Occupy movement was bound for defeat


With the news that, almost simultaneously, protesters in Zucotti Park in New York City’s financial district were herded from their camp of the last two months. Chaos at Occupy Oakland continued and closer to home Occupy Toronto protesters were handed eviction notices, a new phase of the movement seems apparent: its end.

I’ll preface this by saying that I was covering the Occupy Toronto protests from the moment they began and have been following the movement as a whole about as often as I can refresh Twitter for the several weeks.

I’ve spoken with observers, protesters, other media and authorities directly. This movement seemed especially interesting because it simply surpassed in scope any of the other protests that have taken place in recent memory in North America.

Journalistic objectivity somewhat intact, if I didn’t necessarily hope the protesters succeeded in whatever they aimed to achieve, I hoped that whatever they provoked would be positive and some sort of long-term, relevant change.
That way we would have more to write about and more intelligent conversations about it — I hoped it would be something historically significant rather than an unfortunate footnote.

And for the all that time I really struggled to grasp what it was that could push these protests, this movement (I’ve gradually grown more comfortable with that term) toward tangible change. The truth is that nothing much has shown up.
A number of criticisms were leveled against the protests since day one. There were too many messages, no leadership, no concrete demands (and the “unofficial” ones that emerged were comical), lagging public support and the sentiment that these individuals didn’t have anything better to do than parade around chanting that these were “our streets” and set up tents in what a colleague at Canadian University Press termed a “homeless man’s living room.”

What occurred to me and what I hoped wasn’t entirely the case was that these individuals might be those that find “protest culture” appealing and a worthy pursuit but without sufficient planning or calculated thought to do much more than garner 15 minutes (or in this case 25) of attention to get their voices heard to some degree.

Unfortunately there’s been little evidence that the individual grievances of those who aren’t just there to vent about how unjust the world is can be constructively approached in this fashion.

While I’ll admit that the American protests have far more of a shot at surviving the winter or reappearing in the spring with any force than the Canadian examples seem to, in both cases the shared traits almost assure that not much will happen.

First of all, at least lately, there has been little progress reported beyond waking up another day in a park without being evicted and as we’re seeing even that minor accomplishment is facing challenges.

It is really unfortunate that the “we’re still here” sentiment is one of the few obvious achievements.

I’m not just relying on mainstream media with its calculated spin and corporate ownership here, very little is happening that constitutes progress, not simply stagnation.

Second, several protests have been given a negative image by things like overdoses — including deaths — and other issues more associated with those that regularly sleep outdoors than those who do so purposefully to prove a point. Since the beginning, this has seemed to be foremost a battle for public support, and if there are instances that emergency personnel can deem hazardous and against the public interest, it is a whole lot easier for media and individuals to frown upon the movement as a whole – even if these are isolated incidents. Lately the easy assessment to make has been one of chaos and that’s not productive for the protesters that actually aim for change.

Third, and compounding the other two, we live in an era where attention spans can be measured in seconds and news is seen as a 24-hour rotation of event after event vying for that attention.

Not much was happening and what was wasn’t positive at all, so the image of the protests was muddied before it became inevitably overshadowed by any number of other events – the European financial crisis and even the events at Penn State last week come to mind. Without a public presence largely accomplished through media attention of newsworthy – being progress or chaos – aspects of the movement, the protesters and their messages are marginalized further than the initial criticisms could ever serve to.

In response to the idea that the dwindling or outright collapse of the movement may happen soon, the counterarguments are that nothing is accomplished quickly, those truly calling for change won’t be so easily defeated and that the authorities were just out to stop this show of dissent since day one. There seems to be some validity to be derived from each of those perspectives, but realistically, the show is over.

To liken this movement to a mere spectacle perhaps suggests it was shallow since its inception, but the cards have been dealt, and I don’t expect a resurgence — though I’ll happily report on one if I’m proven wrong.

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