News

Between the Lines: Preoccupied

The trouble with leaderless revolutions with no set agenda may be that no one knows when they're over.


Thursday, July 05, 2012

Recently I received a press release announcing that over 10,000 people of faith have signed a petition calling on Manhattan's Trinity church to drop charges against Occupy protesters.

Faithful America, an online community of over 140,000 members, wanted to remind me that back in December, a handful of Occupy Wall Street protesters had gotten themselves arrested in their attempt to take Duarte Park.

I didn't need reminding about that. I'd reported on the events leading up to the failed action and the arrests. At the time, the whole situation had made me doubt the movement's future.

Rather, the press release reminded me what protesters disgruntled with my analysis had told me last winter: "Just wait until the spring," they'd said. One setback wasn't enough to thwart them. As soon as the weather was less inclement, they'd be back, stronger than before, with a revitalized focus and approach.

I hadn't heard much since then, and then came the press release. Now, instead of waging class warfare and targeting bankers and world financial institutions, the Occupiers were wielding their once-significant clout at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. Forget the bean-counters, the urban Episcopalians were the bad guys.

To recap:

The defeated takeover of Duarte Park had been on the three-month anniversary of the protesters' take over of Zuccotti Park. Starting in September, for 60 days hundreds of protesters camped in the heart of the Wall Street district until Mayor Bloomberg sent in the police. Duarte Park—a wedge of pavement on Canal Street not far from the Holland Tunnel—was going to be their new home. Unlike Zuccotti, Duarte Park was privately owned by Trinity Church—one of the city's largest land owners—and surrounded by chain-link fencing and locked gates.

This time around, instead of forcefully taking the park by surprise, Occupy Wall Street tried a new tactic: they first asked permission.

When the protesters had been camped in Zuccotti, just up the street from the church, the clergy there had been neighborly, expressing support and handing out blankets. But they weren't so keen on opening Duarte's gates and taking responsibility for a gaggle of urban winter campers.

When Trinity officials politely denied the request, the protesters turned the tables on their former allies. Hunger strikers took up residence at the church doors. Protest singers sang songs in the streets, framing the church as the movement's oppressor. Occupiers set up a small tent inside the church grounds with a nativity scene inside. A statement pinned to the tent suggested the activists were like Jesus and the church was acting like the evil Romans, threatening to kick the huddled masses out into the cold.

After all that still didn't work, the protesters attempted to occupy the park. Under the watchful eye of the NYPD, the protesters put a ladder against the fence and climbed over. The cops arrested about 50 of the trespassers.

Now, six months later, instead of celebrating the courage of their civil disobedience and moving on to new battles, protesters continue to bemoan how they were treated by Trinity. They want the charges dropped and the matter forgotten.

Far from being revolutionary behavior, the strategy the Wall Street occupiers have pursued post-Zuccotti appears on par with my seven-year-old's attempts to get me to buy him Pokemon cards. First ask nicely, then start whining, turn the dial all the way up to "rude," throw a fit, then act mystified when the promised response is delivered.

There was a strange, magnificent beauty to last September's occupation of New York's financial district. For a few precious weeks, there was a hope that voters might finally wake up and see how corporations and the wealthy are destroying the middle class, valuing capital over community. There was a laser-hot focus on what ails us as a nation. Real people—not just blow-hard celebrities and bombastic politicians—were standing up for themselves; the two sides seemed clearly delineated. A strong foundation had been laid.

Even when Mayor Bloomberg cleared the campers out, the momentum seemed too great to be dissipated easily. But now that spring has sprung and summer is underway, the Occupy movement no longer seems to speak for my interests. Instead of a multi-headed hydra that gets stronger the more it's decapitated, it's become like a headless chicken, spurting blood and bile on its one-time friends.

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