Sunday, October 9, 2011

The occupation is coming to Columbia

The Occupy Wall Street protests against corporate greed have moved into their fourth week in New York City, and demonstrations have begun in dozens of cities as the 99% movement spreads across the country. On October 15, Columbia will join that list when a group of protesters takes up residence outside the South Carolina State House in solidarity with the protesters in Zuccotti Park.

About 75 people showed up to Occupy Columbia's organizational meeting at Finlay Park on Sunday, a crowd so large that speakers had to use the "human microphone" technique to make their voices heard. The group democratically agreed to begin occupying the State House on Saturday morning as part of a worldwide Occupy Together demonstration, and to continue the occupation as long as Columbia Police allow them to stay.

What struck me most about the crowd was how little it resembled the media narrative which has sprung up around the Occupy Wall Street movement. Pundits tell us the protesters are simply a bunch of young white hippies, but over half of the Occupy Columbia attendees were middle-aged or older. Black, white, Latino and Asian, it seemed every possible demographic was represented in the group which coalesced to speak out against the corporate takeover of the political process.

Similarly, it would be a mistake to view Occupy Columbia or the rest of the 99% movement as a liberal response to the tea party. The ideals of the Occupy Wall Street protesters transcend party lines, and have attracted tea party support. Organizers and participants even used OWS' unique hand signals on Sunday to silence a representative of USC's Roosevelt Institute and a speaker who disparaged Fox News as "Fox Noise" for being too progressive-minded.

Likewise, the assembly voted against the creation of a specific set of demands for the Occupy Columbia protest. Even some of my most liberal friends have complained about the 99% movement's perceived lack of message, but it's simply a function of being a genuinely organic movement as opposed to the astroturfed tea party. Speak to 100 Occupy Wall Street protesters and you'll likely get 100 different lists of things to protest, but every grievance revolves around one central issue -- a fundamental rejection of state-sponsored plutocracy and the corrupt political system that has evolved to support it. As Daily Kos' Mark Sumner put it, "Don't let them define you. Having a list of demands is just another way of saying 'these are our limits.' Another way of controlling you."

Those who criticize Occupy Wall Street's supposed disorganization seem to misunderstand the movement for what it is. Your average Tahrir Square demonstrator wouldn't have been able to make specific policy recommendations for Egypt, but he did know damn well that the Mubarak regime wasn't working. Likewise, it isn't the protesters' job to fix America's outrageous level of class stratification; it's lawmakers' job. If they had been doing it, Occupy Wall Street would never have been necessary.

And make no mistake, Occupy Wall Street has absolutely become necessary.

The Zuccotti Park protestors' map showing Occupy SC 

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