We Can't Occupy Everything

Occupy protestors have splintered into self-interested groups

In current weeks, the Occupy Wall Street protests and accompanying spring-off demonstrations have begun to take on a wider set of issues than before. In one case, the Occupy Philadelphia movement recently published a “99 percent Declaration” that enumerates a list of demands. However, the publication of this declaration symbolizes the very confluence of disjointed and irrational goals of the Occupy movement as a whole.

First, the demands made demonstrate that the movement will inevitably fail to enact any true change, at least through current methods. One demand indicates that we must end currency “manipulation,” a request made without much consideration of the actual mechanism needed for this to occur. Preventing fluctuations in the value of a floating currency would require the virtual elimination of the open-market trading of currencies, a move that would halt global trade. Another inadequately founded demand is to end the outsourcing of labor in order to protect domestic jobs. However, copious economic research indicates that enabling the importation of services is often necessary in order to establish a dynamic economy. Overtaxing companies that enable foreign services, as the occupiers suggest the government do, would not only stifle domestic corporations but also limit global competitiveness. This would make everyone worse off, both the one percent and the 99 percent. Similarly, many of the other ideas of the movement seem good to organizers at a gut level. It is when we truly examine the underpinnings and logic of these points that their arguments simply fall apart. Although ideological goals can be inspiring, rationality should be paramount.

Second, the declaration reflects goals that individualistically seek to promote the interests of certain groups whilst arbitrarily punishing others. For instance, one goal demands that student loans be forgiven using a Wall Street tax, in order to reprimand financial institutions. However, arguing that some other entity should have to pick up the tab for one's education merely shirks individual responsibility. The individual who has assumed student debt has gained from a college education—to forgo the costs of that achievement is an unfair abandonment of repayment duty.

Even worse, the interjection of selfish goals, arranged largely by college students, threatens to completely derail the movement, by positioning it as a chance to better one’s own lot simply by demanding it loudly and for months on end. A popular Youtube clip shows an indebted Occupy Wall Street student protestor holding a sign proclaiming “Throw me a bone, pay my tuition.” His rationale for his request resigns itself to “People can say whatever they want.” Indeed, protestors are free to voice their grievances, but when the message is peppered with such self-serving demands there is no guarantee that anyone will listen to them. Ultimately, the “revolution” has devolved from an organization of members speaking out against inequity to a mob of people trying to get what's best for themselves.

Third, after one and a half months of protests, we have seen no real move toward implementing any proposed changes or solutions to the multitude of bemoaned problems. This lack of organization, driven by in part by a profound distaste for a leadership structure, has resulted in a movement that has no clear purpose but to collectivize the problems experienced by various special interest groups within the public. There is no one to negotiate with. No one to determine prioritization. No one to represent the movement. In order to handle the growing and evolving nature of Occupy Wall Street, someone must step up and take responsibility for leading the group if real change is to ever be on the cards. Currently, the Occupy movements resemble a “What do you hate?” protest wherein all involved get the opportunity to speak out. Prioritization is important; everyone cannot get everything they want all the time. Although idealistically their methodology seems appropriate, legitimate accomplishment in the absence of planning and structure will be impossible.

The current state of the Occupy movements demonstrates a far-reaching failure in organizational effectiveness. Without the clear vision and leadership that has made previous movements of civil disobedience successful, the protestors will be unable to achieve significant goals. All those in our community who support “Occupy” should take note.

Saieed Hasnoo ’12, The Crimson’s associate business manager, is an economics concentrator in Currier House. His column occurs on occasional Thursdays.

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