Monday, December 5, 2011

What Gets Democracy Working?

I must admit, modern protests don’t inspire me. I applaud the great social crusades--Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington,Tahrir and Tienanmen Squares, and the campaign for women’s suffrage to name a few. It’s not that I don’t like protesters; rather, I don’t have much respect for radicals whose sound and fury drowns out opportunities for dialog and isolates them from the world they claim to want to reform.

Mattathias Schwartz’s excellent look at the back office and front line of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) describes the strategy that went into the first September 17th protest as well as the horizontal structures the movement employed to maintain some sense of order in an anarchical commune. The OWS protesters can be clever, but they come across as hopelessly bizarre.

Tea Partiers protest in DC, 2009
In this respect, OWS mirrors the potent but polarizing ascent of the Tea Party that emerged in 2009 and successfully carried the issue of anti-deficit, small-government conservatism through the 2010 mid-term elections and into the spending battles of 2011. Tea Partiers--who initially called themselves Tea Baggers--earned plenty of scorn, even as they organized, derailed the Republican establishment, and ushered an inexperienced, hard-line cadre of candidates into the House of Representatives who brought Washington to the brink of default and collapse.

The Occupy Movement can claim to have changed the national dialog to one of inequality as the public watched Republicans prioritize millionaires over deficit reduction. Their core concern rings true with most Americans. But Occupiers’ calls to arrest “banksters” and impose a 1% Robin Hood tax on financial transactions are just as unviable in the real world than the Tea Party’s gold-standard, end-the-Fed, back-to-the-Constitution platform.