KNOWLES: Idle demands for undefined change

The Yale College Republicans’ counterprotest to the Occupy Movement’s proposed indefinite “occupation” of the New Haven Green has sparked controversy and discussion, as we intended. The Republican counterprotest, the original invitation for which included the words “incoherence,” “loafing” and “Febreze,” has since been described by a few of our more excitable classmates as “disgusting” and “heartless.” (With regard to the suggestion that we would bring Febreze to our counterprotest, I say for the record: people who sit in parks without bathing for months at a time accumulate offensive odors, and I will never apologize for my belief that hippies rarely smell pleasant.)

Of course, the Febreze comment, along with our title (“Occupy Occupy New Haven”) and invitation (“Come occupy the Occupy occupiers!”), was made with levity. But some members of our community took it all very seriously, because they take the Occupy protests seriously. They believe that the folks illegally camping out in parks on Wall Street truly represent 99 percent of Americans, that they represent us. The protesters do not, and I hope to be able to dispel some of the myths surrounding the Occupy phenomenon.

But first there has been a misunderstanding worth addressing. The target of our counterprotest, despite the mischaracterizations of some political activists, is neither the 10 percent of Americans who cannot find jobs because of failed economic policies nor the millions of citizens like us who have been cheated by a situation that demanded bank bailouts and led to endless deficit spending.

We instead protest the mobs of left-leaning political activists, public sector union leaders and out-of-touch college students who are “occupying” public parks and streets in cities across the country and who proudly proclaim that they have no goals or even an understanding of why they are there.

Some commentators have compared the Occupy people to the TEA parties. This comparison falls flat. Regardless of what you think about the TEA parties, they organized around specific goals, participated in democratic processes and respected the basic tenets of law and order. The Taxed Enough Already parties sought to shrink the size and scope of the federal government and to repeal President Obama’s health insurance mandate.

They then elected 94 new members of Congress in 2010. The TEA parties did not sit idly in parks, living off of charitable donations that would otherwise have gone to the truly needy. They effected huge political change by encouraging their fellow citizens to participate more actively in our democracy.

The Occupy folks are no TEA party. They have no clear agenda and present no clear grievances, which raises the question: Isn’t a mass protest without any specific demands, grievances or goals just an angry mob? Indeed, just this week, 500 Occupiers in New York marched, not to office buildings, but rather to the front doors of private citizens’ homes. As philosopher Slavoj Zizek recently said to a cheering crowd of Occupy protesters at Wall Street, the goal of the movement is not reform but revolution, which would, among other things, “end capitalism.”

Perhaps it is no wonder that the movement enjoys endorsements from Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the militant Communist Party USA.

The Occupiers are not participating in American democracy; they are working to subvert it. They do not petition their elected representatives to pass specific legislation because they have no solutions to propose; they have only anger. They are not looking for jobs or to raise funds for those hit hardest during these hard economic times; instead, they sit in parks and eat food donated to “the movement.”

None of the ad hominem attacks or personal threats posted to our Facebook event — and there have been many — has answered the simple question: Is our counterprotest unfair? When people have asserted that they have no demands and as of yet cannot say specifically what they are protesting, are they not incoherent? When protesters sit idly in a park for an undetermined number of months, with no agenda and no attempts to support themselves, are they not loafing? On Saturday, we will remind the Occupiers of Milton Friedman’s revolutionary observation that “the great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus” and that the only cases in recorded history in which the mass have escaped from grinding poverty are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. We hate white-collar crime, bank bailouts and deficit spending as much as anybody, but we do not conflate these three evils with political freedom and free markets.

The Yale College Republicans are protesting the occupiers because we believe in American democracy and will not stand to see it disregarded or subverted. The Occupy movement does not object to or advocate specific public policy; it takes issue with our country’s most basic political and economic institutions. The Occupiers are at best incoherent loafers, at worst an aimless mob. They sure don’t represent us.

Michael Knowles is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at michael.knowles@yale.edu.

Comments

  • JE14

    Totally with you. I’m not a Democrat though. Will be there tomorrow. (Hopefully can get out of work to show up a bit).

  • penny_lane

    Sorry Mr. Knowles, but it’s pretty clear that the Occupy movement is pushing for a political system in which large corporations and self-interested billionaires are not allowed to use their massive wealth to skew the playing field for millions of Americans who just want to go to work every day and come home to a happy, healthy family. Calls come from across the board for campaign finance reform and constitutional amendments declaring that Coca Cola is not a person the same way Mary Jones, mother of two is. I would educate yourself about the movement before flippantly declaring that its values are nonexistant.

  • bcrosby

    Wow, there’s a lot of crazy here, even leaving aside the author’s rather…selective, shall we say…recollection of original “Occupy Occupy New Haven” event. First off, Mr. Knowles immediately drags out the tired old Republican bugbears of supposedly villainous public sector union bosses, hippie college students, and vast cadres of leftist political activists to explain the protest numbers – a characterization which fails to rise above the status of tired cliche while also being, shall we say, factually false. Trust me: as a leftist activist/college student who has worked with public sector union leaders (that is to say, I can speak to some extent to all parts of Mr. Knowles’ slick tripartite division), we simply don’t have those kind of numbers all on our own. The fact of the matter, as even a cursory reading of the news coverage of OWS makes clear, is that there are a lot of regular folks out – regular folks who are pretty upset about the privatized profit and socialized risk, greed and irresponsibility of our financial sector and the untoward influence (especially post-Citizens United) of cash/big business in our political system.

    Perhaps they haven’t come up with a single “coherent message” – if by coherent message one means a detailed list of immediately implementable policy proposals, but the notion that a mass protest movement just a few weeks old needs such a list is utterly unrealistic and betrays a certain elitism (if they can’t come up with specific policy proposals, they shouldn’t protesting at all, apparently). Mr. Knowles chides them for avoiding already-existing political channels – well, many of the protesters are concerned about their ability to have their voice heard in traditional political channels, and given, say, the last North Carolina legislative election (see the New Yorker, “State for Sale”), one can’t entirely blame them. Furthermore, a general message of discontent with an underregulated and out-of-control financial sector and a dangerously chummy relationship between the government and big corporations comes through loud and clear.

  • bcrosby

    P.S., the characterization of the Tea Party above is also pretty laughable. There was (and is) plenty of incoherence in the Tea Party movement (“Get your government out of my medicare,” etc.) – along with some good old-fashioned politics of white resentment, but that’s another argument. What’s more, those elements of the Tea Party which did immediately come out with detailed policy platforms were quite often astroturf.

    Also, how can Mr. Knowles on one hand assert that the OWS movement is seeking an overthrow of capitalism and on the other hand is incoherent and goalless? You can’t have it both ways.

  • yalieeleven

    Holy Jesus of Nazareth I made it through maybe the third paragraph because of just the worst syntax and diction I’ve ever seen. I can see you holding that stupid golden goblet of yours and saying “But first there has been a misunderstanding worth addressing. The target of our counterprotest, despite the mimischaracterizations of some political activists BLAH BLAH BLAH GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.”

    Listen, Tories, America won! The war is over! Also, the 21st century!

  • yalieeleven

    also what the hell is TEA party, ~~~~ mIcHaEl kNowLES ~~~~?

  • varasano

    As near as I can tell, the professional aggrieved class just loves to engage in self-righteous protest. I’m ’88 and back in those days the protest class set up a Shanty Town right between the entrances of Beineke and the President’s Office. Technically it was to protest South African Apartheid (which was obviously caused by the Yale President’s racism), but as usual their grievances ran the gamut of liberal complaints. Wall Street then was supposedly making millions off Apartheid, etc. The anti-war/oppression/nuclear war message was in there somewhere. There goal was to man it 24/7, although I’m not sure they actually did. Maybe some other alum can help recall the dates but I’m pretty sure the shanty town was there from my sophomore year until graduation. Tragically, it predated Febreze.

  • Mariana

    Duplicate posting- removed by Mariana

  • Mariana

    @penny-lane Has it ever occurred to you that there is no political system which can DICTATE millionaires/billionaires how to utilize their wealth except for a DICTATORSHIP, that millionaires/billionaires have a habit of LEAVING such places, taking as much as they can with them, and that even if the DICTATOR confiscates all of their wealth, it is only a one-time deal and that those in power usually keep it to themselves? I suggest that you review the history of Russia, Cuba, or any other country under such political system as you hope for. Do you not realize that you are all being used by millionaires/billionaires who want the wealth of those richer than they (Michael Moore is one of your biggest supporters, isn’t he? Moore’s net worth: $50,000,000.00 MILLION). Do you really think he cares about any of you? To him, the demonstrators are nothing but ‘useful idiots’ to achieve their goal. If the “Occupiers” had coherence, the demonstrations would be aimed at the architects of the economic disaster: the present & past occupiers of the White House.

  • Mariana

    @bcrosby ….”the fact is that there are.. plenty of regular folk out there who are pretty upset about privatized profit and socialized risk, greed and irresponsibility of our financial sector and the untoward influence of cash/big business in our political system. “Furthermore,…….a dangerously chummy relationship between government and the big corporations comes through loud and clear”.
    As one of the regular folks out there who comes in contact on a daily basis with many other regular folks, this is what some of us think: Privatized profit is due to the fact that the corporations are privately owned by stockholders, and profits belong to the owners, because it is they who take the risk, under normal circumstances. Stockholders have no idea of the shenanigans of the powerful execs. heading their corporation.
    Socialized risk is the brainchild of corrupt government officials and corrupt powerful corporate executives. At this point, we must ask, What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Bottom line, both are the architects of the economic disaster we face, and the list of culprits on either side is too long to enumerate. However, it baffles me to see the protests directed only at corporate executives while their partners in crime in Washington, DC (whose leader occupies the White House), sit back laughing while they stoke the flames, because their ‘useful idiots’ in OWS lack the coherence to direct the protests at them. Yes, I agree 100% that there is a “dangerously chummy relationship between government and corporate executives (not the same as big corporations), so why does OWS give Washington and the White House a free pass? This is where OWS lacks coherence, IT MAKES NO SENSE TO US REGULAR FOLKS WHO CAN SEE THE FULL PICTURE. All of you who are protesting are supposed to be more educated than REGULAR FOLKS like me; however, you are not showing it!

  • jmaust

    Well said, Ben.

  • River_Tam

    Occupy the Sudetenland.

  • varasano

    Mariana is right. Also, since we don’t have power to elect corporate leaders, but do have the power to elect political leaders and they work for us (supposedly), our anger and action should be directed mostly in their direction. The line between bribery and blackmail is a fine one. Are the corporate leaders bribing officials to get favors or are the political leaders threatening the corporations to extract money? As the owner of a business, I can tell you I don’t feel free to openly support candidates I agree with politically because that might just piss off those already in office. The pull to support only incumbents is palpable. The best answer for all of this is to return to limited government. A government constrained by the constitution is not worth bribing because they can’t help me much and they are not powerful enough to blackmail me either. What makes (or made) our system uniquely successful were such limits. Complaints about corporations are misdirected. Companies don’t rip people off on a consistent basis. Transactions are voluntary. You might not like what you have to pay or earn, but complaining and having a viable alternative are not the same thing. Just to clarify: Corporations are nothing other than We the People organized into groups. A corporation is nothing more than a standardized set of rules that allow different stakeholders (laborers, investors, managers) to coordinate their efforts and returns. We are the players in the game. The government are the refs. Fraud is when a player cheats. Corruption is when the ref cheats. Big difference. You can fix fraud by running to the ref. But fixing corruption is very hard. The bigger the government the more the corruption. It’s inevitable. How could it be different? Where is it different? When? Show me a huge government that wasn’t plagued by corruption. What we think of as the mafia here, is what other countries call their government. The founding fathers instituted the first truly limited government in history. The result was that we accomplished more in 200 years than the thousands of other civilizations did in the past 5000. How is this not obvious? Limited government and the development of the first viable system that allowed individuals to pool their talents (corporate structure), launched a period of growth and wealth unseen before. What makes the OWS look naive (at best) is that they complain about the corporations (us) and want to hand power back to the entities that have ruined all previous civilizations (all powerful government). They want to return to a nation of men, not of laws. Wake up.

  • varasano

    Or as George Will put it today: ” Its meta-theory is, clear: Washington is grotesquely corrupt and insufficiently powerful.”

  • silliwin01

    Math lesson:

    > (…”$50,000,000.00 MILLION)

    50000000 Million = 50 Trillion. I don’t think Michael Moore is that rich.

  • juli54

    Well stated, Varasano. However, I think that many of those involved in the OWS ‘movement’ are ‘awake’ and have as their goal the ruin of this nation…

  • juli54

    How refreshing to find a site with well educated posters who can string together coherent thoughts. Though I cannot hope to keep up, it is great to read your posts, and so wonderful (really) to know that all in academia are not….’useful idiots’, as it were.