To borrow and mangle a phrase from the late Bob Pease, what’s all this Occupy Dallas stuff anyhow? I’ve been hearing wildly contradictory reports of what the Occupy Wallstreet group is about. Now the group or movement or whatever it is, has begun spreading out to other cities around the world. When Occupy Dallas started a few days ago, I decided I’d probably get a better picture of what’s going on if I just had a look for myself and talked to some of the people. That’s what I did and I thought it might be interesting to others if I shared what I found out. I can at least confirm or dispel a few of the things I’ve been hearing in the media.
The whole thing seems to have started with Adbusters but was quickly joined by Anonymous. As people in more and more cities began taking up the cause, more groups started latching onto the concept, making it unclear which groups are the “real” ones. There is now an “Occupy Together” website that seems to have coalesced into a center of information for the movement, though it dis-associates itself to some extent from the Occupy Wallstreet group. But for the most part, I think it’s safe to say that Adbuster, Anonymous, and Occupy are the focus of activity.
Officially, the group offers a fairly straightforward description of itself as a peaceful protest of the masses (the 99%) against abuse of power and wealth by the few (the 1%). They’re also protesting corporate greed, abuse of power by government; influence of government policy by wealthy individuals and corporations; and the political turmoil that has resulted from the two-party political system in the US (but it’s important to note that the group is not limited to the US). The group does not claim alignment with any specific political party and claims not to have a general right or left leaning. They claim to have no specific agenda.
I talked to a few participants in the Occupy Dallas group in person at their protest event and online. I also shot some photos of their base camp. I visited on Thursday when the primary protest was at the Federal Reserve Bank on Pearl Street and the base camp was at the JFK Memorial. After spending one night there, my understanding is that they’ve moved the base camp to Founder’s Park and the primary protest will begin moving to other major financial institutions such as Bank of America. At the time I visited there were estimated to be about 500 people involved. My guess is maybe 300+ were at the JFK memorial at the time and I saw more along the path between the memorial and the Fed, so estimates in the 400-500 range match the best guess I could make.
Here’s my impression along with my take on how accurate the media reports about them have been:
The people who were at the protest included Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, Ron Paul supporters, Ron Paul opponents, Obama supporters, Obama opponents, Tea Party people (I have to note again that, as a tea drinker, I still hate that they’ve besmirched the good name of tea). There were fringe nutty people including assorted conspiracy theorists who thought the Federal Reserve, or the lack of a gold standard, or you-name-it, was part of a conspiracy to take away their freedom. But overall, it seemed less conspiracy and nutjob dominated than the Tea Party seems to be. There were a lot of college aged kids but an almost equal number of older people, including many who looked to be at or past retirement age. There were an almost equal number of men and women protesting. Many of the cars driving past on Main Street were honking and gesturing support. I didn’t see any passing drivers showing opposition.
Some in the right-wing media have begun claiming that these protester are law breakers and violent. This is completely false, at least in Dallas. The protest and base camp were peaceful. The police had set up barriers to provide a safe protest area around the Fed for the protesters. The police and protesters were interacting, talking, joking, laughing. At one point policemen were helping protesters carry water and supplies to their base camp. As the protesters have noted, the Police are part of the 99%, so there’s no reason for any hostility. I’m aware there has been some violence on both sides in the Wall Street protest but nothing out of the ordinary for a large protest and, in any case, nothing like that has occurred in Dallas (yet). The only way I can see a problem developing is if one side or the other stop being cooperative. But so far the protesters and police seem to be communicating, with the police willing to accommodate peaceful protest and the protesters willing to locate in areas acceptable to the police.
I heard Bill O’Reilly claim these are “anti-capitalism” protesters. I believe this is false.
No one I talked to expressed opinions that seemed even remotely anti-capitalist. The Dallas Fort Worth area has real Communist and Socialist groups; members of neither group were present at the Occupy protest. I think part of the problem here is that the far right has come to idolize money so much that they sometimes have trouble distinguishing greed from capitalism.
I’ve seen media claims that the protesters are all “hippies”. This is false. I saw a handful of people who might be described visually as hippy-like; long scruffy hair, tie-dyed clothes. One or two were hauling around acoustic guitars. They were greatly outnumbered by people who looked perfectly normal for Dallas. I saw people who fit just about any genre you want to mention from businessmen in suits to mohawked punk rockers on skateboards.
I’ve seen media claims that the group is a right wing movement associated with the Tea Party. I think this is definitely false. I heard that the Dallas Tea Party people at one point had planned a protest at the Fed to coincide with the Occupy protest but I’m not sure if it happened or not. There were at least a couple of Tea Party people present, there were also some Ron Paul supporters, Republicans, and anti-Obama people. I saw about the same amount of what I considered anti-right-wing signage as pro-right-wing signage. Also I’ve noticed the right-wing media outlets like Fox have started putting a lot of effort into casting the Occupy movement as left/evil/commie/socialist, so I assume as Tea Party people get the message from upstream, fewer of them will be willing to associate with the movement.
I’ve seen media claims that the group is a left wing movement. This one is trickier. I think it’s false in the sense of the left as the Democratic or Progressive US political party. But it may be true in a general sense depending on one’s definition of left. There were a few Obama supporters in evidence but there were also a lot of people looking to oust Obama in the next election, some even wanted to make demanding Obama’s resignation an official part of the group’s goals. More than a few of the protest signs seemed to me to be left-leaning but others I found moderate or even right-leaning. During the time I was there, I heard lots of talk about fending off attempts by the liberal MoveOn group to take over Occupy, take credit for it, or push the Occupy movement toward the left. The majority of people I saw or talked to believe the Democrat/Republican and Left/Right pardigms are in part responsible for a lot of our current problems and wanted nothing to do with either side. Overall though, I’d have to say there were probably more people I’d describe as left-leaning than right-leaning at the Dallas event, enough to put the average for the entire group slightly left of center.
Media reports have said that the group doesn’t know what it’s protesting or demanding. In my experience, this claim is closer to being true but is not entirely accurate. As a group, there seems to be consensus that what is being protested is 1) corporate greed 2) abuse of power by government 3) use of money to influence elections and legislation by indivduals and corporations. At an individual level, though, nearly everyone you ask has some additional gripe to add. Many are protesting specific politicians such as Obama, or specific institutions such as the Federal Reserve. Some are protesting abstract concepts like the personhood of corporations.
I heard a lot of debating and arguing amongst protestors while I was there. One protester would start in about a Fed conspiracy or the gold standard and another would disagree. For the most part the arguments sounded good natured and peaceful. But it was clear there was very little consensus in the group on what the root problems were (beyond the basic ones already mentioned) and no agreement on what the desired outcome should be.
I also heard a lot of complaints that I found contradictory and, well, baffling. For example one response I got included this complaint:
“We are fed sub standard and tainted foods by mega national food companies. We are sold cheap, sub standard and often dangerous goods made by corporations”
I thought about asking what happened to this person’s free will. The protesters are camped out within walking distance to the Dallas Farmer’s Market where they can buy food grown by local farmers. There are plenty of coops going where you can buy locally grown organic food and meats. Dallas even has a growing community garden trend. There are plenty of foods available that are grown locally, are not sub-standard, and are not grown by mega-corporations. The same can be said of many other goods. What this guy seemed to me to be saying, after correcting for reality, was more like “I choose to buy sub-standard food from mega-corporations and I demand the government stop me from doing that”. Which doesn’t really make sense when you consider the same group is complaining about too much government interference in our lives. It seems like there’s a bit of a personal responsibility gap in their reasoning.
This leads to the next media claim that was close to being accurate; the claim that the protesters are largely hypocrites. I found this one close to being true but perhaps less so than the previous one. I’m sure everyone has seen one of the photos of corporate product laden protesters protesting corporations. If you take a look at my own photos of the Dallas event you’ll see that the protester do indeed have a massive corporate footprint. They were using smart phones, social networking services, wearing corporate made clothes bearing corporate logos, drinking corporate bottled drinking water in plastic containers, using corporate made cameras, etc.
To what extent is that hypocrisy though? In many cases they’re not objecting to the existence of corporations or to corporate made products, just the excess corporate greed and corporation’s use of wealth to influence government. On the other hand, individuals like the one who made the comment about sub-standard food certainly sound hypocritical. A lot of the changes the protesters want might come about pretty quickly if they simply acted in line with their words. I wonder how many of them are eating locally grown foods, wearing locally made clothes, using an electrical provider that offers 100% renewable power, etc. While I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say the group as a whole is hypocritical, there is certainly plenty of hypocrisy to go around (but I suspect that I and most of my readers are guilty of a little hypocrisy in this regard too).
One of the protesters told me this was largely about “gaining a voice”. After some reflection I think that may be part of our problem. We’ve been so conditioned by our political system that our role should be talking, protesting, arguing but never doing. I think it never occurs to most people that they can actually do something themselves. I certainly sympathize with the primary complaints of the Occupy movement and hope their protests do some good but, in the end, somebody still has to find some solutions and actually do the work. I’d love to see a group as enthusiastic as the Tea Party or the Occupy Movement who actually wanted to DO something instead of just complain about things, however justified those complaints may be.
That’s all the insight I’ve got for now and it’s probably worth about what you paid for it.