Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"But I like Minnesota!": the nomenclature of protest groups

Whatever else you think about the Occupy Wall Street movement, you have to admit it has a catchy name. After all, not many people really like Wall Street all that much. The idea of occupying it, taking it over, taking it for the jobless, is at least symbolically pleasing.

Which is why I find it odd that the national movement has generally ditched the "Wall Street" bit and kept the "Occupy" bit. So we have a lot of groups and rallies with names like Occupy Minnesota or Occupy Chicago.

Doesn't anyone else find these names strange and maybe a little offputting? I don't want anyone to occupy Minnesota! Minnesota is where I live. Minnesota is a decent place. I'm generally happy with the decisions being made by the Minneapolis city government, and Mayor R.T. Rybak is by all accounts a pretty cool dude. If anyone has a problem with the state's governance, I'd really prefer they address it by making use of the state's functioning democratic mechanisms.

OWS caught on because wealth inequality is obvious and grating, and taking a stand against it resonates with a lot of people. Not because a lot of people want to effect a hostile military takeover of their municipal government. But the movement's ringleaders, to the extent they exist, have gotten very excited about the word "occupy." It's the sort of silly, overheated people-power rhetoric that has inspired young lefties -- and mostly annoyed everyone else -- since the beginning of time. It's a minor thing, but it suggests to me that left is making precisely the same mistake the Tea Party made when it started to gather national media attention: assuming that the slightest display of sympathy with its ill-defined agenda means the country is primed for revolt. And it's just not so. There isn't a secret army of empowered progressives lying just below the surface. America isn't a powder keg of class tension, waiting for someone to light the fuse. A lot of people on the left seem to have mistaken populism for the revolution, and their movement is going to sorely disappoint them eventually.


  1. At least in Winston-Salem, NC, the spectrum of people attending the General Assembly is pretty wide, and the support we've gotten on the streets and from the police and community organizations has been pretty solid. But I suppose Winston-Salem is a hotbed of young lefty thought, so you might have a point :-)

    In any case, there's an OccupyMN GA in Minneapolis - you should go down and voice your concern with the name :-)

  2. I mean, it's pretty easy to give support to a bunch of people not doing anything in particular. If you can get support for anything remotely resembling a policy initiative, then I'll be impressed.

  3. "Not doing anything in particular"? Occupy Wall Street, and Occupy Winston-Salem, is right now more about the process of movement building through utilization of consensus than any particular policy initiatives or leaders. That's why I'd encourage you to visit your local GA - I'm sure they could do with some of your valuable expertise.

    In any case, please remember that we're on the same side (http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/10/keep-asking-yourself-one-question-whose-side-am-i), and try to limit your consumption of Haterade to small sips, haha.