Will It Just Fade Away? That's what Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and pro-Wall-Street politicians like Chuck Schumer, are hoping. That's probably not a bad bet on their part:
- There's no sign that their fanclub, either online or at the scattered "Occupy West Nowheresville" sites, are packing up to reinforce the OWSers. Police can, and will, trivially easily do to each of those what they've already started to do to some of them. A trivial campaign of low-level harassment arrests, plus gradual loss of enthusiasm when it becomes obvious that nothing good is going to happen soon, means that within at most a couple of weeks, each of the scattered "Occupy" sites will be down to a handful of homeless people with cardboard signs -- a sight that Americans have been conditioned to ignore since Reagan.
- Nor am I seeing any evidence, online or in the news, that the various "Occupy Potterville" groups are doing the one thing they could be doing that could make some difference: using their events to raise money to pay for food and medical supplies, and replacement camping supplies eventually, for the people in New York who are actually doing something useful. Remember that the original, main force behind OWS was an alliance of convenience between Adbusters and Anonymous, a tiny (albeit influential) non-profit magazine and a splinter group of 4channers whose ability to fund-raise was seriously crippled by the US government after their action in support of Wikileaks. For reasons intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, there's not a lot of big corporate or Wall Street money behind the growing call for accountability for Wall Street and other big corporations for the last several financial panics. Nor are the left-wing's few billionaires likely to underwrite OWS: George Soros and Warren Buffett are, respectively, a hedge fund guy and a Wall Street guy was responsible for the mortage bubble through his fraudulent investment ratings agency. If OWS main camp gets the money it'll need to sustain itself through the fall and winter, it'll be by raising small sums of money ... from the unemployed and/or otherwise broke. Good luck with that. Wild Card: A couple of national unions have gotten involved. But their money is tied up in places like Ohio and Indiana and Wisconsin, where the public-sector unions are fighting for their lives in the statehouses. Will they see OWS as a good use of their money?
- And, frankly? We're at most a couple of weeks from the first hard freeze. After each round of pepper-sprayings and nuisance arrests, each batch of bailed-out protesters is going to ask themselves how badly they want to go back to camping in the snow and eating off of the ever-declining supply of hand-outs. If they don't see a lot of in-person and financial support for their sacrifices to that point, then each time a lot more of them will give up and go home.
If It Doesn't Dwindle to Nothing, Somebody's Getting Hurt. One distinct possibility is that Bloomberg, or Governor Cuomo, or the Department of Homeland Security for that matter (Anonymous terrifies the DHS), will say "enough is enough!" sooner rather than later, and send in the head-cracker squads to clear out Zucotti Park and any overflow sites. I think that anybody who could give that order, though, knows why that would be a bad idea. Especially given the high likelihood that the movement will implode on its own before it can achieve anything, why risk that? But even if the black-body-armor squads hold off a good long time, if OWS does continue to grow? If all the Occupy Nothing That Matters groups start fund-raising for OWS's NYC operations? And if a significant number of the people arrested in Boston and St. Louis and elsewhere are radicalized by it instead of getting cowed or discouraged, if one by one they get on buses and go down to the real OWS site where they can have the numbers on their side and where the actual support will be concentrated? If, long shot here, the AFL-CIO were to call on all of its members, not just the ones in NYC but all over the country, to come down to Manhattan and Occupy Wall Street?
That would be huge. And volatile. Somebody, sooner or later, would get hurt. And when it does, when the American people see that on the news, that'll be a gut-check moment.
If It's Not the Protesters Who Get Hurt, We're Screwed. When the Greeks had their first round of riots, because the EU is doing to them what Wall Street is doing to us? A group of anarchists stormed a bank along the march route, murdered a bunch of the bank's branch employees, and set the building on fire. One columnist has already reported that several people in financial services upper management have called him and asked him if that's going to happen here. I don't think it will. But I'm uncomfortable about the fact that I can't rule it out. There is a lot of anger building over the fact that guys like Jamie Dimon and Len Blankenfein and Timothy Geithner can walk the streets without feeling any of the fear that their victims have felt; just the other day, the otherwise usually sane if wacky blog BoingBoing.com ran a tongue-in-cheek but eerily detailed call to kill every banker and broker in America and eat the corpses. For the gods' sake, people, even Operation Rescue's Army of God faction and the Aryan Nations don't endorse cannibalism! But that's how much anger has built up since the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble cost everybody everything.
People all over the country are saying, "I got robbed of everything I had saved up, who took it?" And the guy next to them says, "Don't look at me, I got robbed of everything I had saved and everything I had, I'm homeless now." And the next guy says, "Don't look at me, they took my savings, my house, my job, and my kid's insurance, and now my kid is dead." And the next guy says, "Don't look at me, my investments were wiped out, and I'm having to scrape by on $400,000 per year." That guy who's a few years from retirement with a wiped-out 401K, and the guy who's effectively homeless, and the guy with the dead kid are looking at that guy with narrowed brows, now; he should have shut his mouth before he ended up on WhiteWhine.com.
So (even though I think this is the least likely prospect!) let's consider the possibility that Angelo Mozilo pulls up alongside a crowd of tens of thousands, including homeless Iraq war vets with PTSD and pissed-off union workers, gets out of his car against his security detail's advice, and starts haranguing them about class warfare and politics of envy and calls them commie hippies and tells them to take a bath and get a job ... and they turn on him. Let's say the rally organizers are on the other side of the crowd, and some agitator for Breitbart (like the one at the National Air and Space Museum the other day) starts something he can't stop, and the crowd over-runs that guy's security detail, kills him and everybody with him, and drags the bodies down the street to be hung from a traffic light and burned. Everybody in America is going to see that, and over the next day and a half, one of two things happens. Most likely, everybody is revolted by it, condemns OWS as terrorists, anybody who hasn't fled by then gets Tienanmen'ed by tanks, and the American people cheer that they've been made safe ... and then we continue to slide into a banana republic. But what could happen, and would be even worse, is that a hundred million American victims of the banksters and the hedge funders looks at that smoldering corpse and goes, "hey, that looks really good." And it catches on. And America has its own Reign of Terror, and everybody with a clean shirt gets killed, and we slide into dictatorship in the aftermath. Let us sincerely hope, either way, that it is the protesters who get hurt.
Second-Most-Likely Outcome: It Gets Big, and THEN the Protesters Get Hurt. Even if they stay completely peaceful, government patience with a tens-of-thousands (or bigger!) protest site that shows no sign of shrinking will eventually run out. Just as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker eventually ordered his police and national guard to clear away the protesters (and was, thankfully, disobeyed), if this thing is still blocking traffic and scaring rich people and making a lot of noise by Thanksgiving at the latest, Bloomberg or the Department of Homeland Security is going to say enough is enough. But there aren't enough cops in the country to peacefully, professionally arrest a hundred thousand people. If it comes to that, they will disperse that crowd with something that looks a lot like military force: tear gas and freezing-water cannons and LRAD sonic blasters at the very least, barrages of stun grenades and automatic-fire rubber bullets and one holy heck of a lot of black-armor squads with truncheons and dogs as well in all likelihood. And I don't care how careful they try to be (and, as we've already seen in NYC, it won't always be all that careful), against a crowd that size, they're going to kill some of them. America will finally have a Rachel Corrie, a Furkan Dogan, on its own soil, quite possibly killed on live TV by American cops in defense of the banksters. Based on the history of such operations, I'd say the statistically most likely body count is around seven, including at least one highly-decorated war hero and at least one little kid.
Why a Dead War Hero, a Dead Kid, and Five or so Dead Hippies is the HAPPY Scenario: And then the protests are over, but then the politics really begins. Why do I say that? Because it's come to this before. Let me give you at least two examples:
Once upon a time, there was this thing in America that was, briefly, called the Bonus Army. For World War I combat veterans, the Great Depression started early; they faced the kind of discrimination some of you remember after the Vietnam War, and were mostly unemployed and homeless long before the stock market collapse that plunged the rest of the country into the mass unemployment. At one point, they had all been promised a deferred enlistment bonus, and it had never been paid. Eventually they were given it ... in the form of a savings bond that they couldn't cash. So the VFW, and other veterans' groups, called up an unarmed but uniformed group of 17,000 combat veterans, and 26,000 of their family members, to come to Washington and camp on the National Mall, within walking distance of the congressional office buildings so they could all lobby for the bonus, and from which they could march in uniformed parade protests. With Hoover in the White House, they were just plain never going to get that bonus. Eventually the US Attorney General and a US Army general took the decision out of the President's hands, and took it upon themselves to order the police and the 12th Cavalry to remove the Bonus Army from the Mall. Dozens were injured; two died. When Hoover ratified his underlings' decision, the Bonus Army retreated ... and within a year, the New Deal had passed. The American people's revulsion at what the Army and the cops did to the Bonus Army was, by most accounts, the deciding factor that put Roosevelt in the White House and that made Congressional opposition to the New Deal politically untenable.
But I can give you a better example.
They hardly ever mention this in any American history course, so hardly anybody remembers that until very recently, as such things go, it was illegal to strike in this country. Early in labor history, the American Federation of Labor tried lobbying politicians for some kind of compromise, some way for people who were trying to bargain collectively to apply some pressure to employers short of a strike but that might do some good; even that watered-down compromise was dead on arrival. The Congress of Industrial Organizations campaigned for pro-labor candidates in both parties' primaries, hoping to get enough pro-labor politicians elected to change the law; they were outspent on elections by the mining trusts and the banking trusts and lost basically every fight.
Enter Big Bill Hayworth of the radical anti-capitalist International Workers of the World: he got it done. How? The Wobblies, as they were called, realized that a couple of dozen, or even a couple of hundred, strikers were easily dispersed, but no company security force, no police force, not even most national guard forces, could arrest their way out of a strike by tens of thousands. So the Wobblies picked one strike at a time, and Big Bill Hayworth would call every Wobbly in America to hop a bus or a freight train and come to that strike; as fast as the bulls arrested them, the Wobblies could fill back in. Eventually the jails would be full of Wobblies, who would break out the song books written for them by master filksinger Joe Hill, who taught these jolly, lovely, and deeply radicalizing songs to every other prisoner in the jail. Every mass arrest doubled the Wobblies' numbers. The cops, and the corporate security forces, went into full panic mode; they had no idea what to do against an enemy that had no fear whatsoever of getting arrested.
(To this day, you can scare the heck out of the FBI by calling yourself a Wobbly. Anonymous are the new Wobblies, I think. I think that when a cop sees you in that Guy Fawkes mask, as far as he's concerned, you've shown up in an Official Terrorist Uniform. You might as well have handed him a signed, notarized release form giving him permission to gas you and beat the crap out of you.)
Eventually, the state of Utah "solved" the Wobbly problem the hard way: they framed Joe Hill, the most popular public figure the Wobblies had, for the murder of a cop. And executed him by firing squad. His last words to his fellow Wobblies were, "Don't mourn, organize!" but the Wobblies were over, not long after that. But, as the song written after his death says, "I never died, said he" -- the police over-reaction to the Wobblies' peaceful mass protests, and how that looked to the public, are why we have a legal right to strike.
So What's the Bottom Line? Unless the people cheering for OWS start making some actual sacrifices to sustain and grow the main rally site in Manhattan, probably nothing happens, we continue our slide into collapse, and over the next decade or so we become a backwater Third World kleptocracy like Mexico. Probably the same thing happens if there is massive police brutality and the public sides with the cops. If the cops do something really stupid and the American people side with the victims, the best we can hope for is a couple of years' worth of some of our neighborhoods going up in flames, like Detroit and L.A. did in the 60s, and gods help us all of it spreads beyond that. But if the people cheering for OWS do start showing some serious commitment, and the main rally gets so big it can't be ignored ... then as long as the protesters stay 100% peaceful, there is still a slight chance for real Americans to win against the plutocrats. Maybe. No guarantee, but it's the closest thing we do have left to HOPE for Change We Can Believe In.