Thursday, February 23, 2012

How Occupy fell short

This post isn't about the Constitution.  I want to make that perfectly clear.  There are people in New Paltz who believe so dearly in the piece of the truth that they have in their hearts and minds, that no other pieces of truth could possibly exist.

This post is about another piece of truth regarding Occupy New Paltz.  It's the truth about perception and outreach.

Occupy is a different kind of protest.  Back when protesters were fighting against the Vietnam conflict (it wasn't a war; Congress illegally gave up the requirement of declaring war with the War Powers Act), it was easy to understand.  Agree or disagree, everyone knew that the hippies were protesting the fighting.

Our problems are more complex now.  Occupy realized that, and wouldn't simply fire off a few bullet points for the media.  It's an inclusive process that's consensus-based, and completely puzzling to anyone who hasn't made decisions that way.

But there have always been parts of the Occupation were clear.  It started on Wall Street, and spread to other places of power; centers of government and finance were targeted.  "Occupation" is a word that aptly describes how this protest has targeted specific physical locations because of their symbolic meaning.  You might not be clear what Occupy is protesting exactly, but the locations send an unmistakable message.

Again, whether you agree with that message or not, it's there.

So then the routing of the Occupations began.  Nationwide, they were ousted from the parks and the public spaces.  When Occupy Poughkeepsie was shut down, some Occupiers came to New Paltz, where village officials initially opened their arms.

I heard that there was some kind of action at a local bank, and I caught glimpses of a couple of signs in Hasbrouck Park, but I was puzzled by the choice.  What in New Paltz can represent the problems with American society that has left so many unemployed, with so few consequences for the money lenders and corporate bigwigs who drove the economy into the ground?

However, I understood that New Paltz may be the place to be because no one else would have them.  I remarked to my wife back in December that this could become the epicenter of the movement, because they would be allowed to stay.

But as a guy who doesn't venture out much in the winter, I can't say I've seen much that looks like activism.  Or protest.  The park is a poor location for visibility, and the number of people was always terribly small, so the challenges were large.  But primarily this is a question of PR, and I guess no one involved at this location had any skills in that area.

We needed to know why they were here.  Not guessing and rumors, but clear action of some kind, in-your-face action that would distinguish this protest from a bunch of people camping out in the park.

I'm here to tell you that it's still not happened.  There's a bit more talk about the legality of the protest, but no one has explained to me why New Paltz had an Occupation.

When I say "me," I am referring to every New Paltz citizen who doesn't spend his or her life focused on politics and activism.  There's more than a couple of us, I think it's fair to say.

It could be that the Occupation accomplished a lot, but I don't know about it.  And why should I know?  Because the ordinary citizens of this town need to be behind something like this if it's to succeed.  Politicians are weak, and bow to political pressure.  If the average Paltzian had been swayed to at least passively support the Occupation, it would still be there.  And no one would be spending time and money in court.  Including my tax money, when the village gets sued, which I think it will be.

Occupiers, please understand:  I want to support you.  As of now, though, I haven't the foggiest idea how or why.

1 comment:

Brittany Turner said...

Thank you so much for posting this; you've summarized my thoughts exactly, and far more articulately than I've been able to.

I was baffled when I heard about the Occupy New Paltz movement, and even more baffled by what I saw (ok, heard about) unfolding. Occupying in solidarity (dude, you're 2 hours away from the main site) and occupying because you got kicked out of everywhere else don't really do it for me.

You're right that there are many differences between the Occupy movement an the anti-war efforts of the 1960s and 70s... one of the main differences, to me, is that the Occupy movement isn't *necessarily* the same form of peaceful protest and civil disobedience. Unlike the predecessors, there is a slight undercurrent of militarism as demonstrated by the name itself. You don't occupy somewhere because you have permission; you occupy for a reason, and will not be moved.

The NP Occupy effort has nothing to do with either a message or a movement as far as I can tell and I'm glad they've been ousted until someone can demonstrate otherwise. Surely, if their constitutional rights to assemble have been violated they should take the actions they believe necessary, but before everyone has to pay for this challenge, I *really* hope there was a reason for the whole thing in the first place. There are enough legitimate reasons to sue the village that we don't need to go around inventing new ones.