Occupied minds: In yesterday’s New York Times, the “Sunday Dialogue” section concerned the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Readers responded to a letter from Erin Bohanan, a Ph.D. candidate. For the full exchange, click here.
Bohanan’s letter had first appeared on October 11. For what it’s worth, we think her basic instincts are totally wrong:
BOHANAN (10/11/11): As a student of political science, I find that the Occupy Wall Street protests are missing a political window of opportunity. The absence of clear leaders prevents coordination with people who could actually help bring about political change. Having a large mass of unidentified people discussing their concerns is a great blog or Tumblr technique, but in the practical political arena it just lends itself to confusion and the lack of a clear message.Bohanan listed four reforms. Her first proposed reform involves a constitutional amendment!
Occupy Wall Street needs to turn a social and Internet phenomenon into a tangible political movement that would benefit the “99 percent” it says it is representing. The Declaration of the Occupation of New York, issued on Sept. 29, lists many grievances against corporations, including illegal foreclosures, exorbitant bonuses, workplace discrimination, job outsourcing, anti-union tactics and campaign contributions.
The protest needs leaders who will put forth concrete policy solutions to these problems. Their agenda should include these reforms:
We don’t necessarily disagree with Bohanan’s proposals. But we think she may be putting the cart a few miles before the horse. In the current political climate, it’s very hard to pass any reforms at all. Presumably, it would be impossible to pass a constitutional amendment.
These Ph.D. candidates today!
Our view? Before the movement advances specific reforms, it should attempt to build wider understandings about the basic nature of our society’s problems. Absent wider agreement about basic situations, reforms are sure to fail.
Most respondents made similar points in the Sunday Dialogue. Though before we were done, an assistant professor had made a rather abstruse observation, and Bohanan was locked in an egghead exchange with him.
The Occupy movement will do its best work if it helps a wide range of people get clearer on the nature of our society’s ongoing disasters. Several observers made such points on a Charlie Rose program last Wednesday. To watch the whole segment, click this.
First, Charlie turned to William Buster, a spokesperson for the Occupy movement. “Tell me the message,” Charlie finally said. Buster was admirably vague:
BUSTER (10/12/11): What I’d like to do as part of Occupy Wall Street is to start representing that we do have a clear message. I think a lot of the American public recognizes what it is. The media doesn’t. We’re asked for sound bites, and “Give me this in one sentence,” you know, for time restraints—Buster loves Charlie—and he kept the message large. Soon, Paul Krugman made the basic point:
ROSE: This is not a sound bite. This is an opportunity to have a conversation. Tell me what the message is.
BUSTER: Sure, sure, sure. And by the media, I don’t mean you. I love this show and its respectful discourse. I feel that— Occupy Wall Street has been depicted as being anti-business. We’re not. We’re not anti-business, we’re not anti-banks, we’re not anti-government, we’re not anti-anything. We’re anti-corruption. And we’re anti-systemic corruption.
The biggest thing that we feel is that until the political and economic systems are reformed and laws are put in place to make sure that there’s transparency and accountability, until this system is fixed, it’s almost like the election process is merely switching names, switching the players on the field as opposed to switching the field. The field is the problem and it’s not something that can be solved in the democratic process just by voting...
KRUGMAN: What the protests are doing is they’ve changed the conversation already and they’ve changed it onto – We’re actually talking about the right things.We have lived through thirty years of disinformation. The disinformation was pushed by one side, and was almost completely accepted by ours.
I mean, the story of where we are now as a nation is, we had a monstrous failure of the existing system followed by a monstrous injustice. We had an enormous financial industry that ran wild, crippled the economy which remains crippled to this day, was bailed out and the players who bear some responsibility faced virtually no consequences and more important, there’s been very little real reform. Some, from the Obama Administration’s side but not as much as we’d like, and the other party`s busy trying to tear it down.
And somehow the conversation that we’ve been having about all these issues is basically not about these issues. We spent almost two years now with the parties arguing who’s got the more convincing fiscal austerity and who can do most to remove restrictions on business.
And so all of a sudden we’re now talking about, “Hey, you know, what about Wall Street? What about these people who made such a mess? How are we going to make sure that the general public shares in whatever economic gains we have, that we have rules in effect that prevent the kind of catastrophe that overtook our economy in 2008?” That in itself, even if it ends right there, that’s a huge success.
But I think that the explosion of this movement really suggests that there were an awful lot of people who were just waiting for somebody to say it. And here we are. This is a wonderful thing.
Today, some liberals want to name-call those who have been successfully disinformed. Some Ph.D. candidates want to move directly to constitutional amendments—amendments which are destined to fail, thanks in part to the success of the disinformation campaigns.
Thirty years of disinformation can’t be overcome in a week. Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times is an 800-word teach-in all by itself. If we can stop calling everyone racist—though granted, that’s the joy of our sect!—many people might come to see that they’re the 99 percent too.
This may require talking to some of “those people.” It’s something our tribe hates to do.