From What Future for Occupy Wall Street? by Michael Greenberg:
When I asked Amin and Katie what Occupy Wall Street’s ultimate goal was, they said, “A government accountable to the people, freed up from corporate influence.” It seemed that this pointed to a simple, single demand, something that many in the movement had been seeking since September: a campaign finance law that would ban private contributions and restrict candidates to the use of public money. Several detailed proposals for such a law already existed, including one from Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig that, though imperfect, would attack, in Lessig’s words, “the root, the thing that feeds the other ills, and the thing that we must kill first.”
As I spoke, I could sense the impatience of my listeners. I wasn’t getting the point. Any such demand would turn them into supplicants; its very utterance implied a surrender to the state that went against Occupy Wall Street’s principles. Katie maintained that Occupy Wall Street didn’t yet have “a broad enough base” to make such a demand with any reasonable expectation that it could be met. And Amin said, “It doesn’t matter what particular laws you pass. We’re not about laws.” They saw themselves as a counterculture; and to continue to survive as such they had to remain uncontaminated by the culture they opposed.
But in what capacity would they survive? During the time they held Zuccotti Park, the movement had been able to expand on its own terms. The park had been an ongoing, live-action, twenty-four-hours-a-day spectacle, a model village—or a state within the state, as protesters preferred to think of it—like the exhibits of the future one used to visit at the World’s Fair. People would come off the street, from Idaho or Europe, get drawn into a debate, become involved.
Organizers described Occupy Wall Street as “a way of being,” of “sharing your life together in assembly.” To participate fully in its process of “horizontal, autonomous, leaderless, modified-consensus-based” democracy, you had to make the movement a central part of your existence. For many, this posed an insurmountable problem. A social worker and single mother with little free time told me that she had given up trying to join Occupy Wall Street because she couldn’t figure out how to do so “without hanging out with them all the time.” The ambitions of the core group of activists were more cultural than political, in the sense that they sought to influence the way people think about their lives. “Ours is a transformational movement,” Amin told me with a solemn air. Transformation had to occur face to face; what it offered, especially to the young, was an antidote to the empty gaze of the screen.
In meetings and elsewhere, this Tolstoyan experience of undergoing a personal crisis of meaning, both political and of the soul, seemed deeply shared. Apart from Amin, I’ve met an architect, a film editor, an advertising consultant, an unemployed stock trader, a spattering of lawyers, and people with various other jobs who, after joining OWS, found themselves psychologically unable to go about their lives as before. For weeks last fall, gatherings on the eastern steps of Zuccotti Park had the aura of a revivalist meeting.
The people that organized OWS set it up to be ineffective. They weren’t going to make the same mistake the original Tea Party leaders did and make a creature that would turn on them. They wanted a toothless organization that would distract and dissipate left-wing energies. They got it.
The rationalizations the leaders of OWS came up with for their lack of goals became OWS’ reason for being.
So get your beads and bells on and gather round the punch bowl.