Stay on the Sidewalk?
sidewalks. Run-ins with the NYPD have given some traction to the ongoing
protest. Photograph © Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times 28 September 2011.
"It is a group of people, gathered together, to create a public space seeking meaning in their culture." That is the assessment of the goings on with #OccupyWallStreet offered in this post at Naked Capitalism. The post, written by a former Democratic Congressional staffer, alternates between being sensible and vaguely patronizing.
"The level of knowledge among protesters on how Wall Street works is fairly high in terms of abstract conceptualizations, but they don’t actually have a lot of immediate connection to policy-making and financial practice. Furthermore, the space is fraught with the problem of consensus-based anti-leadership organizing. There are no spokespeople, and you can’t get on their media list (they don’t have one). The anti-leadership non-hierarchical consensus method is designed to avoid the way that leaders can be smeared and/or co-opted. It does not really scale, and this is a serious challenge going forward. But ultimately, the energy of just having a bunch of people in one place for a long period of time is very different, and much more interesting, than just a march. The protesters are creating a public space for the discussion of economic justice, just by showing up."All that is true enough, I suspect; and a good thing too. But notice that the actual space is officially defined and policed - tents are illegal, marches need official sanction and, lacking that, are subject to violent reaction from the police, and the Fed Building is not just occupied territory but its denizens remain, I suspect, both largely oblivious and wholly impervious to what is happening in the park. Going forward, what is needed is not just a way of making decision-making that "scales", but actual places and practices and institutions that might help render meaning effective. This is not to disagree entirely with the claim that "perhaps success and failure isn’t the right way to think about what’s going on in downtown New York." That is a complicated matter generally  . It is simply to say that meaning is not free-floating; if those who create it are unable to invest it in sustainable forms it will dissipate. Nothing would, in this instance, make political and economic elites and institutions happier. They will have tolerated, but not been truly threatened by, dissent.
So, please don't read me as a critic; I am just fretting. The task is daunting when you are forced to stay on the sidewalk.
P.S.: You can find an astute defense of the Wall Street actions here.
P.S.2: And you can find more fretting here and here. (Added Saturday 10/1/11)