In social movements throughout American history, concrete platforms and clear political goals formed the underlying glue that united ordinary Americans in the streets en masse. In the turbulent social upheaval of the 1960s, the goals of the "hippie" movement were crystal clear: equality for women and minorities and an end to the Vietnam War. More recently, the objectives of the Tea Party protests were also self-evident: smaller government, fewer taxes, less spending and greater personal freedoms.
In both cases, the movements became political juggernauts which brought tangible change to Washington. Sen. John Kerry, a leader of the anti-Vietnam War movement, is now the senior senator from Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Likewise, Tea Party support and backing propelled Rep. Allen West of Florida and many others to Congress.
But what of the Occupy Wall Street protests now spreading nationwide? Do many of them even know what they're protesting? It is one thing to call Wall Street bankers "greedy" and demand "social justice" but how about specifics? What are their answers to the perceived problems of "corporatist greed"? Greater government regulation? Massive transfers of wealth and property via draconian taxation and appropriation a la Hugo Chavez? Behead the Rich?
It's hard to know, because many of the protesters don't even seem to know themselves. How do the OWS protesters plan to resolve these perceived inequalities when they can't even articulate them any further than leftist sloganeering? Though many may forget, the OWS movement stemmed from the proposed Day of Rage protests scheduled for this time earlier this year. There is no question that righteous rage, focused properly into concrete political objectives by a large swath of the electorate, can effect stunning social and political change.
Yet mindless and misdirected rage serves no real constructive purpose, political or otherwise. The protesters merely become raging mobs lashing out at the Powers That Be with no real answers. I would certainly not begrudge the protesters their First Amendment rights to assemble and speak whatever is on their minds, but perception is all. And there are many perceptions emerging from the OWS movement that may backfire with the American public.
Examples abound. The mindless charging of police barricades in New York. The piling up of garbage and detritus in protester encampments. The disruption of local businesses. Certainly the image of Occupy Wall Street protesters defecating on or defacing police cars isn't winning any new supporters among moderates and Independents. Nor is the rallying in support of an accused Islamist terrorist by the Occupy Boston protesters, or Occupy DC protesters storming the non-corporatist National Air and Space Museum. It all just doesn't look good.
More recently, union leaders and Democratic politicians, including President Obama and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have expressed support for the OWS protesters. The DCCC is even issuing mailers throwing its political support behind them, going so far as to request recipients sign a petition on their behalf. The official DCCC mailer reads as follows:
Protestors are assembling in New York and around the country to let billionaires, big oil and big bankers know that we’re not going to let the richest 1% force draconian economic policies and massive cuts to crucial programs on Main Street Americans.
Out-of-touch Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he is “increasingly concerned by the growing mobs.” Mobs? That must be what Republicans refer to as the middle class, or maybe the millions of unemployed Americans across the country.
As Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters, “The message of the American people is that no longer will the recklessness of some on Wall Street cause massive joblessness on Main Street…”
Send a message straight to Eric Cantor, Speaker Boehner, and the rest of reckless Republican leadership in Congress:
Sign our petition right now and help us reach 100,000 strong standing with Occupy Wall Street protestors across the country!
What does all that mean? Could it all be any more vague? And what kind of a spokesman for the movement is Nancy Pelosi, a tax dollar-gorging one-percenter whose own personal wealth has skyrocketed in the most corrupt and corporatist of ways while America's economy has tanked and ordinary Americans have become much poorer? The same could be said of corporate-enriched celebrities who have expressed their support. OWS champion Richard Simmons even has his own credit card company! Are his cards zero interest and fee-free?
As for the Wall Street bankers themselves, who contributed more to OWS supporter President Obama's campaign than to any other presidential candidate in the last twenty years, they must feel like the Russian capitalists who backed the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Revolution. The same president who accepted Wall Street's "dirty money" hand over fist is now supporting the barbarians at the gates looking to hang them all from Southern Manhattan lampposts.
Larger point being, if I as an ordinary American can see all this from the wealth of information available to me on the web and in the media, so can most of my fellow countrymen. Democratic politicians are taking great political risks in associating themselves with the OWS movement, especially if the protests eventually descend into chaos and violence as did the 1999 WHO protests in Seattle. Not much of a stretch given recent events.
In the end, it would seem the only people more clueless than the leftist OWS rebels are the left-wing politicians, media journolistas and union leaders now backing the protests in full. The OWS tiger they have chosen to ride may yet throw and devour them. Whether they like it or not, they own it politically now. They'd best pray it doesn't all go south in full public view.