New York City's "Occupy Wall Street" weeks-long demonstration is getting most of the nation's attention, and I suppose that's fair. What a spectacle it turned out to be. Read Katherine Ernst's lively report from Zuccotti Park at City Journal today--she nicely captures the sights, the sounds and the smells of a hardly working band of protesters.
But, don't forget, the Occupation is a national phenomenon. And here in California, the movement is just as incoherent as it is back east.
The mainstream press here isn't giving the "occupation" quite as much attention as the campout in Lower Manhattan has received, and it's all perfectly straight-laced. For more extensive--and entertaining--on-the-ground coverage, you need to turn to the alternative press, like L.A. Weekly, and local blogs, such as Ron Kaye L.A., Mayor Sam's Sister City, The City Maven, and the irascable Street Hassle. The L.A. Times' "L.A. Now" blog is posting semi-regular updates, of course. Today, for example, "Los Angeles police arrested 10 people Thursday afternoon at a downtown Bank of America branch after they marched in and tried to cash a check for $673 billion, officials said." The giant check was reportedly made out to "The People of California." Clever!
Members of the overpaid, underworked Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday toured the camp surrounding City Hall, where . The Los Angeles Times reports the protesters are talking about staying "through Christmas," although there may be a small matter of several city ordinances prohibiting that sort of thing. Nevertheless, city leaders appear to be in the protesters' corner:
Unlike their counterparts in New York, who have clashed with police during a two-week sit-in on Wall Street, the protesters outside of City Hall have had a peaceful relationship with police, and they have won a surprising degree of institutional support.
Before leaving Tuesday, [Council President Eric] Garcetti told the protesters: "Stay as long as you need, we're here to support you."
Roughly translated: Yes... Yes... Focus your wrath on the "corporate greed" and "Wall Street" and pay no attention to our cozy relationships with downtown developers...
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited the camp yesterday, and the council agreed to consider a lengthy resolution by Councilmen Richard Alarcon and Bill Rosendahl that, among other hyperbolic flights of fancy, compares the motley crew camped out on City Hall's north lawn to the wildly misunderstood Arab Spring:
"Whereas, in cognizance that one of the factors spurring recent violent revolutionary protests in the Middle East is high income inequality, though the sobering reality is that income inequality in the United States is even higher than that of some of the countries torn asunder by violent revolution; for instance, according to the C.I.A. World Fact Book, the United States Gini coefficient, which is used to measure inequality, is higher than that of Egypt's pre-Revolution."
Protestors are also occupying perfectly good sidewalk space in front of the Federal Reserve in San Francisco, where police are much less accomodating than they appear to be in L.A. In Sacramento, occupiers--whom the Sacramento Bee describe as "an eclectic collection of union supporters, anti-war and anti-corporate activists and unaffiliated individuals with their own issues"--have been making a scene in and around Cesar Chavez Park, across from City Hall.
What to make of all this? The movement's manifesto (to say nothing of this unofficial list of demands) reads like a Marxist child's letter to a Santa Claus his doctrinaire parents forgot to tell him doesn't exist. Rather than a genuine populist uprising, more accurate to call these demonstrations a novel exercise in the ancient art of political street theater. Nothing against street theater, of course.
But there appears to be a yearning among the left-liberal commentariat to make Occupy Wall Street into something of a Leftist Tea Party. While the two movements may share some superficial similarities, I think there is one big difference. The Tea Party movement that emerged in the early part of 2009 made freedom and limited, constitutional government a rallying cry. That message resonates. Occupy Wall Street may bemoan the evils inequality, joblessness and debt afflicting the "99 percent" (give or take). But ultimately, the movement can only be about empowering the State. Beyond these grubby encampments in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Sacramento, and a handful of other metropoli, where is the appetite for that?