It was a magnificent night in Chicago. You could not have picked a better night for an outdoor gathering.
I arrived promptly at 7:00. There were only a few people there, six at first, with others trickling in. Apparently the main body of the group had been involved in a march somewhere. I got a chance to chat with some of them. They were generally dressed in the style I think of as “collegiate leftist” which has apparently not changed much since about 1969. I was wearing a suit, tie and black shoes. No one seemed to have any response to my attire. Their hygiene seemed fine, though I was prepared for the worst.
The kids I spoke to — and I use the term because that is what people in their early twenties seem like to me — were nice, and reasonably intelligent. Two were recent college graduates who were not able to get jobs. They seemed to be sincere and sensible young people.
One girl had a printout of the “proposed grievances.” (I got the list off their site and put it below the fold, since it is apparently a work in progress and subject to change.) It is an interesting mix. I agree with some of it, as noted in square brackets. I was surprised that it was not more Left boilerplate. It seems to reflect an accurate understanding of the seriousness of crony capitalism as the heart of the problem we face.
These conversations I found enjoyable, though I was as usual saddened by the combination of earnestness and ignorance of this rising generation.
My hatred of the Boomers, who have brainwashed and wasted these kids is boundless. There is nothing wrong with them. They have just never been taught anything but bullshit. They have been betrayed by their parents and their teachers. It is very depressing. The country has been shamefully dumbed down.
At some point the bulk of the people showed up and the General Assembly began. The motto of the group is “We are the 99%.”
It appears that there are some leaders who act as moderators at these meetings, but they do not seem to have formal officers. These people seemed to be older and to be full time activists. I did not get any positive impression from these guys, some of whom seemed to be orthodox leftists. They have a practice called the “peoples microphone” in which whoever is speaking to the meeting talks in short phrases, and the crowds repeats it back in unison. There is a faintly hypnotic quality to this. I don’t like it, and didn’t do it.
The first speakers were emphatic at the outset that their gatherings are drug and alcohol-free zones, and that they are committed to nonviolence. This is apparently a ritualized introduction that they always do. These admonitions were greeted with almost solemn agreement.
The meeting was rambling and poorly organized. However that appears to be considered a feature rather than a bug. Everyone gets to participate, but you have to take turns. Anyone can vote. I walked in out of nowhere, and I could have voted. The one vote they had, on whether to adopt an almost incoherent “preamble” was defeated. I turned to the guy next to me and said, “what’s up? It won in a landslide.” He said ten percent opposition defeats any proposal. A prescription for stasis, of course.
One guy got up and said that people should read the Communist Manifesto which is available “millions of places” online. Another guy said there would be a teach-in by a University of Chicago professor on the myth of the free market. One pair got up and described how they crashed a meeting of the mortgage bankers association and got arrested. This was initially greeted with cheers. But then a bunch of people got up and said that getting arrested is very serious, and should not be taken lightly, and could be used to discredit the movement, and that any action of that sort should only be taken after a vote of the General Assembly. The speakers were emotional on the point. One interesting comment was that the police who arrested them told them that they agreed with them and that they, the cops, were part of the 99% percent, too.
There was also a somewhat emotional discussion of the need to stay clear of any political party and of politics in general. There was a statement that the movement rejected both the Republicans and the Democrats, which was greeted with warm applause.
One young man got up and said the group needed to occupy “a field or warehouse” and create their “own space.” This was discussed seriously.
I left after two hours, with the meeting still ongoing.
My overall impression is of a large and incoherent community of people with no clear agenda, no actionable plan, but with a few particular and genuine grievances.
It appears to be composed of at least two major groups. There is an older group of experienced activists, who have experience at organizing and leading protests. These people are orthodox leftists. There is a certain hard quality to their eyes which you can see right away. These people are generally engaged in the same kind of protest they and their predecessors have been doing for 50 years. It is the same old thing and they could do it in their sleep.
The other group seems to be a large, young and energetic but poorly educated group of kids who have spent their lives on a path to “college” on borrowed money, then a “job.” Now they are facing the derailment of the entire vague program they have always lived by, and they know they owe a lot of money and don’t know what to do now or do next.
This group of kids seem to be educable, and to have some good instincts. But, they have for now fallen into malicious hands.
Several impression struck me. One, the purpose of the event seems to be about feelings of solidarity and community, and not about effectiveness in any coherent political way. Many people seem to want to be part of a mass movement, not in a political but in a tangible sense of masses of people moving, chanting, speaking in unison. I have never seen the appeal of this, but it is obviously something many people are drawn to. As an amateur historian I was struck by how this movement is replicating note for note the Left movements of the 1960s, but recreating it all over again from scratch. Rambling, poorly organized meetings, a requirement of unanimity to do anything, a repudiation of politics as usual, a vague call for some kind of deep social transformation, a desire for immersion in mass activity, a call for communal living. It is as if the last 50 years never happened and the past has no lessons at all.
From this very limited snapshot, I cannot say whether this movement will have any long term significance. But I am going to guess that it will. There is a large mass of young people who have been dealt a very bad hand. The old time Left is aggressively courting them. I think this will lead to very large and aggressive disruptive actions, which will be difficult to stop because there is no set of actionable political demands that can be satisfied to make the protests stop. The feeling of solidarity is its own reward, particularly where ordinary career and work prospects are thwarted. So, my prediction is that the “Occupy” movement will be a significant force, and unfortunately, not a good one.
Things are going to be messy going forward. I have no idea how it will play out.
One question to myself and to others is this: What can the Tea Party and others who have better ideas do to reach out to this generational cohort?
Lenin said power was lying in the gutter and the Bolsheviks just picked it up.
This new generation has been left in the gutter by their parents and teachers, and left with no intellectual tools at all. They are not stupid, they have the energy of youth, they want to do the right thing. They know they have been screwed, but they are not sure how or by whom.
Who will pick them up out of the gutter? So far, only the bad guys seem to be trying to do so.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste. The mind of a generation is a catastrophic thing to waste.
What is to be done? Your sincere responses are hereby solicited.
(Occupy Chicago grievances, my responses in [square brackets])
Our PROPOSED grievances
Posted on October 7, 2011 by occupychiadmin
These are the list of proposed demands. They will be up for vote tonight at 7pm @ 500 S Michigan Ave in front
￼￼of the horse.
1.PASS HR 1489 REINSTATING GLASS-STEAGALL. – A depression era safeguard that separated the commercial lending and investment banking portions of banks. Its repeal in 1999 is considered the major cause
of the global financial meltdown of 2008-2009. [AGREE]
2. REPEAL BUSH TAX CUTS FOR THE WEALTHY [DISAGREE]
3. FULLY INVESTIGATE AND PROSECUTE THE WALL STREET CRIMINALS who clearly broke the law and helped cause the 2008 financial crisis. [AGREE]
4.OVERTURN CITIZENS UNITED v. US. – A 2010 Supreme Court Decision which ruled that money is speech. Corporations, as legal persons, are now allowed to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns in the exercise of free “speech.” [DISAGREE]
5. PASS THE BUFFET RULE ON FAIR TAXATION, CLOSE CORPORATE TAX LOOPHOLES, PROHIBIT HIDING FUNDS OFFSHORE. [DISAGREE WITH 1 AND 3, AGREE WITH 2]
6. GIVE THE SEC STRICTER REGULATORY POWER, STRENGTHEN THE CONSUMER PROTECTION BUREAU, AND PROVIDE ASSISTANCE FOR OWNERS OF FORECLOSED MORTGAGES WHO WERE VICTIMS OF PREDATORY LENDING. [MIXED AGREEMENT ON 1 AND 2, AGREE WITH 3]
7.TAKE STEPS TO LIMIT THE INFLUENCE OF LOBBYISTS AND ELIMINATE THE PRACTICE OF LOBBYISTS WRITING LEGISLATION. [AGREE WITH 1, 2 IS IMPOSSIBLE]
8. ELIMINATE RIGHT OF FORMER GOVERNMENT REGULATORS TO WORK FOR CORPORATIONS OR INDUSTRIES THEY ONCE REGULATED. [STRONGLY AGREE]
9. ELIMINATE CORPORATE PERSONHOOD. [DISAGREE]
10. INSIST THE FEC STAND UP FOR THE PUBLIC INTEREST IN REGULATING PRIVATE USE OF PUBLIC AIRWAVES to help ensure that political candidates ARE GIVEN EQUAL TIME for free at reasonable intervals during campaign season. [DISAGREE]
11. REFORM CAMPAIGN FINANCE WITH THE PASSAGE OF THE FAIR ELECTIONS NOW ACT (S.750, H.R. 1404). [DON’T KNOW THIS PROPOSED ACT]
12. FORGIVE STUDENT DEBT – The same institutions that gave almost $2T in bailouts and then extended $16T of loans at little to no interest for banks can surely afford to forgive the $946B of student debt currently held. Not only does this favor the 99% over the 1%, it has the practical effect of more citizens spending money on actual goods, not paying down interest. [MAYBE]
UPDATE: Here is the origin of the peoples’ microphone. Making a virtue of necessity. Very clever.
UPDATE III: Here is the proposed “preamble”, which I find fascinating on many levels:
We gather in solidarity, as a global movement, in order to express a
feeling that rises from the recognition of mass injustice suffered by
nearly all people of the world. Regardless of political, social, and
cultural backgrounds we are united, by no clear matter of our will or
choice, in a common circumstance of economic and political depravity.
As we develop and engage this process, in order to create solutions
and strategies for a just society, we stand firm in our convictions to
remain politically unaffiliated and to confront the establishment with
UPDATE IV: I left a comment on their site, with a link to this post, as follows:
I attended the General Assembly last night. I came to listen respectfully. I am a libertarian and conservative thinker, but I respect everyone who exercise their Constitutional rights to free speech and peaceable assembly. The economic and political crisis we are living through now requires all people of good will to pay attention and peaceably debate. I posted my observations on my blog. My comments are somewhat critical, but I hope not unfair.