An Appraisal of Occupy Wall Street

By Nikhil Rao

Aaron Wecker/Collegian

In this column, I aim merely to look at the Occupy Wall Street movement from an outsider’s perspective without considering the merits of their demands. What began as a novel grassroots movement that mobilized people across the country is now being disassembled, forcing people to ask the question: “What’s next?”

From my experience, any criticism or appraisal of the movement, however constructive, is met with almost instinctive vitriolic retorts. It’s almost as if each liberal supporter treats every opinion as a scathing downplaying of the movement by the right. Participants need to take a step back, calm down and separate the constructive criticism from the opprobrium. To make things clearer for those with a propensity to jump to conclusions, this column’s argument lies more on the constructive side.

I recently overheard a discussion regarding the movement. A couple of participants opined that the movement would now require a figurehead on whom the public and media can concentrate. Further, they compared Occupy Wall Street to previous social movements and suggested that a centralized (only in image, not in power) figurehead may actually help this movement.

This was followed by an immediate decrial of this suggestion stating that it would destroy the ‘beauty’ of the movement. The beauty, they said, was in the fact that the movement was equal and had no form of centralization. They angrily said that the establishment of a single figurehead would go against the moral grain of the movement and proceeded to shift the flow of discussion toward the actual advocates on hand instead of the topic.

Stepping back from all this, what is wrong with a figurehead? In my opinion: nothing.

A leader may have been proscribed from the movement initially, but all movements must evolve. A leader does not necessarily mean a centralized authority who ‘calls the shots,’ so to speak, but someone who can be a human image for the movement.

If the movement is to grow into a legitimate leftist faction, it has to be intelligent. Participants must realize that biding your time does not help you to squirm your way out of setbacks. Whether or not the dismantling of protests by cities was coordinated is open to debate, but what is not is this: the protests are indeed being dismantled and that calls for a revision of strategy.

Many major movements have had faces to which causes can be attributed, be it Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks or Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi is an interesting example to consider because he celebrated equality. He was an important figure in India’s fight for independence but he never was construed to be a concentration of authority. India’s struggle could have been wholly different if the public did not have prominent figures to rally around.

Another thing that Gandhi effectively did was advocate boycotting British goods. He did not wish to comply with the British Empire and successfully boycotted their goods, making himself and participants of the movement self-sufficient. A criticism of Occupy Wall Street that I have heard is that despite denouncing corporate culture, participants still fail to separate themselves from corporations. Now one might argue that corporate culture in America is more pervasive than the British influence was in India, but I would disagree and say that this would still be a point worth noting.

Occupy Wall Street has given people a lot to think about and without espousing or eschewing any of what it stands for. I would suggest that if the movement seeks to achieve any semblance of further success then introspection is not uncalled for. It should find ways to entice members of the Democratic Party to support the movement and some of their specific demands. This would require a slight de-radicalization of certain demands but that is an issue for another day.

I’m sure that individuals who are better versed in social movements than I am would offer more in this capacity. On a final note I feel that, as Bill Keller said in his opinion piece “Beyond Occupy” in the New York Times, “So far, the main achievement of Occupy Wall Street is showing up.”

Nikhil Rao is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]