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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Occupy Anniversary

We have become so enamored of immediate results to our actions. We seek an immediate result of our protests when they are designed for the long haul. In part it is the fault of the rise of the Internet and personal computing and accessing devices. In the 1990s it took the personal computer to make 3 seconds an unbearably long time. American society has become expectant that the most bizarre and convoluted TV series plot can be wrapped up in 50 minutes. The CSI franchise has made real life jurors suspicious of the Prosecutor’s presentation if there were no DNA results to prove Defendant did the crime. Our attention is switched from disaster to disaster faster than a couch potato can click through the 500 channel cable lineup.

Our entire society is predicated on the idea that everything comes and goes in 3 second sound bites and quick video clips strung together to create an illusory reality. Camera motion is used to make a boring scene seem animated as two people talk and the viewer is treated to roaming eyesight all around the room like they were the actual fly on the wall viewing everything. We all seek the quick fix; the instant resolution to every conflict like in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 when the fugitive is being chased by the helicopter and the on-board live camera loses sight of Montague. They merely pick up on some schmuck to corner and kill so that the TV audience can go about their lives secure in the knowledge that the fugitive reader is no longer a menace or a threat.

So one year ago a single Tweet went viral when the NYPD cornered and arrested 700 Occupy Wall Street protestors on a bridge ostensibly for “blocking traffic.” The news media kept asking “what do these protestors want?” “How do they think they will accomplish anything while being a bunch of losers who are angry they don’t have a job or enough free stuff?”

The Occupy protests spread around the globe while still not exhibiting a clear message or set of coherent demands as so many protests before them did.” At one point there were 245 separate identifiable Occupy movements taking place. The protests were not just one day events where people gather, chant and shake fists at TV cameras, then go home. They took territory and camped long into the cold season. They were first tolerated as an anomaly that soon would dissipate. When they didn’t the cities sent in the Riot Police to beat and pepper spray them and haul them away. They kept up their occupation in the face of such brutal treatment.

The movement shifted into a steady state where not much was happening police action wise, but they kept the movement going. After one year, many small occupy groups regrouped and renewed the protests. After all they had not attained the outcomes they sought after. Still there are many pundits and commentators who see them as losers who have nothing better to do.

During the 1960s young American began to protest the Vietnam war. The protests began shortly after the war itself. The protests grew and shrank cyclically throughout the decade. The National Guard shootings at Kent State University galvanized greater resistance against the war. Not every student, veteran and civilian who took part in early protest remained active in the long term entrenchment that was required to bring that ugly part of our history to a close. Many people were protesting at home while other were being killed or maimed in the jungle even as they were killing and maiming enemy soldiers and civilians alike. Each year that the war dragged on, the death toll rose and the country became more divided. Then it was over.

When it was over the soldiers stopped killing and dying but the public back home kept their anger alive. The protesting had involved a generation not just a few losers who had nothing better to do. They dying did not stop with the end of the war. More Vietnam veterans have killed themselves since the end of the war than were killed in it. More than 10,000 more.

Today the Occupy movements have impacted little in the way of financial or economic reform, nor have they been able to claim a victory. But they are only one year old. It may take a decade. It took a decade to make the mess that they protest against and several decades of bad economic policy to set the stage for the collapse that followed. We will be seeing what the next year brings with the Occupy protests keeping the struggle alive for the long term even as the majority of Americans have already lost interest in that struggle and prefer to watch Dancing With the Stars, NFL Football, and follow the Kardashians.