After weeks of raucous protests and fawning media coverage, the Occupy Wall Street movement finally has worn out its welcome.
Since it kicked off in New York last month, OWS has styled itself as a populist campaign. In its own mythology, it represents the voiceless “99 percent” against the ostensibly rich and greedy Wall Street executives in the top “1 percent.” Considering that the top 1 percent already bear the largest share of the country’s tax burden, this class warfare-driven charge never quite stuck. But now the OWS protestors have a bigger problem. As the protests have dragged on, turning city parks and plazas across the country into open sewers and crime havens, the everyday people the protestors claim to champion are turning against them.
The latest demonstration of the movement’s plummeting popularity comes from Oakland. City officials were initially supportive of the OWS campaign, with mayor Jean Quan, a Democrat, justifying the protestors’ misbehavior on the grounds that “democracy can be messy.” But having watched the protestors turn the plaza surrounding Oakland’s City Hall into a garbage-filled trouble spot – complete with fire hazards, public urination, rats, vandalism and other criminal activity – the mayor decided that it was time to clean up the mess.
Oakland police did just that this week. Following repeated warnings to the protestors to pack up because they were illegally camping in the plaza – warnings many of them chose to ignore – the police moved to clear out the site, arresting some 85 protestors in the process. Undeterred, a mob of 1,000 protestors armed with rocks and bottles tried to reoccupy the plaza by force, prompting clashes with riot police. When the tear gas cleared, the protestors seemed to have been successfully evicted.
That one of the country’s most left-wing cities can no longer tolerate the presence of the OWS protestors is telling. And Oakland is not alone in deciding that it has had enough. Police in such right-wing hotbeds as San Francisco and San Diego also cleared out OWS camps over the weekend, and another 130 OWS protestors were arrested in Chicago. In New York’s Zuccotti Park, where the protests began, there is growing pressure from residents and local businesses for a similar crackdown, as protests have brought blight to the area and driven away customers. “A lot of tourists coming down from hotels are so disgusted and disappointed when they see this,” one sandwich store proprietor near Zuccotti Park told the Associated Press. “I hope for the sake of the city the mayor does close this down.” OWS protestors may think that they are sticking it to America’s rich, but it is small-business owners and residents who have been most put out by their campaign.
The spate of evictions has not gone down well with the protestors, of course. In response to their ouster, many have taken to denouncing “police brutality” and political “repression.” One OWS protestor in Oakland lamented, “I’m hoping our city government comes to their senses and stops dealing with us like a fascist state.” Left-wing groups like the ACLU have rallied to their defense, claiming that OWS’s squalid tent cities are really “symbolic speech that’s protected by the First Amendment.”
Leaving aside the fact that police have exercised extreme restraint, something that cannot be said for the often-violent protestors, cities are well within their rights in clearing out the protests. Not only are the protestors breaking the law by camping out on public grounds, but they have repeatedly defied orders to vacate. Thus, this week’s evictions are unlikely to be the last. The movement’s defiant spokesmen may insist that “we’re not going anywhere,” but they almost certainly are, and soon.
Troublesome as they have proved to their host cities, it would be inaccurate to say that no one has benefited from the OWS protests. In New York, some enterprising folks near Zuccotti Park have tried to capitalize on the anti-capitalist scene by selling everything from Occupy Wall Street sweatshirts and buttons to condoms. One couple even tried to trademark the name Occupy Wall Street. If the protestors weren’t so busy breaking the law and blaming capitalism for all their woes, they might notice the irony.
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