Protests can be very interesting. In countries where they’re restricted or forbidden, they can be powerful enough to lift governments right off their feet. Where they’re systematically permitted and protected, they tend to be far more benign and symbolic. The greatest protest in American history is undoubtedly the Boston Tea Party in which colonists dumped three ships’ worth of tea into the harbor in direct response to external price controls. (If only Occupy Wall Street had thought of it first, eh?) This action was a huge building block for revolutionary rhetoric before the British were ousted in a protracted, bloody war. Occupy Wall Street pretends to be that important – with the vague goal of overhauling (or removing) our capitalistic system – but it’s ultimately a social media-enabled flashmob that’s gone on too far long to be effective.
Do I have something against protests? They’re really not my thing. Maybe something I hold dear has just never been challenged enough to forgo my productivity to demonstrate publicly. A recent one that really got me excited was the Project Chanology-driven protests of Scientology in 2008. When the church tried to control the leaked footage of a baffling internal video starring Tom Cruise – scored against a rolling Mission: Impossible riff – the internet went crazy and began propagating the video further. As a result, we saw the rise of 4chan’s militant Anonymous, which organized not only demonstrations – single day affairs in which protesters arrived en masse in Guy Fawkes masks and blasted Rick Astley’s memetic “Never Gonna Give You Up” – but also a cornucopia of information about the organization. I only had a vague opinion about the Church of Scientology at that time, but through Project Chanology I, and indeed many others, had their eyes opened to the church’s operations. Anonymous went on to organize or empower more protests (including Occupy Wall Street), ultimately losing some face in the malicious Anonymous-derived LulzSec internet attacks earlier this year.
Unlike the Project Chanology protests, which were spontaneous and sharp while exposing the world to Scientology’s oft-malicious actions over the years, the Occupy Wall Street actions seem oddly out of place. Now three long years after banks have tarnished the lives of many homeowners, been bailed out, and parachuted back to their exquisite homes on golden threads with plenty of time to read a bedtime story to their kids, the protest seems more like a catch-all for anyone with an opinion and a Twitter or Facebook account. People are abandoning their jobs, their education, their search for work, or *gasp* legitimate methods to create change through political or economical involvement to sit as part of a now-languid three week long demonstration. (Ironically, the call for more market regulation is a huge reason why we got into this mess in the first place, but that’s another article entirely.) Despite the contemporary parallels to the Arab Spring, in which a variety of Mediterranean regimes collapsed because their dictatorial inflexibility forced them to snap, we enjoy a flexible power structure in the Western world. Companies go up and down based on the market. Political control in Washington is up for grabs every two years in widely-attended elections. You may think it’s romantic to sleep under the bright lights of a Manhattan skyline and charge your phone while having a breakfast burrito at the local McDonald’s, but what are you really accomplishing? Let’s not even mention the taxpayer dollars being spent to corral you when you get feisty.
Occupy Wall Street, and all your sister protests, if you want change, then actually do something.