In the previous post, I discussed media coverage of OWS and other protester attempts to raise awareness. But my biggest question is, what do the OWS protesters actually plan to do with the attention and emotion they’ve generated?
Different protesters have different ideas, as covered in NPR’s Planet Money (among many other sources). For some, the protests themselves are the point — they want to engage members of the public in conversations about the economy, let the world know they’re angry, and in some cases generate ideas for reform. Many believe strongly in the participatory democracy and consensus decision making of the nightly meetings in NYC (Planet Money, around the 6:30 mark). Some of them seem to want to change government to make it more like this process. Others want to change the values that govern society to mirror those of the protesters, so that people care about each other more and want to distribute wealth more evenly. It is unclear how to go about accomplishing either of these large, vague goals.
Some argue that vagueness is a good thing right now, and that concrete legislative demands will transform the beginnings of a potentially powerful movement into weak laws. Others, like Andrew Smith (Planet Money, 10:00), claim that effectiveness itself is undesirable and will disenfranchise people. I’m not sure what these protesters are hoping will come of them demonstrations, honestly.
Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges, on the other hand, claims that the protesters want regulation of the financial sector and prosecution of members of Goldman Sachs and other institutions responsible for the financial crisis. (The CBC anchor’s attack on him and the protesters is pretty amazing to watch — including a debate about whether the term “nutcase” or “nutbar” was used — and CBC later offered an apology.) I believe that is true, in many cases. I have also seen some other specific suggestions for regulatory demands made multiple times: End corporate personhood. Limit or end corporate contributions to political campaigns. Regulate lobbyists. Make the bailed out banks pay back the funds the government gave them. Change individual and corporate tax structure. Support trade unions. Increase support for the unemployed. Increase Medicare and Social Security.
I have, so far, seen only a few calls for individual action outside of protesting. People are being asked to participate in Bank Transfer Day, and transfer their money from a bank to a credit union by November 5. Additionally, there’s the Occupy The Boardroom movement, encouraging people to voice their discontent to specific members of Wall Street via email. That seems potentially amusing and good for blowing off steam — but I’m pretty sure The Boardroom is pretty good at ignoring unwanted items in its inbox.
Has anyone else seen any other specific calls to do something beyond the scope of protesting? Also, if anyone has any analyses of the likely effects of Bank Transfer Day, I’d love to read them and post more on that topic.
It will be interesting to watch where the protests go from here, and whether OWS leads to a more effective long-term movement. (Despite the protesters who claim effectiveness to be beside the point or counterproductive, I am clearly biased toward effective actions.) On The Media interviewed Michael Kazin (around the 7 min mark), historian and specialist in social movements, about what it would take for that to happen:
For it to become a movement, it has to become organized, it has to have recognizable spokespeople, it has to have a strategy and not just a set of protest tactics…. It needs to last longer…, get alliances — not just with some labor unions, but with, perhaps, immigrant groups, perhaps with some people in the left-wing Democratic Party. It needs to do what the civil rights movement did, what the anti-war movement did in the 1960s, what the labor movement did in the 1930s, which is to appear to be the voice of people who have not really had a voice about their discontent, their anger with what’s happened to the American economy….
I think at this stage being a little inchoate, being a little incoherent even, but being very clear about what you’re against more than what you’re for, enables lots of people to take part with their own reasons…. At this stage what they’re doing is very effective [because the coverage itself helps to generate more interest]. If it continues to go on, people in the media will say, ‘Well, you did this for two months. What are you gonna do next?’
[See also Part 1 and Part 2.]