Why Occupy Wall Street deserves respect, even from conservatives

A lot of the criticism directed at Occupy Wall Street–even from the Left–concerning their lack of a concrete platform or unified message at this point is very wrong-headed when you think about it. That expectation is elitst (and, depending on your politics, quite hypocritical), as it assumes that a democractic movement is only legitimate if it's run from the top down. Democracy is supposed to be about citizens debating and building a national consensus, not obeying orders from activists who have everything figured out for them. So OWS deserves a lot more respect than it's getting in the media. This is democracy in action, we've just forgotten what that looks like.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/dbrutus TM Lutas

    If somebody comes in to a tea party rally with a brown or black shirt and a nazi arm band, they get driven out, booed and utterly rejected. This is as it should be. The Tea Party has fairly well developed instincts to keep these people out. OWS does not. When you accept as teachers people who personally have blood on their hands like Ayers in Chicago and the various communist groups that work at penetrating and organizing various OWS, you are going to lose respect along the center and right. Unfortunately, it’s not so much a problem on the left but it should be.
    The communists are inherently anti-democratic and have made an art form out of penetrating and turning inchoate organizations and taking them over. OWS is vulnerable to this because the kids making up its most visible segment are historically illiterate.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com svend

    There are a number of problems with this broadside:
    1. I frankly to not know Ayers well enough to venture an opinion on whether he deserves this bogey man treatment, but there’s no question that there are other very different readings of him, his thought and his post-1960s legacy in circulation among progressives and colleagues, so I don’t think that’s quite the smoking gun you’re making it out to be. Unless you take the cartoonish view of the Left that Beck, Limbaugh et al indulge in. Also, judging by the simplistic claptrap that’s been said about another Obama friend, Rev. Wright, by the same suspects on the Right, I’m tempted to give Ayers the benefit of the doubt.
    2. I don’t view Communism as some divinely (or, depending on your point of view, satanicly) ordained religion that has one and only one authentic form or implementation. Some (most? all?) forms of Communism have thus far lead to awful outcomes, but the principles that inspire people–however naive you may find them–to view Communism positively have nothing whatsoever in common with Fascism much less Nazism. Perhaps they think Communist history would’ve been different had Trotsky survived. You may find their understanding of Communism blinkered or incomplete–and their political contribution ultimately dangerous because of the forces they’re contributing to, in your view–but there is zero moral equivalence in most cases, even if you’re right about Communism’s ineluctable outcome. They are to by judged by their understanding of the issues, not yours.
    3. It’s not uncommon in politics for people to register their dissatisfaction with the political status quo by supporting its prominent opposition. If you think America is being screwed in various ways by Wall Street–the icon of American capitalism–invoking its mortal enemy, Communism might make some sense politically and rhetorically.
    4. There are people who find much of value in Communist thought as an analytical tool–its impact on the Social Sciences has been profound–if not necessarily an economic blueprint. The relevance of Marxian concepts of surplus value, alienation and false consciousness, for example, seem rather user in the Reagan era, with its systematic disenfranchisement of workers and the manipulation to vote against their own economic interests.
    5. How smart and well informed did the Tea Party’s “most visible segment” look? And who determined which segment got to represent it? But in any case, mass movements aren’t made up of Beltway wonks–they’re made up normal people with varying degrees of knowledge and political engagement, and with a wide variety of motivations. Also, even accepting your dubious proposition (about OWSers being poorly uninformed) that doesn’t mean they’re wrong in a global sense, that they’re wrong in thinking something is seriously wrong with our economic policies and that, therefore, something desperately needs to be done to get this on the agenda. There’s sure no shortage of supposedly top-notch Chicago School economists who were right about all manner of trivial matters, but catastrophically wrong about the most important issues of our time. Perhaps the OWSers who you find so unimpressive in their political savvy are the converse. I’ll take them over the former any day.
    Whatever their merits or lack thereof, the OWS folks were right in assuming that something radical had to be done to get Washington’s attention. For all the complaints about the “Liberal” MSM, the corporate media are consistently quite ruthless about ignoring progressive activism, for example giving constant attention to even small Tea Party gatherings while ignoring larger progressive counter-rallies. (The MSM pretty much embargoed OWS for the first 2 weeks.)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/dbrutus TM Lutas

    1. The Weathermen were serious about revolution and genocide. Ayers has passed up several opportunities to express regret over that. Both left and right have enough intellectual firepower without having to dip into the violent fever swamps.
    2. Communism universally runs fine until the money runs out. There are a total of two paths that are taken at that crisis point. Either the experiment is declared a failure and the community disbands / goes to something else or communism is maintained at the point of a gun with increasing economic deprivation until the gun wavers and the system is abandoned. What makes fascism/national socialism so odious is the same impulse to pick up the gun when the economics goes wrong. There is your commonality, that and the strange fact that both movements tend to recruit from similar pools.
    3. A much more devastating critique of Wall Street is that it is insufficiently capitalist, propping up economic losers and ripping off outsiders. Opposites come in more than one package.
    4. The social sciences, if you have not noticed, have been dramatically affected for the worse by communism. In fact, a lot of OWS disenfranchised have been made so by communist and fellow traveler professors of one camp or another. It’s all double plus ungood.
    5. So far the Tea Party’s done fairly well for itself. They’ve had a few clunkers on the federal level (3 Senate candidates come to mind) but they gave the GOP its strongest state house position since before WW II right in time for redistricting and ushered in an impressively large freshman class in the House. Rand Paul’s performance in the Senate is also a mark in their favor.
    Something *is* seriously wrong with our economic policies. We’ve never cleaned out the corporatism and reversed the communist “march through the institutions” that’s been going on for decades.
    But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to reverse it. You have to identify all of the inappropriate legislation, rules, and regulations and then get rid of it. In pseudocode form it would be
    For each taxing authority
    identify all their laws, rules, and regulations
    packetize them into logical, small chunks
    evaluate each packet for its corporatist effect
    repeal all corporatist packets.