Radicalism and the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Nov 19th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

What are we to make of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement?  What are its goals, its aspirations?  Is it the left-wing equivalent of the Tea Party movement on the right?  Is there any ideological coherence to this group?  Certainly we can conclude this about the Tea Party movement:  This movement is committed to American institutions.  It is committed to working within the democratic system of our nation.  There is excess and there is irrationality at times, but this is part of a deep American tradition:  When there is significant dissatisfaction with government, a group rises up and seeks political change within the institutions of the American system.  Is that the case with the OWS movement?  Several thoughts.

  1. One would find it difficult to conclude that the OWS movement is civil, respectful of public property and organized around the veneration of democratic institutions?  Michael Gerson, the columnist, raises these points in his acerbic comments:  “. . . the reports of sexual assault in Zuccotti Park and the penchant for public urination.  Tea Party activists may hate politicians, but they venerate American political institutions. . . On its tie-dyed surface, the OWS movement seems little more than a confused collection of grievances.  Some in New York protest the Church of Scientology.  In Philadelphia, protesters attempted to occupy the cable provider Comcast.  In Boston, they marched against the Israeli consulate, chanting, ‘Long live the intifada!’  Protesters also targeted the Harvard Club.”  Is this the best of the OWS?  Or is it the fringe?
  2. Is there some semblance of ideological coherence within OWS?  Gerson observes, “Its collectivist people’s council seem to have two main inspirations:  socialism (often Marxist socialism) and anarchism.  The two are sometimes in tension.  They share, however, a belief that the capitalist system is a form of ‘institutionalized violence’ and that normal, democratic political methods, dominated by monied interests, are inadequate.  Direct action is necessary to provoke the crisis that ignites the struggle that achieves the revolution.”
  3. In Oakland, protesters “have been playing at the Paris Commune—constructing barricades, setting fires, throwing concrete blocks and explosives, declaring a general strike to stop the ‘flow of capital’ at the port.  Here OWS seems to be taking its cues from both ‘Rules for Radicals’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange.’”
  4. There are those within OWS that follow the leftist tradition of liberal reform via the democratic process and nonviolent protest.  But others within the left seek to undermine and foster the ultimate collapse and crisis of what they contend are fundamentally illegitimate social and economic systems.  This latter group seems unquestionably to be in the ascendant within OWS.  As Gerson concludes, “It is a leftist movement with a militant wing.”
  5. These penetrating questions are the bottom line for the OWS and for the American people to consider:  “Will Americans, looking for jobs, turn in hope to the vandalization of small businesses and the promise of a general strike?  Will citizens, disappointed by a dysfunctional government, be impressed by the endless arguments of anarchist collectives?  Will people, disgusted by partisanship and rhetorical rock-throwing, be attracted to actual rock throwing?”

In considering and evaluating the OWS, Americans will need to process whether this movement represents the vision for America’s future?  I sincerely trust that as the American people evaluate and process the OWS movement they will see it for what it truly is:  A movement that is no longer credible and legitimate.  It is being highjacked by a radical fringe.  I believe that the America people will reject the radicalism of the OWS.  The Democratic Party will gain no credibility if it embraces the OWS.

See Michael Gerson’s most helpful essay in the Washington Post (8 November 2011). PRINT PDF

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