Occupy Oz

Those who never wanted an Occupy Wall Street movement are now in the business of telling us why it’s all over, even as its animating concerns continue provoking popular discontent. L. Gordon Crovitz in the Wall Street Journal (Are Tent Cities Free Speech?) claims that Occupy Wall Street “has worn out the patience of even the most liberal cities,” due to alleged “threats to health and safety.” “If they have to rely on unlawful campouts and disrupting neighborhoods instead of using speech,” Crovitz goes on, “their message must not be very persuasive.”

As usual with the Journal, there is no logic to the conclusion. There is no way the Occupy protesters can get a fair hearing in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, or in the corporate media in general for that matter, which is what made occupying public space a speech issue in the first place. Crovitz might have some credibility if he had persuaded the Wall Street Journal’s editors to give regular editorial space to the Occupy Wall Street movement in return for their voluntarily dismantling the protest encampments. But that would have quickly led to a critique of capitalism, which the corporate media cannot abide. Better to slander and distort the message of the opponent you fear you can’t honestly defeat, than permit a fair debate. Hence we repeatedly hear that Occupy Wall Street “has no message,” as though “Make The Banks Pay” were a declaration of impenetrable obscurity.

In any case, what has really worn out American patience is not protest, but capital, especially the global corporations that monopolize the gains from productivity increases created by the entire U.S. workforce, then squander them on endless war, hucksterism, and outright fraud. This has left nearly everyone deeply in debt, and increasing numbers without jobs, houses, pensions, or hope for the future. Naturally, the proposed remedy is more tax cuts for the class that looted the public treasury and now sits on trillions of dollars of unproductive assets, refusing to invest in job creation. But giving them more money is like giving free gasoline to arsonists.

There is no protest without disruption, of course, so Crovitz’s complaint on this score is simply a rejection of protest per se. The policy implication would seem to be to cancel the Martin Luther King day holiday and renounce the civil rights movement, which was as inconvenient in its day as Occupy Wall Street is today. The nerve of those people who violated established norms for the use of public space, in order to impose their anti-lynching views on the rest of us!

As for the wisdom of occupying public parks, there may be some merit to the claim that political speech has no right to usurp the other legitimate uses of park space. Perhaps it is time to consider occupying the headquarters of major media corporations, which monopolize access to mass audiences with infantilizing commentary and “entertainment,” both designed to pre-empt the emergence of a popular challenge to plutocratic minority rule. In such venues the free speech issues couldn’t be more stark and compelling.

Michael K. Smith is the author of The Madness of King George from Common Courage Press. He co-blogs with Frank Scott at www.legalienate.blogspot.com. Read other articles by Michael.