NEW YORK – It turns out that Occupy Wall Street is not too big to fail.
The left-wing protest campaign that started with such a media-assisted bang two months ago ended with a whimper yesterday morning, as New York police shut down the protestors’ latest attempt to make a scene and generally to be a nuisance in lower Manhattan. Evicted from its base of operations in Zuccotti Park earlier in the week, Occupied Wall Street, or what remained of it, tried to improve on its former stunt by attempting to invade the New York Stock Exchange to shut it down. Instead the protestors’ so-called “Day of Action” came to little of consequence when police easily repelled them. It was just the latest setback for a self-styled movement that has fizzled out in recent weeks as public and official patience with it has worn thin.
While yesterday’s events highlight how ineffectual the campaign has become, Occupy Wall Street long ago became a parody of political cluelessness. The protestors’ grievances, while hailed by a sympathetic mainstream media, ranged from the confused to the contradictory. They raged about tax breaks to the rich “1 percent,” even as that one percent shoulders the largest share of the country’s tax burden. They denounced government bailouts for big banks, even as they demanded government bailouts for student loans and demanded that Americans “resist austerity.” They charged that “banks steal homes,” apparently oblivious to the role that the country’s biggest banks had in subsidizing countless risky mortgages that extended “equality” before ultimately collapsing the housing market. Occupy Wall Street did not so much bemoan America’s political and economic realities as invent them, with the result even the more reasonable aspects of their agenda – ending government bailouts for banks for instance – became impossible to take seriously.
Much of what Occupy Wall Street stood for would be meaningless, if it weren’t often menacing. In recent weeks especially there has been a surge in militancy among the protestors. Pollsters found that over one third of the protestors support violence to advance their agenda, a fact confirmed by the mounting violence originating in Occupy Wall Street encampments. In Oakland, protestors vandalized local businesses, set fires, hurled objects at police and shut down the local port. In New York they clashed with police and threatened to “burn New York City to the f—ing ground.” In Washington D.C., protestors laid siege to a conference by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, knocking a 78-year-old woman down some stairs in the process. Given the protestors’ penchant for violence, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that the deranged gunman who fired an assault rifle into the White House this week was initially able to avoid police by blending in with the Occupy D.C. protestors. When there are so many violent radicals in the crowd, it can be difficult to tell them apart.
This is not quite how it has been reported, of course. According to the New York Times and other friendly media, Occupy Wall Street in its brief existence has made a valuable contribution to the nation’s political debate. Conventional wisdom among the journalistic left holds that the protestors somehow helped the country focus on income inequality. (The progressive American Prospect even tried to prove the claim by pointing to the proliferation of the phrase “income inequality” in news stories in recent months, as though this demonstrated anything other than the political biases of reporters.) But to the extent that this claim wasn’t simply trite, it was absurd. American taxpayers hardly needed lessons from underemployed college graduates to see the injustice of delivering taxpayer-funded bailouts to big banks. Nor did they require economic advice from radicals urging the abolition of capital to see that the country’s economy had seen better days. Small wonder that 45 percent of Americans now say they oppose the movement and what it stands for.
Even less credible than its alleged political contribution to the national debate was Occupy Wall Street’s claim to represent the “99 percent” of all Americans. Anyone who had seen pictures of the mostly white middle-class twenty-somethings camping out in public parks would know that the protestors were not a particularly diverse bunch, but now there is empirical evidence to bear this out. A recent survey of Occupy Wall Street’s members by the School of Public Affairs at New York’s Baruch College discovered the obvious: the protestors are overwhelmingly young (62 percent), well-educated (81 percent) and male (67 percent). Even less shockingly, only half of them are employed. Add in the fact that the protestors enjoyed the backing of Big Labor behemoths like the UAW, the SEIU, the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters, and their claim to represent the “real” America collapses like a tent city.
The big question now is whether, having been evicted, Occupy Wall Street can sustain itself without actually occupying Wall Street. The protestors clearly think so, pointing to their migration to social media to spread their message, such as it is. But this is more likely a sign of the protest’s end than its new beginning. The transition from placards to pixels is hardly indicative of a broad movement. Still, the Internet may well be the prefect place for a disgruntled fringe to air its complaints. If only the protestors had figured that out from the beginning, they might have saved the real “99 percent” some of the money for police and sanitation services required to clean up the mess they leave behind.
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