Is the Occupy movement growing or dying? Are groups such as the one that set up camp on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery hurting the cause or helping it? Does a leaderless protest organization have any promise of forcing change?
If you talk to the person considered largely responsible for the whole thing, the amorphous, anti-hierarchical nature of Occupy is part of its mystique and will eventually be the reason for its success. And if you’re tempted to ask Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn how a protest group that doesn’t have a specific set of demands can accomplish anything, he’ll tell you that you don’t get what’s really going on.
“People expect this to be the old-style revolution,” says Mr. Lasn, whose counterculture magazine sparked the movement. “They expect it to be one that is vertical, that has demands, that has a leader who will tell you what’s going on so it’s crystal clear. But this movement is horizontal. It grew out of the culture of the Internet and learned something from the encampments in Spain and some of the anarchism going on in Greece.”
Instead, Mr. Lasn told me, Occupy is egalitarian and doesn’t like leaders or demands. It’s trying to create a new model for democracy, transcending failed revolutions of the past and eschewing simplistic left-wing slogans such as Tax the Rich.
Perhaps. But Occupy has certainly relied on catchphrases of its own – “the 99 per cent,” “the 1 per cent” – to convey its anti-establishment message. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I think what many people are struggling with is where Occupy goes from here. Does it have any hope of building on the early momentum it had behind the message that corporate greed, represented by the obscene profits and bonuses seen on Wall Street, symbolizes a world fundamentally out of sync?
The first protests at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan appeared to give voice to a growing feeling that inequality, not prosperity, had become the hallmark of our modern society. And that crony capitalism had corrupted democratically elected governments around the world to the detriment of a stagnating middle class whose needs were not being met.
But now I watch the 75 or so people occupying the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery and question whether there’s any hope for the movement. The spirit of optimism that imbued the site early on has dissipated. Many campers have left, frustrated by the clash of varying ideologues and agendas. It seems to exist with no purpose.
Meantime, entreaties by City Hall to end the occupation have been ignored. And outside supporters of the noble sentiment that formed the basis of the movement have begun to question the occupiers’ true goal.
Is there one? Or is it just anarchy dressed up as something else?
For his part, Mr. Lasn isn’t worried that the various occupations across North America will produce a public backlash that could erode the support the movement enjoyed. That conflict over the encampments will effectively kill the national conversation the movement sparked.
On the contrary, Mr. Lasn says, infighting is normal. As the movement moves into its “second phase,” trouble is to be expected. Revolutions, after all, are a messy business.
“In Egypt, there is going to be a slugfest for many years to see who finally controls the country and what kind of system they give birth to,” he says. “I think the same thing will happen to this movement. There’s going to be a lot of grief, a lot of pain, possibly a lot of violence, but somewhere down the road, I hope a new system will be born.”
Not to be a killjoy, but I don’t see it happening. Not unless the Occupy movement can produce some type of political manifesto that ordinary people can understand and relate to and that offers legitimate hope of beneficial change. In other words, it needs more than just emotion to sustain itself and to result in something.
Because right now, for all its good intentions, this protest campaign is in danger of fizzling out.