When I first heard about Occupy Wall Street, I was reminded of the student protests of yesteryear when they occupied, some by force of arms, administration buildings of elite universities. I imagined young revolutionaries swarming onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, filling offices and bringing the workings of the great institution to a halt.
Alas, instead of the New York Stock Exchange, they occupied ... a park. I can imagine Bill Ayres rolling his eyes and shaking his head.
Douglas Schoen, a pollster who worked for President Clinton, did a random survey of some 200 occupiers of Zuccotti Park. Schoen reported: "The protesters have a distinct ideology and are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies." He said that "virtually all (98 percent) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31 percent) would support violence to advance their agenda."
Around the country, there were some specific reports of violence, mostly in what Tom Wolfe has called the "Parentheses States," the states on both coasts that bracket the country but are not really a part of it. We here in Tucson, as part of the Southwest, are part of the main body of America. We do things a little differently than they do in New York City and Berkeley.
I was curious about what Occupy Tucson would look like, so I'd decided to take a stroll over to Armory Park to check it out. (It was in early November, so they were still located there.) I confess to being a bit excited as I neared the park. I thought it would be packed, with lots of sign-waving and shouting, and maybe even a cop or two in riot gear!
At first, I thought I had the wrong park, but then I saw tents at the south end. I walked over to the circle of about 20 tents. It was sunny and warm, and I got a peaceful, easy feeling as I walked around the perimeter. I spoke with Mary DeCamp, the Green Party mayoral candidate, who introduced me to a few warm and friendly people. Someone with a bullhorn announced the beginning of the next march to someplace. A half-dozen or so people slowly gathered around him.
The place looked like a summer camp where the kids were gone, and the old folks were taking a break. The only law enforcement I saw: two bicycle cops talking to a man who appeared unconnected to the "occupation."
A few days later, they moved to a different park, because some organization that, you know, had, like, permits and reservations and stuff wanted to use Armory Park.
Dudes! This is Occupy Tucson, not Pardon Me May I Stay Here a While Tucson. If you want to step outside the system and fight it, then fight it. If you want to work within it, using the exchange of ideas instead of force while showing respect for those with whom you disagree, then make nice. Trying to have it both ways achieves nothing; it only turns your efforts into a joke.
I suppose we Tucsonans should be grateful that our "occupiers" are more the Jackson Browne type than the Public Enemy type. Either way, the Occupy protests will effect no long term change, if any.
Maybe a pseudo-revolutionary attack on the system is not the best approach. The Tea Party held protests, too, but Tea Partiers, on the other hand, worked within the system, in the arena of elective politics. No one doubts that they had a profound effect on the outcome of both the primaries and general election in the last cycle. They have certainly effected more change than the occupiers.
Of course, Occupy Tucson has not been a total waste for the political left. After lying low until the election was over, City Councilwoman Regina Romero came out in support of the protesters, even suggesting that the law be suspended for them, and their tickets should be torn up. This accomplishes two things: It strikes a blow against the American ideal of equality before the law, and it makes the Tea Party folks look like chumps for playing by the rules.
It would be ironic if those statements came back to haunt her in her next election. Hey, it could happen!