While most of us slept, early Saturday morning, an armada of Boston Police vehicles and personnel descended upon the somewhat diminished Occupy Boston encampment in Dewey Square. Their orders were clear: the city had decided it was time for all this to end.
Hordes of media, representing outlets from all over the Bay State, and beyond, waited in anticipation for what many feared would be a violent clash between protestors and police, but, in the end, the pre-dawn eviction went as smoothly as anyone could have hoped for, if not more so. In the final analysis, . No serious injuries were reported.
With so much potential for violence, it is truly remarkable that so little occurred; both sides deserve praise for their cool-headedness and restraint. It’s clear the good faith that seemed to be building between the mayor’s office, police and the protestors over the past two months was more than mere lip-service. So often these things degenerate into brutal melees, as was the case in the early days of Occupy Boston.
“There’s a great group of kids down there at Occupy Boston,” said Boston Police Superintendent William Evans during a Saturday morning press conference. “When we needed help, I called them, they called me, and together we were able to get situations that could have gotten out of control back to normal.”
Now that there is no more Occupy Boston camp, however, many are asking the obvious question: ?
If there is one unassailable, absolutely immutable truth about Occupy Boston, and the Occupy movement at large, it would have to be that it is nothing if not divisive. People are either squarely for it, or steadfastly against it. There is precious little middle ground. In the interests of full disclosure, I do support the movement. That being said, I have had my doubts about the wisdom of the encampments, and, if anyone had asked, I would have advocated the group hoisting anchor and sailing off under its own steam weeks ago. Their point had been made for at least that long. The job was already done. As many protestors in New York’s Zuccotti Park had yelled at police, the whole world was watching. Watching and waiting. Waiting for some kind of coherent doctrine to emerge from the movement. But the encampments were just the first part of what will need to be a multi-faceted, long-term strategy. Now is when the message becomes the focal point of Occupy.
The next thing I would advise would be trimming the fat, so to speak. A concerted effort should be made to root out, or at least marginalize, the blatantly anti-authoritarian or “anarchical” elements. If you want to be effective, that’s not the message that needs to be sent. The battle that Occupy is fighting is not for acreage, but rather for hearts and minds. Aggressive tactics are counterproductive. Image is everything.
That’s been one of the biggest issues facing encampments nationwide—the perception that they are little more than hastily-erected shanty towns, brimming with vice and depravity, unfit for decent folks to frequent. There were several reports of drug arrests and violence that came from the Dewey Square camp, further serving to enforce such beliefs.
But anyone who has paid any attention to the movement knows such stereotypes are complete and utter bunk. While there are bad apples in every orchard, the wise fruit-grower doesn’t throw away his entire crop when he finds one.
That’s why, for my money, the future of Occupy, whatever your personal take on it, was on display .
The group needs to fan out, state by state, city by city and organize meetings like the one Dec. 7, at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Woburn Street, where residents can get together and feel involved in this process. By focusing energy in smaller groups, on a national level, more can be gained than by larger rallies, which, let’s face it, can feel somewhat off-putting and inaccessible. It’s also important that the movement avoids politics as much as possible, or risk banishment to the world of the punchline, like the Tea Party.
As far as streamlining the message, that’s going to be the hard part. If it proves too hard, then we may have already seen the apex of the Occupy movement’s influence.
Here’s what needs to happen:
Some sort of codification of goals should occur, but it can’t be too lengthy and must be relatively focused. Back at the early stages of the Occupy movement, back in October, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, heir to the National Affairs Desk, the space famously occupied by the legendary Hunter S. Thompson, proposed a five-pronged platform that would encapsulate the most pressing issues relating to economic injustice quite nicely. Focusing on the following five points would make the Occupy message clear, focused and hard-hitting.
- Shatter the monopolies. The “Too Big to Fail” financial institutions “pose a grave threat to national security,” writes Taibbi. They are “more dangerous and unaccountable than a thousand mafias combined.” There are roughly 20 such firms in America, and Taibbi advocates dismantling them. Repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and mandate the separation of insurance companies, investment banks and commercial banks.
- Pay us back. As Taibbi points out, a tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all derivative trades would generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts, and still have a sizable chunk of change to fight the deficits the banks are so worried about. It would also deter things like High Frequency Trading, and force Wall Street to “go back to the job it's supposed to be doing, i.e., making sober investments in job-creating businesses and watching them grow.”
- No public money for private lobbying. This one seems like a no-brainer. A company that gets a public bailout shouldn’t be allowed to use a taxpayer's money to lobby against him. “You can either suck on the public teat or influence the next presidential race, but you can't do both. Butt out for once and let the people choose the next president and Congress.”
- Tax hedge-fund gamblers. An immediate repeal of the carried-interest tax break, which allows people like Stevie Cohen and John Paulson to pay just 15 percent tax on their multibillion dollar incomes, while ordinary American—like teachers and firefighters—pay twice that rate. “I defy any politician to stand up and defend that loophole during an election year,” writes Taibbi.
- Change the way bankers get paid. “We need new laws preventing Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront for deals that might blow up in all of our faces later. It should be: You make a deal today, you get company stock you can redeem two or three years from now. That forces everyone to be invested in his own company's long-term health – no more Joe Cassanos pocketing multimillion-dollar bonuses for destroying the AIGs of the world.”
I’d love to hear anyone tell me why any of the above suggestions don’t make sense.