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16 October, 2011


A month after the Occupy Wall Street protest began, the movement has replicated on an international scale. I live in Olympia, Washington, where our own Occupation began this weekend. Wrapping up a year that began with massive labor protests ignited by Wisconsin's union-busting, I have to say it is inspiring to see people taking to the streets, speaking out, refusing to just sit back and take whatever abuse AmeriCo feels like dishing out.

But occupations are mostly doomed. In Iraq, the West Bank, Soviet satellites, and on down the list, occupiers find themselves at odds with local populations, trying to maintain order in places they do not know or understand, stuck fighting an opposition when they'd rather be home. Having chosen a military metaphor, the movement faces congruent difficulties. In the US, occupying private property touches a deep nerve; people in general may not care what you do on someone else's property, but they sure as hell don't want someone camped out on their private property, and will oppose on principal such action. Occupying a public park, on the other hand, creates an insurgency among the usual users and the municipal authorities charged with serving the general public, which may feel no common cause with an occupation force perceived as radicals and people with too much time and too little work ethic.

This may not be a fair perception, but it is sure as hell reinforced by corporate media, ranging from the all-out attacks by Fox and other right wing organs on 'un-American' protesters to the regular mention elsewhere of marijuana smoking, un-focused, and by implication unlikely-to-succeed, occupiers. Evil or addled, or maybe just plain naive as some pundits would have it, the story line rarely credits the movement with potential to create real change, and drags before the cameras an unending series of spokespeople who cite goals that are vague beyond comprehension, or have to do with grinding a very specific and odd ax, or betray ignorance. The resistance benefits greatly from the fact that a leaderless movement that worships free speech and personal autonomy can be "represented" on camera by the most idiotic among the occupiers.

Another flaw lies in the territory being occupied. In Manhattan, it is Zuccotti Park, which despite its name is not a public space at all, but the property of the Brookfield Properties corporation. Elsewhere, Occupy clones are popping up in public spaces, but it's not the county or city or state that the occupiers have a grievance with. Occupy a city park, and you may inconvenience the municipality, the people who the week before had gone there to feed pigeons or play with kids, but you do not hurt the corporations that looted our economy. In fact, you do them a favor, setting in motion a conflict between citizens who occupy the park and the civil servants responsible for maintaining it. If I were a Wall Street banker, I'd be laughing all the way to the, uh, my work, as city officials fretted and faced unplanned expenses while occupiers focused sizable effort on avoiding eviction and the remaining citizenry split into pro-, anti- and apathetic camps. Divide and divert, and meanwhile very little corporate real estate is occupied.

I support my family by working for money, which means I cannot go down an take part in the Occupation, at least not in the sense of living there day in and day out. I can lend support, bring supplies, write blogs and comments lauding this patriotic antidote to the Tea Party. But my occupation is something else, and I don't have time to occupy a city park. Instead, I'll occupy my house, which is actually just a tiny percentage mine, belonging as it does to the mortgage holder (in my case, this is a local credit union, and not a Wall Street bank, so mine is a peaceful occupation, nothing adversarial unless I chose to stop paying the bill I willingly signed on to). As much as I support civil disobedience and speaking out against our greedy, corrupted system, I do find myself wondering who it is that will have the time to occupy a park for weeks or months on end, and whether with all that time, they might have something to do that would create more tangible progress.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will it devolve into an extended dance party that accomplishes nothing? Will people lose interest or hope and go home? Will the clampdown roll through like MacArthur's tanks through Hooverville? Will corporations see the error of unbridled capitalism and surrender?

I'm pessimistic enough to think that those question were presented in descending order of likelihood, but optimistic enough to think that beyond the Occupy movement, there may be positive change. The protest may have some deep flaws that keep it from being sustainable in its present form, but this week people are talking about issues that were buried a month ago, and maybe in a month they'll be taking more substantive measures. Occupation may prove to be a vital step on a journey that leads to a better nation.

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