It seems safe to say that we've moved into a cultural/political space where liberals have jettisoned their early discomfort with Occupy Wall Street and now back the movement unreservedly. Sam Graham-Felsen's first person piece on overcoming OWS skepticism is a good example. Liberals have a weird and transactional relationship with leftists: we condescend to them, we fear they jeopardize the liberal project, we reject their agenda, and yet we occasionally use one another. I no longer know where Occupy Wall Street is on the liberal/leftist spectrum: I suspect, like Sam wrote, it wouldn't exist without the leftists but is now a movement of liberals and less-political folk who express their anxieties over economic dislocation.
Even so, sometimes it takes people rather familiar with leftism to most accurately capture OWS. My old friend Colin Asher, writing in the Progressive, is a good example. You should read his whole piece, but I want to call attention to two excerpts. First Colin talks with a P.R. firm's chief, who's hanging around Zuccotti Park:
Does he think the group's lack of cohesion is a problem?
“It's charming, in it's own way,” he says.
“As a PR person, one thing I'd say is they need better messaging. “They're not bumper-sticker-ready yet.”
I can't argue with that. But for reasons I can't articulate, it seems to be completely beside the point.
I think this is totally right. Not having a coherent message can be a strength. It doesn't alienate anyone. That's why "We Are The 99 Percent" is so powerful a declaratory statement. And anyone paying attention to OWS or attending one of the rallies worldwide intuitively understands its actual, substantive message: we are anxious about economic dislocation, and we demand an end to it. There may or may not be a good way to programmatize that angst and craft an agenda to end it, but that's not usually the job of demonstations.
Ah, but Colin, a rigorous thinker and reporter, wouldn't raise an issue like that and fail to problematize it:
Zuccotti Park has become a panopticon. When any voice rises above a conversational level, microphones circle and descend like buzzards, flashes snap, and cell phones are raised and set to record. Reporters, academics, and writers shoulder through the crowd in search of “gets.” We approach each other, spot notebooks half-opened and held low to avoid attention, and withdraw. Interviewing has never felt quite so useless.
Fractional groups of Trotskyists, Maoists and Socialists have been nibbling at the edges of the Park since the occupation began, but now they are here en mass. A nervous, bearded man with unsteady hands reads from a hand-written note, explaining his reasons for coming to Zuccotti. I arrive as he is saying, “I just wanted you to know I'm here to stand for something.”
And this is where someone's familiarity with various protest movements shines through. I don't know what it's like to have a demonstration hijacked. Colin can teach people like me a few things. One of my 20-something cousins, who has a similar background and is no liberal, made this the heart of his critique of OWS: no one speaks for it, so it's setting itself up for hijacking, and risks styming its own growth.
I suppose it depends on how long OWS and its offshoots can physically stay in Zuccotti Parks around the country (and the world). If the movement disperses without evolving into a second phase, then its momentum probably will be squandered. I don't know the answer, but I know enough not to dismiss my friends with experience in these sorts of endeavors.