Yo Occupiers, time for a makeover! The rent-a-yurts have gone into storage, the porta-potties returned and the tents dismantled in most Occupy locations across North America.
Yet despite the supercilious tones of one conservative commentator – “Hey kids, the camping trip is over!”– I believe the Occupy movement is just getting going.
I know I run the risk of joining a list of “right-wing media douchebags” that the Toronto protesters publicly drew up, by even daring to tell a determinedly leaderless movement how to grow and change, but I’ve been called worse, so here goes.
Forget the tents. As Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said, you made a mistake by focusing on the tents and not on your main message. Plus you hogged and, in some cases, messed up public spaces – in Vancouver in front of the art gallery; in Ottawa in Confederation Park; and in Toronto in a beautiful downtown park – that a lot of people who are not anywhere near belonging to that 1 per cent enjoyed as part of their daily routine.
Instead you must now Occupy the hearts and minds of people who are going about their ordinary lives, wondering why things are so difficult, so unfair. And worrying about their financial futures.
Some obvious ways to gain followers, favour and momentum:
Rock-u-py. Get some musicians together to do concerts with a message in various cities.
Mock-u-py. The wits among you must leave the name-calling behind and up the verbal ante. See any high-flying CEO or public official getting a massive bonus or handout they don’t deserve? Put out a scathing press release. Do a YouTube essay.
Walk-u-py. A marathon for change in which people walk backward into a fairer society.
Shock-u-py. Release damning details and statistics that buttress your narrative and make it alarmingly clear to non-believers that we are all in this leaky boat together.
Talk-u-py. There haven’t been enough intelligent persuasive words coming from your movement. People want a story they can relate to. Give it to them. Every day.
Take it to the campuses. If students can’t get behind a movement that decries not only the lack of jobs, but forecasts an entire “lost decade” ahead for the young, then something is very wrong with your modus operandi. This is a generation (I’ve observed) most of whom are not only no fans of la vie bohème, but stay docilely at home with their parents, saving to buy their first condo. These kids thought camping in downtown parks was ewww.
Take it to the boardrooms. In Canada, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, was one of the highest profile money guys to early on endorse the message of the Occupy movement as “entirely constructive.” Ask him to come to a public meeting and explain why he said what he did and how he can be of help to you. Yes, it may seem like co-opting your message, but you don’t have to take his advice. Just get it, and publicize it.
Take it to the politicians. The best – and even not so great – have a four-word mantra that defines almost everything they do in public life: “Put pressure on me.” You gotta do it. If you don’t want to come up with a list of demands, put together a list of “priorities.”
Get a leader. If you’re wary of the star system and the media monsters it creates, get revolving leaders. Or a trio. But someone has to put a sympathetic face on this movement.
Don’t just lambaste the mainstream media, ask for more. How about a series on how the income gap actually plays out in a big North American city? Even Republican David Frum recently observed that “social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world.”
That series could highlight everything from who’s doing minimum-wage jobs to child poverty close up to why, in Canada, the burgeoning condo market is a huff-and-a-puff-and-a-blow-your-house-down crisis in the making. If the young can’t get steady jobs who is going to buy all these condos? Their parents who have just been laid off?
While most media coverage bought into the only Tents-R-Us meme, some thoughtful pieces detailed daily life in New York’s Zuccotti Park, the ground zero of the movement, depicting graduate students, doctors and social theorists earnestly trying to lend their skills to an outdoor movement that also predictably drew the homeless and unstable. There was a generosity in how these marginalized people were treated (although The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee did do a hilarious send-up of the social strata developing even within the park).
But there was also international success. As Mattathias Schwartz points out in this week’s New Yorker, encampments swiftly spread around the world and today “endorsements of the Occupy movement can be found everywhere, from anarchist graffiti on bank walls to Al Gore’s Twitter feed.”
Of course you Occupiers are free to ignore these humble makeover suggestions. Been there, done that with other movements, you might say. And as Michael Greenberg concluded in his New York Review of Books essay about the future of Occupy, “What seemed to vex people about them, on both the left and the right, was their complete indifference to the traditional political prizes: power, influence, access, the right to make laws.” He quotes one Occupier who says, “Real power is the ability to make unexpected things happen.”
Looking forward to your next unexpected move. Just hope it doesn’t involve tent pegs.