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.

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