The Occupiers’ real goal is to take down America as we know it.
It was 1968 all over again, and Occupy Wall Street was the Grateful Dead concert that never ended. In a textbook case of history repeating itself as farce, images of Karl Marx and Che Guevara were everywhere and OWS politics blended Sixties-era cynical white guilt and youthful techno-optimism. Jesse Jackson took the show on the road, telling the Occupy London faithful that Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela all would have been Occupiers. But whereas those teachers preached justice and equality rightly understood, the Occupiers, descending upon the public square, celebrated “social justice and equality” understood as soft despotism.
They clung to the preachings of the postmodern university, whose teachers were, as always, quick to be the revolution’s vanguards, oblivious to the role they had played in increasing the debt that so many of their students had bemoaned. This year student debt reached $1 trillion, but rather than criticize academia’s excesses—abusive tenure, a growing country club mentality on campus, frivolous departments—Occupy Wall Street invited the sort of professional activists who masquerade as scholars. There were the usual suspects: Cornel West (African American Studies), Frances Fox Piven (Sociology), and Noam Chomsky (Linguistics) all showed up.
Early last October, some 300 professors from Columbia University—Barack Obama’s undergraduate alma mater—signed a petition lending their support. Inequalities, they wrote, “block opportunities for the young and strangle the hopes for better futures for the majority while generating vast profits for a very few.” But the professors left out the role they had played in blocking opportunities for college students by saddling them with debt for degrees of dubious worth. Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, definitely a one-percenter with his $1.38 million salary, recalled his own outings in yesteryear’s protests:
In both [cases], very, very serious things happened. The political systems seemed unable to cope with those problems, and civil demonstrations are perfectly legitimate, reasonable, and at times highly effective ways to change that.…My own view is that Wall Street bears a very significant share of the responsibility for the failures of these systems and the resulting, negative effects on the entire society and beyond.
The Occupiers took to their tweets as they took to the streets. (Indeed, the Millennials could have been named Generation Twit.) Their revolution was tweeted, podcasted, YouTubed, Facebooked, and Tumblred. It lived as much on the Internet as it did in the tent cities. “Flash mobs”—Internet-facilitated gatherings that hit like flash floods—descended upon the Brooklyn Bridge, where more than 700 were arrested in one day.
Yet despite their one-ness, protesters couched everything in the first person singular: “I may be a member of one percent…” or “I am someone with college debt…,” as if simply tweeting one’s discontent from an iPhone could induce sympathy from a media content to see its issues du jour—income inequality, student indebtedness, Wall Street excess, unemployment—in the protesters’ tattered dreams. It worked. The New Yorker featured a story about a homeless man attracted to the protests. Time called the “Protester” its Person of the Year, while Charlie Rose featured fawning coverage of Occupy Wall Street and asked seemingly every guest on his program their thoughts about it.
One thing they knew: how to play the media. They deftly restricted access to prying eyes and journalists, especially for those among the encampments who might stray from the unfolding stage play’s script. Occupy Baltimore handed out pamphlets telling demonstrators not to report sexual assaults to police. Under this “stop snitching” policy, the rapes mounted. A transcript of the January 7 New York General Assembly meeting reveals that one Occupier was responsible for six rapes alone. The Wall Street Journal reported that New York City churches were housing one such rapist, a Mr. Tonye Iketubosin who raped a Massachusetts woman on a Saturday morning. There were other casualties. New York businesses near the park lost an estimated $500,000 in income. The shopkeepers formed a resistance of sorts, but it soon faded. Its organizers had to go back to work.
Of course, as was true in the free-love protests of the Sixties, many of the protesters were there for the fun of it. What was important, as with the rock concerts of the past, was simply being there. In our ironic age, it is hip to protest when you don’t say (or perhaps know) what you are protesting, and especially if someone else pays for the cleanup.
And pay someone else always does. Occupy Wall Street raised $667,080 from October 1 to December 13 from its mostly small donation supporters, but before long the Occupiers’ funds dried up. By January, they were slowly going broke. The New York Times reported that OWS was forced to institute a “partial spending freeze” in order “to make sure enough money is available for critical functions like bailing protesters out of jail.”
It fell to others to pick up the tab for their encampments. New York taxpayers had to pay $13 million for all the police overtime. Evicting protesters from shantytowns around City Hall in Los Angeles cost taxpayers $2.35 million. And Occupy Washington D.C. cost the city $1.7 million—though Mayor Vince Gray is looking for a bailout from the federal government, a fitting finish for a group ostensibly concerned about government bailouts.
“Occupys” have now sprouted up around the world, from Amsterdam to Santiago and Seoul. There was Occupy San Francisco (hard to tell it hadn’t already been occupied), Occupy the Ports (to shut down the ports in Portland, Oregon) and even Occupy Harvard, which succeeded in shuttering Harvard Yard to tourists. (Students had to show an I.D. to enter.) Alas the demonstrators lacked the decorum once expected of Harvard men. In one well-circulated photo, a protester defecated on a police car. At another protest, a police officer was pushed off his motorcycle.
These were signs of things to come. Occupy Wall Street’s co-founder Kalle Lasn, a gadfly of the pro-fessional left, last fall proclaimed the first phase of the occupation over just in time for winter. But it was now time for a second and “more militant phase,” he decreed. His “meme war” against American commercialism had won the attention of the international and activist left, and he had done it with little more than a poster—a ballerina poised atop Wall Street’s raging bull and an invitation to take over the metropolis. He is compiling a “textbook of the future,” Occupy Econ 101 (it’s being published in June), with contributors including Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize-winning economist turned far-left polemicist, and Herman Daly, former World Bank sustainable development guru and father of “ecological economics,” which holds that there might be “limits to growth.” Lasn’s self-described “loony left” has gone mainstream.
The Occupation began on September 17, a date that Kalle Lasn had picked to honor his mother’s birthday. It also happened to coincide with the 222nd anniversary of the Constitution, the document that set up the republic that Lasn despises. America’s consumerism is “ecologically unsustainable,” he says often, and its culture “psychologically corrosive.” Americans are brainwashed by advertising—”the mass-media mind f**k”—and by its handmaiden television, the source of America’s “mental health problem.”
Lasn would set us free from this with his own left-wing subsidized magazine, Adbusters, the key OWS instigator, if not its organizer. Adbusters has more than 90,000 followers worldwide on its listserv but only 100 protesters settled in to spend the first night there, and this in the most populous city in the U.S. Before long, the contradictions were apparent and sometimes humorous, like OWS’s own ties to Wall Street and to a Mitt Romney donor, Richard Halper, a former Mercantile Exchange VP, who gave the largest donation, $20,000. “Advertising is one of the most powerful cultural forces in the world,” he once lamented. Through it, big corporations were working with big government to control us. In 2001, Lasn began an attack on that most American of symbols—the Stars and Stripes—and encouraged his readers to fly his alternative flag, in which the stars were replaced with the corporate logos of Warner Bros., McDonald’s, Shell, Coca-Cola, and Playboy. He called it an act of “symbolic disobedience” that “will force America to think hard about…its subservience to corporations today.” The flag, he claimed, was “emerging as a symbol of what is wrong with America.”
Lasn’s first book, Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge, published in 1999, warned that at least 75 percent of Americans were “caught in a consumer trance,” “brainwashed” into “believing in the American Dream.” As a Canadian national who considered himself a citizen of the world, Lasn wouldn’t be caught believing in that.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?