The occupy movement needs a point, not Kanye West

About five or six students from my year level at high school ended up at Melbourne Uni. Most of them I spotted in the first week or so; it took a year and a half for me to eye the only one I really wanted to see.

And there he was. Mid-1999. Crouched down on a footpath, scrawling out in huge letters “Students for Chalk”. He didn’t stick around too long after that.

I was thinking about him, about his postmodern protest, the other day when forty-odd Occupy protestors crossed my path in Amherst, Massachusetts, where I’m currently working. One kid, probably all of nineteen, waved a giant “Fuck da Police” placard at me. A cheeky grin on his face.

I’m actually all for the right to protest.

Truly.

While I’m not interested in crowds, chanting, banner-making or the outdoors myself, I am very enthusiastic about political engagement.

Provided I’m not inconvenienced, provided there are no megaphones – God, do I hate megaphones – then I’m very supportive of non-violent protests: wield your textas in triumph, I say.

My problems with Occupy are purely managerial.

Conservative media worldwide have heartily embraced the opportunity to stick microphones in the faces of hyped-up kids and ask them what the protest is all about. Vague answers about the man, about power, Starbucks, whatever, provide audiences at home the opportunity to sit back and titter and to – regrettably – allow the status quo to remain.

Such nasty coverage is predictable and unhelpful, and overlooks the actual problem with the movement.

Perhaps a bizarre hang-up for someone who regularly outs herself as a leftie, but I’m actually genuinely interested in knowing how performance will be gauged here. When will we know whether the “occupations” have been successful?

Any good activist work requires an objective. I’m not saying a mission statement – although, I actually think one would be useful here – but I’ll settle for a simple objective. Something that the banner-wielders actually want. Something, that when all is said and done and when the cardboard is binned and the parks are doused in Dettol, that the protesters will be able to pump a fist and say “We did that”.

If the objective is purely media coverage, then sure, that’s been gained. But arbitrary media coverage is far too vague a goal. Particularly in a media environment where every bad parent, dancing cat or talking spaniel can get themselves on TV.

So is it about conscience raising? Ala the slutwalks? If so, great: I love a good public awareness campaign. Success here would be determined by a better informed public. Of course, awareness is only created if people previously uninformed got informed; if people reluctant were now convinced. I don’t see any signs that this has happened.

Is it about agenda setting? Getting something on the government’s to do list? For those of us anal enough to care about things like success determinants, then this is a very good objective. Alas, without knowing what the agenda items are, how can any government put anything on their shopping list?

Is it about legislative change? Are there some laws that should be tinkered with, programs that should be abolished? Great. Another excellent objective and a very good way to determine success. And again something screamingly missing from Occupy.

Truth be told, I’m actually very passionate about wealth redistribution. I’m happy paying my taxes, I absolutely think that the big end of town should cough up more than it does and if I hear another conservative cretin cloyingly refer to the filthy rich as “job creators” I will projectile vomit.

Theoretically I am actually a convert.

That said, I am never seduced by incoherent signs, mantras screeched through megaphones or the blatant lack of understanding of political process, public policy and the requirements of a half-decent activist campaign.

Of course, in place of my 700-odd words, just one simple photograph of a bejewelled Kanye West rocking up to the New York occupation equally encapsulates all that is confused and bewildering about the protests and nicely spotlights an aching need for good management.

October 24, 2011

© Lauren Rosewarne

Original Source: The Punch (link no longer active)