Aside from the obvious physical brutality demonstrated by police in many cities during their concerted crackdown on the movement's encampments, the concept of occupying a space has itself been reprimanded by some.
Let's backtrack a little. To the months(?) preceding the September 17th, 2011 launch of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, which entailed protesters camping out in the financial nerve center of America, for an indeterminate length of time. The initiator of the event, the Canadian magazine Adbusters, was vague about the nature of the gathering. Bring tents, it said, and gave us little else beyond a dancer standing atop one of the country's most obnoxious monuments, the aggro bull embodying the conceit of the largely slack-fleshed financial sector.
Few had much confidence in what promised to be yet another ineffectual hippie stunt—akin to trying to lift the Pentagon from its base using the telekinetic powers of a gaggle of idiots. Expectations were exceptionally low, as a jaded populace was still smarting from the realization that its relationship with politics, and indeed its comprehension of its position within the real world itself, had descended into bloodless, infantile snark. Though some would disagree, I found it reached its nadir in the socio-economically disastrous year of 2010, when liberals had shown conservatives the extent of their ability to cohere and rise (with any media coverage, anyway) was the Debordian circle jerk, The Daily Show's Rally to Restore Sanity. That itself had been a response to Glenn Beck's self-satirizing co-opt of Martin Luther King's legacy, in the service of the very principles he'd have opposed. King was a conservative, they'd say, assuming a victim's posture with the guaranteed visibility only the most privileged and mainstream among us could feel entitled to. Doughy caucasians who wanted government out of government programs like Medicare had lent their considerable bulk to conveying popular support for the most patently stupid people in politics since successions of inbred monarchs were foisted on the cowering (but soon to be violent) masses. They were cheerleaders for a corporate oligarchy, a handful of which owned a media all too happy to broadcast their message as the clarion call for "real 'muricans" to stand up to "big government."
The middle class had fallen, and was too mesmerized by its own reflection in reality TV, social networks, and gossip columns to look after its own well being. The only people capable of organizing a protest (and getting any ink) seemed to be an incoherent rabble of faux patriots, crypto-confederates, and illiterate nationalists bent on dragging our nation back into the benighted depths of a Constitution stripped bare of the amendments which granted rights to anyone but the white male bourgeoisie. Worse yet, they'd want to abandon even the freedom and aspirations actually supported by the founding fathers. Their revisionist history described a fetid Randian patriarchy, based on the worship of money, and blessed by a perverted, apocalyptic form of Christianity, contorted to celebrate the wealthy, and condemn the poor and infirm for the "choices" which lead them to their doomed fates.
That being so, it was unwarranted, even by the left, to argue with critics displaying zero confidence in OWS as a working class movement certain to be manifest in some unkempt communists and disheveled stoners playing bongos on a sidewalk until they got bored with being sneered at, pelted or ignored, and finally abandoned the space to resume airing their petty grievances in alt coffee shops, and the comment sections of Alternet.
What cause was there to care about something so vague from its inception? It was created for an indeterminate purpose. Posters released by Adbusters teased, What is our one demand? Did Adbusters even know?
Fair questions. And also fair indictments based on the track record of the masses over the past three decades. We were idiots and we knew it—people other than us were even more dimwitted and apathetic than ourselves. Like Chomsky said in the mid-nineties, at the height of domestic terrorism and violent paranoia toward the federal government, we didn't know anyone, we didn't go anywhere, and had succumbed to anti-politics—a paralyzing cynicism by which we bar ourselves from the process altogether, to the delight of our corporate masters. We had become isolated, atomized, afraid, and totally powerless. There was no collective will, just our waning, scattered voices in the wilderness.
This the disintegration of community described by Adam Curtis in documentaries like The Trap had allegedly started in the middle of the last century, as the nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, figured out how to manipulatively dissuade people of the view that products were commodities, and into forging an emotional bond with name brands. The newly formed middle class had been coaxed into believing America was synonymous with capitalism. They turned away from the social programs which had made their lifestyles possible, and discovered their new identities in the products they'd lust after. Their meaning would be derived from the manicuring of their individual lawns. After some decades their relationship with their neighbors would give way to artificial connections with corporations, and motivational gurus, who assured them that they were exceptional—for $60-200 a pop.
What did it all mean? Nothing. Fuck all. That was the problem. When subsequent generations were born into this commercial paradise, it ceased to be a choice, and the emptiness couldn't be sated. The repulsive truth about the consequences of our western excesses had emerged, and for some of us, our slavery to the machinery was paralleled by guilt for our hapless complicity in its perpetuation. As a populace, we did nothing.
Well, we stopped using CFCs, so the ozone is OK now, I guess. Hooray?
While I don't share any of their supernatural beliefs, I have to give religious groups credit. They've been a force for tremendous good, and horrifying evil, but their most important accomplishment, in my view, has been getting a large number of people on the same page. For those of us supporting other causes, it has been—as the saying goes—like herding cats.
Community had been lost. The internet, for all of its wonders, had even more severely fucked up our social lives (until recently anyway, when it got more mainstream, and regular folks outnumbered serial killers and rapists). People, to some hollow extent, could ease their loneliness by collecting in chat rooms and forums to discuss the topics which concerned them. Where it had been increasingly difficult for many to connect to people in the real world for psychological and geographical reasons, a person could be figuratively surrounded by like-minded aficionados and sympathetic ears. Virtually. Remotely. In other words, not really. The anonymity drove people further into the inane fantasies set in motion by commercial culture. Lifestyles sought could be crudely approximated—in a grotesquely unsatisfying way.
Such was the lot of much of the developed world; suspended in embryonic fluid, silent and immature, resigned to its insulated life.
To understand what Adbusters might have meant by occupying a space, IMO, one has to take more into consideration than the issues which ultimately settled into focus after the fact. It grew into demanding justice, but it coalesced from something else entirely. The ruins of our communities; generations of reflexive consumerism; fear and cynicism toward politics; the development of world events into non-interactive spectacles; the internalizing of values imposed on us by an elite whose regard for us spans from apathy to contempt. So much more had been lost than our savings. We'd lost our fucking minds.
Some years back, when I still read Adbusters—before I became too cynical even for them and their brandlessly-branded sneakers—I happened upon an article that stuck with me to this day. It was the concept of the Third Space. Their suggestion was characteristically outlandish. Put a couch, or some other communal seating, someplace where it's not usually found. Like on the sidewalk in your neighborhood. Invite passers-by to have a rest, and talk. It's not something I'd do, and it creeps me out a little, but the notion was profound. It was a place that wasn't at home, or school, or work, and it damn well wasn't where you went shopping. It wasn't to fulfill any clear agenda, or to satisfy any obligation, at all. It was an open space, not an exclusive club or daunting gathering of people already acquainted. It seemed pretty basic, but for an increasingly busy and isolated segment of society, which didn't belong to churches, community organizations, book clubs, softball teams, etc., these otherwise functioning adults wound up with no friends and no social lives.
What had, by most accounts, been destined to be an embarrassing flash in the pan, instead dismayed the powerful elite in this country with an explosive expansion that would in a short span encompass hundreds, even thousands of cities nationwide. It spooked the corporate gila monsters enough that memos were passed from public relations agencies on how to mitigate the damage done to the capitalism-humping narrative conceived by Bernays so long ago. GOP advisor, Frank Luntz (renowned for discrediting every initiative the Democrats have pushed over the last two decades or so, by pinning the word "death" to its name), plotted a list of alternate buzz words political marionettes could substitute in talking about OWS, to lead the public off the scent of corporate crime, and back to the death march of privatizing, monetizing and deregulating every possible thing—because, as a senile, terrible fucking actor once said, government isn't the solution, it's the problem.
It's been about three and a half months since the occupations began, and even less time since the mainstream media grudgingly took notice. It wasn't the first big protest in the last decade or so, but it was the first you've probably heard about. Remember the marches through DC by hundreds of thousands of anti-war demonstrators? Neither do most people. To those who question occupation as a means of protest, I can only point to the extraordinary efforts which were ignored before it, by a media that's become the propaganda arm for the 1%.
If these hypothetical critics still disagree with the methods, but agree with the goals, I say Stop armchair quarterbacking you lazy fucks. Get off your asses and see what's actually going on.