The Universal Notebook: Occupy places of power, not public parks

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

As much as I am in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement when it comes to addressing the social and economic inequities brought on by greedy corporate speculators and their congressional enablers, I have a hard time figuring out just what is being accomplished by camping out in public parks.

I know the Occupiers consider living in the parks a form of free speech. I’m not sure I do, but even if camping out is free speech, I’m not sure how effective that speech really is.

The OccupyMaine encampment in Portland’s Lincoln Park has been plagued by incidents of violence, which is to be expected when peaceful demonstrators commandeer a park regularly used by vagrants.

I know, I know, the Occupiers want to express and embody solidarity with the homeless and dispossessed, but that being the case maybe OccupyMaine should move to the hobo jungles on the fringes of the city.

It’s also not clear to me why it should be necessary to occupy a piece of neutral public ground 24 hours a day for months at a time to make the point that poor people are being screwed, rich people aren’t paying their fair share, and bankers, brokers and politicians are to blame. In the 1960s, civil rights and antiwar protests were very successful with sit-ins, temporary occupations if you will, sometimes involving teach-ins on the issue at hand.

A sit-in temporarily disrupts an institutional routine, forcing the powers-that-be to listen to demands and respond in some way. OccupyMaine doesn’t inconvenience or confront anyone other than people who might want to use Lincoln Park for some other purpose, such as sleeping off a drunk. I just hate to think of idealistic folks enduring a winter of camping out for no substantial gain.

The lack of clear goals, of course, is what most people find frustrating about the Occupy movement. A vague sense of unhappiness with the current economic situation isn’t enough to effect change. Whether they like it or not, Occupiers need clear, achievable goals – a Robin Hood tax on the rich, say, or a ban on home foreclosures.

The Bonus Army of the 1930s camped out in Washington’s Hooverville to demand payment for their military service, in the process helping FDR to defeat incumbent President Herbert Hoover.

Having come of age in the 1960s, I am more in tune with the civil disobedience and protest tactics of those tumultuous times, but it sure seems to me that a series of sit-ins, call them rolling occupations if you will, would be more effective than freezing your butt off in a downtown tent city.

In 2012, occupy places of power, not marginal public parks. One of the prime offenders in overzealous home foreclosures is Bank of America. So occupy a different Bank of America branch each day. Establish by your presence (and probable arrest) how B of A has been complicit in creating the housing bubble that begat the recession when it burst and is now making things worse by foreclosing rather than renegotiating mortgage loans.

Occupy brokerage houses. Make it clear that making a profit on paper without contributing anything to society is a destructive social enterprise. Occupy state legislatures. Occupy Congress. Demand tax equity. Occupy corporate offices. Occupy the courts. Insist that human beings have more rights than corporations. Confront the powerful where they work.

The only issue OccupyMaine seems to be confronting is the legality of its presence in Lincoln Park. I’m afraid that’s just not an issue I find worth fighting for.

Sidebar Elements

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.