Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Next For the OWS Movement?

After another state court judge issued a ruling allowing Brookfield Properties the right to control their own park and allowed New York City to clear Zuccotti Park of protesters and their belongings, including tents, sleeping bags, and other paraphernalia, the park reopened under the new more stringent rules.

No one will be able to bring sleeping bags or tents into the park, and security barriers and checks of belongings were being carried out. Protesters did reenter the park, but only about 50 stayed on overnight. Those who may attempt to sleep on benches or the planters in the park would be removed from the park as violating the rules, which are posted at the barriers. It was quiet for the first time in weeks, and the entire park property was accessible once entering through the barriers.

What exactly did the occupation of parks and open space in New York City and elsewhere actually accomplish? Where will the OWS movement go from here?

That's the question being asked all over the place among the media and pundit types, but perhaps more importantly, among the people who were directly involved in the protest squatting in several cities across the United States.

I'd say that they definitely got quite a bit of exposure on the protests for the sake of protesting, and raised awareness about income inequality, but people already knew that. Considering that at most a few hundred people were directly involved in the Zuccotti Park protests on a regular basis, but whose numbers swelled when various marches were conducted outside the confines of the park, there was outsized media attention on the protests. Location had quite a bit to do with the attention. After all, had these protests occurred in someplace like Union Square or Washington Square, no one would bat an eye since this kind of protest is a near-daily occurrence. The tent city visual didn't exactly help spread the message, and conservatives would characterize the protesters as hippies or other left-wingers who were on the fringe.

Certainly, there were fringe leftists and hippies at these protests, but there were also clearly middle class people who wanted to see changes in federal laws and regulations to reduce the influence of banking and restoring laws such as Glass-Steagal, which allowed banks to enter into transactions that were in part behind the market meltdown in 2007-2008. It's the latter group that needs to get its voice heard - these are the folks with real ideas and possible policy changes that can form the basis for reform. That doesn't mean it will be successful, but it's far more likely to be successful than trying to occupy a few parks and open areas in cities.

The protests gained the most attention when there were confrontations with police; whether it was rioting in places like Portland, or arrests for assaults among protesters in New York; or when they disrupted traffic by shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge. In fact, protesters are contemplating another shutdown of the Brooklyn Bridge, and marching on the NYSE at Wall Street tomorrow. Those optics and tactics don't endear themselves to other New Yorkers, many of whom rely on the Wall Street businesses for their jobs. Protesting outside a bank headquarters may gain attention, but it wont change the bank policy, let alone the federal regulations and laws that govern bank conduct. Those changes have to come from Congress and that means getting candidates elected who want to push through reforms to the banking and regulatory system.

The thing is that if the NYPD didn't crack down on the protests, they would have likely slowly disappeared as the cold of winter saw all but the hardiest types go on to other things. It was the earlier police actions that galvanized groups to join in support with the OWS movement and energized the crowds to grow and stick around, even during and after the freak October nor'easter.

The NYPD action to clear the protesters from the park may likewise cause the protesters to change tactics and focus more on policy than on occupation, although that may only come after one last attempt to disrupt the NYSE and Wall Street tomorrow. The sooner that OWS can focus on the policy, the better for the group. The country needs ideas on how to improve the moribund economy and reduce the chances that another market meltdown can occur, to say nothing of the growing income disparities and problems with funding health care and education. These are complex issues that can't be solved by occupying Zuccotti Park, but can be by engaging in the political process.

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