don't think we're making the kinds of concrete, definitive steps needed to stop crooked capitalism. We also hurt ourselves by arguing that capitalism as a whole is a problem, a system that has done some incredible things for society, and distract ourselves from targeting the problematic elements of it. As always, Michael Moore is out there making sure he gets his face featured in any kind of controversy, alongside the press, the conspiracy theorists, and the folks in the Halloween costumes, a tad before the actual day, As is so frequently the case with undefined demonstrations, the argument quickly gets framed as a clash of the noble citizen vs. the heartless storm trooper police force.
Look - Police brutality is a serious issue that we need to fix in this country. But for all the bad crappy cops, there are great ones too. There ones that rushed in on 9/11 to save lives. There are the ones that come and revive you when you're dying of a heart attack on the side of the road. The issue is never so black and white, and the police are in a real sense trying to do their jobs in trying to control riots. Is police force in some of these cases excessive? It would seem so. Should that be discussed and brought to prominence to the right people? Of course. But blanket blame against some kind of corporate/police crooked bank, Wall St. system is not the way to create a better system. You never start a useful dialogue by outright telling someone how terrible they are. The real power players these demonstrators are angry at aren't even remotely nearby. They'll be taking the helicopter to work instead, maybe glance at the chaos from outside the window.
We have an election in 2012. We have candidates, we have the voting public. In a democracy we can control the outcome of this nation, and lobbyists are not more powerful than a unified and fed up American voice, so I think and hope that if street demonstrations are to be a part of the mobilization of a frustrated, politically thoughtful America that we can do so in an effort to highlight real issues.
I hope the efforts are organized in a real way with a real goal, instead of vague, enraged protests without clear motives, propelled by a sensationalist media, in a cycle that only can lead to clashes, violence and chaos, ironically to sell ads to corporations - Live anti-capitalism protest coverage brought to you by Pfizer!
Marches can make a difference. Few would deny the power of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior's work, or the unrelenting and determined efforts of those opposing a war in Vietnam. When people are fed up, sometimes street activism is a powerful component when tied into a greater strategy to inspire real change. The symbolism of the streets hold something that our social media pics, and twitter feeds cannot.
However, riots and rage will not lead us to where we want to be. Those frustrated that we have not seen the dramatic changes we've wanted to see in our political system need to go beyond anger at our system, but think pragmatically about what it should be.
Those angry at unemployment, unfair tax codes, corruption all have valid reasons to want to change things - But these points must be made in a valid way, and that generally leans toward leaving your 'V for Vendetta' Guy Fawkes mask at home.