06 October 2011

How To Destroy A Grassroots Movement

Every political movement starts out with anger. The two most recent movements that the United States has known have been the Tea Party and, currently, Occupy Wall Street. I would like to take a brief moment to talk about what happened to the Tea Party and to explain how it is relevant to Occupy Wall Street today.

Most people will say that the Tea Party is alive and well, and more powerful than ever, but you won't hear that story from its founding members. As far as they are concerned, the Tea Party movement has been hijacked and transformed to the point where it can no longer be called the Tea Party anymore. So we won't refer to its current form by that name, we will call it the Conservative Party. What the Tea Party used to be, in a few words, was a protest against taxation and the waste of tax dollars perpetrated by a bloated government. This was a cause that could be supported by liberals and conservatives alike. Unfortunately, the media got ahold of it and things started to change. As soon as people started to take notice, three coinciding forces started to grow. Political heavyweights, hungry for attention and popular support, sensed a niche that they could fill. At the same time, the popularity of the movement inspired others to franchise the cause and hold protests in their local areas. Meanwhile, the media found a compelling story in highlighting the movement's more controversial fringe players; the ultra-conservatives.

These three forces collided with great momentum and it transformed the Tea Party fairly quickly from a valid complaint into a mesmerizing sideshow. With the ultra-conservatives suddenly getting more exposure than the movement's creators, the moderates were alienated from their own cause and they gradually abandoned the Tea Party. Without a central voice loud enough to reach the media's dodgy attention, the governance of the Tea Party was co-opted by fake grassroots organizations, backed by real money from existing political parties. When the voice rose again, it had changed.

Now the original members of the Tea Party movement are warning Occupy Wall Street: Don't let what happened to us happen to you.

All of the pieces are in the right place. Occupy Wall Street started off like an art project put on by bored Burners returning from Black Rock. While the heart of their complaint can be found in the country's wealth inequality, observers can't help but detect a far-left slant to the cause. The first videos of the protest's clash with police gave it more of a hippie feel than a frustrated America feel. Cries to clean up the protest's image with polo shirts and khakis helped a small bit, but after three weeks, there was no central list of demands or a plan to enact them. Meanwhile, other cities across the country were holding their own rallies and protests. The protesters urged patience as they harnessed the lumbering power of democracy to devise a list of goals for their creation. Unfortunately, public opinion moves faster than democracy. As the labor unions joined forces with the protesters on its 20th day, the media blinked its groggy eyes and started to awaken.

A blog entry from the Washington Post appeared to be quite excited about the movement, but I caught something strange about it. A link, contextualized as a "full list of the protesters demands," directed me to a forum post, with the demands of a single, misguided person listed for the world to read in the voice of the supposed "99%" Some of the demands: free college, open immigration, complete debt abolishment, and nuclear power plant dismantlement. If you were a serious protester, concerned about not only your image, but an avenue of success, these would not be your demands. In fact, I could imagine you as that guy reaching out and screaming, "Nooooo," as your friend thinks, "Hmm, what's this button do?" and pushes it.

Occupy Wall Street, the bomb is ticking.