Friday, October 14, 2011

The Occupy Atlanta protests won't accomplish anything.


“This is the most radical thing that’s happened in this city since the 70’s.”


Or at least that’s what I overheard from a member of the Occupy Atlanta protest currently taking place in Woodruff Park, downtown Atlanta.  Apparently, the group is protesting corporate greed and misappropriation of funds.  Just don’t ask somebody what they stand for, because it will invariably take them five minutes and a lot of umms to get to the equivalent of that succinct description.

Let me say from the start that I support this movement.  Maybe I shouldn’t call it a movement.  An “idea” might be more accurate.  Some people have too much money while others can’t afford toilet paper.  That’s no good.  And it’s apparent that that’s no good.  With this basic tenet, everybody should support this movement/idea besides maybe the people that are too busy swimming through gold coins to know about it.  Call it socialism or communism.  I don’t care.  Say that I only believe this because I’m not stuffed to my ears with hundred dollar bills.  That’s fine.  It doesn’t change the fact that I think the members of Occupy Atlanta are right about this point.

BUT…

…they aren’t going to accomplish a goddamn thing.  Not one thing will be changed by this “radical” movement besides a little bit less money in the city’s funds cache due to the extra police presence required in the park until they pack up and leave.  That’s it.  They will only be a drain on society without making any of the changes they hope for.

I visited Woodruff Park this afternoon to see what the fuss is about.  I’ve seen news stories, but I figure I might as well make up my mind based on what’s actually happening instead of what some asshole on the news says.

I showed up mid-afternoon, apparently at a down time in the protest.  A quick glance at a dry-erase board filled with the day’s itinerary showed me that the real action wouldn’t start until 5 p.m. when the “March for Task Force for the Homeless” would begin.  As their flyer states, “more homeless people are created by foreclosures and joblessness every single month!  Even with this, the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless is being threatened of closure.  We Cannot Allow This!!!  If one is to read into the boldface script, it seems the march will turn into a superhero battle until every person in Atlanta has a roof and a nice quilt.  But they are right:  Homelessness is a big problem in this city.  Do I think a group of sweaty middle-aged men and women walking through the streets with signs painted earlier in the day will convince public housing to sporadically self-materialize?  Nope.  Also, Woodruff Park normally holds a large population of homeless people.  I walked around trying to find them and couldn’t see them anywhere until I found their corner.  Apparently they had lost the turf war and had been banished to a grassless section of the park that houses the oversized chessboard.  There’s a very definite line between the protesters and the homeless, and the homeless stare at their invaders like an opposing team in a game of Red Rover.

I think this needs to be pointed out:  A large majority of the protesters are white people in their twenties.  This isn’t surprising.  Historically, this is the age group that will most often grab a picket sign and hit the streets.  The only difference between protests today and the protests of the previous generation is that they had a clear cause that had immediate effects on society.  Civil rights, the Vietnam War, etc.  There’s a bit of a difference.  Now we’re protesting successful businesses, or something like that.  And it’s this lack of a clear focus that brings the entire protest into the realm of being “useless.” 


I found an information booth and talked to a young man named Evrick.  He was very eager to discuss what the group would be doing, what the group has done, and what the group hopes to do.  However, when it came to what they hope to do, his clear manner of speaking began to waver as he struggled to find out which word should follow the previous one.  I tried to secretly record him, Richard Nixon-style, by using my phone’s Voice Record function so I could accurately quote him when I finally got a computer in my hand, but the general noise of the park makes everything unintelligible besides the “umms” and “ahhs” he would frequently use as space-fillers while searching for the stock rhetoric that made up most of our conversation.  It was almost like he was using the signs that were walking around behind me as cue cards.

“Making money is not the same as taking money!”

Apparently, there is no leader to the movement.  The group holds a townhall-style general assembly every night where actions and goals are debated, only able to be passed with a unanimous vote.  This is one aspect of the protest that I really like, but it is also sure to be their downfall.  Without a firm leader in place, the group is forever doomed to waver between ideas without actually gaining a clear focus.  In large groups, someone needs to take the reigns and make a decision.  Have you ever tried to decide where to eat with a large group of friends?  Nobody can decide on anything until one person says, “Fuck it, we’re going to Benihanas.”  It’s the same idea but on a much larger scale.  Unless someone steps up and makes a move, Occupy Atlanta will be stuck in a park like the homeless people they displaced.

I asked Evrick what they hoped to accomplished and how they hoped to do it.  He didn’t know, even though he had been designated to disperse information.  This is why I didn’t bother talking to the kids beating empty water jugs in a drum circle or the guy walking around with a guitar and a sleeveless Descendants shirt.  I asked Evrick if they planned on trying to pass bills or affect the law in any way.  He told me they weren’t politically affiliated.  At this point I wanted to ask him, “Well then what the fuck are you doing out here?”  The answer of course, is nothing.  He alluded to the idea that the protesters were a means of disseminating information and “waking people up to what was going on”.  I asked him what he meant by “going on.” 

“Oh, well, I mean, you know…”

I felt bad for him so I tried to help him out.  “You mean the whole 1% of the population having all the money?”

“Yeah yeah yeah.  And the corporate greed and the bailouts, like, people need to know about this kind of stuff.”  Not an exact quote, but that’s the basic idea of his argument.

The problem with the idea of spreading information about what’s happening by protesting for a week straight in the heart of downtown Atlanta is that people already know about what’s going on.  That’s like protesting the fact that cigarettes are bad for you.  We already know about the problem, now what are your suggestions for a solution?  Oh, you don’t have any?  Then shut the fuck up and go somewhere quiet and think about something productive to say instead of filling a city park with piss and trash.


Eventually, I decided that I wouldn’t be able to get any more useful information out of Evrick and made my exit.  I wished him luck, shook his hand, and said I wouldn’t be able to attend any of the protests due to work.  He said, “That’s fine, you can sign up for our mailing list right here and pledge to be a volunteer.”  I felt bad for taking up his time so I showed my support by signing my first name and filling out my roommate’s e-mail address for the organization’s newsletters.

The Occupy Atlanta movement is nothing more than a white whine.  It only takes a few minutes of walking around the park to realize that the group of kids that have been hanging out in the park for the past week, apparently with no qualms about losing a week of work or possibly losing their jobs, in two-hundred dollar tents that are protesting a general misuse of money are hypocrites.  They are relying on other people to pay for their vacation, because without a plan of action that’s all a sit-in protest really is, while they yell about other people spending money in ways they don’t like.  That’s bullshit.  If this group were to have an effective means of creating political change, my opinion would be different.  But they aren’t accomplishing anything besides killing all of the grass in the park, eating taxpayer dollars as well as the dollars of those donating to them, and distracting the police that have much more pressing matters to attend to.  These hippies and punks, which are basically the entirety of the population in the makeshift tent village, are simply protesting because they want to protest.  Why else would you join a movement before a goal is set?  That’s like taking a job before you know which position you applied for.  Or going to a restaurant and simply ordering, “food.”

My generation has grown up listening to the music from the sixties and hearing the stories from our parents about how there was something special about that time.  There has always seemed to be an aura and magical feel to that time period, where drugs were new and opening doors to new worlds (before the addiction set in and ruined everyone’s lives) and everyone treated each other in a Utopian way (for a little while before they had to start a career to support their family) while standing up to “the man” to create a perfect society.  My generation wants that.  Instead, we have cable TV and the internet which has sucked the life and creativity from everyone and everything.  We all want a little of the magic that we perceive to have existed in the sixties, which is how you’ll get a bunch of people to protest nothing in a park for a week, no matter the consequences.  We’re bored with the way things are and want a little bit of the turmoil and excitement that a clash with authority can bring.  It’s like wanting someone to hit your car at an intersection just so you can remember the difference between Tuesday and Wednesday and maybe have something to talk about the next time you see a friend. 

The shitty part is that we have things to protest, but nobody is moved to action because we aren’t directly affected.  People didn’t start protesting the Vietnam War until the draft was put into effect.  People won’t truly protest the wars we are currently involved in as long as it doesn’t directly affect anybody that doesn’t volunteer for the effects.  Just look at how we have been fighting for ten years without any real, game-changing protests.  People will voice their disapproval, but the majority of us won’t do anything about it.  We’re far too complacent, neutralized by the X-Box and Transformer movies.  Everyone knows war is awful, but until we see firsthand repercussions, we’ll care about it as much as we care about cancer:  Something you don’t like but also something you won’t truly think about until it affects you or someone you know.  But money affects everybody.  Might as well go to a park and yell about that for a while, right?

I asked Evrick about the five-day deadline imposed by Mayor Kasim Reed.  On Monday, the park must be vacated or arrests will be made.  He told me that the protest is an act of civil disobedience, at its root illegal, and if they have to get arrested for the cause, so be it.  I’m sure images of riot police shooting protesters with water hoses fly through his brain like a wet dream every night, because that’s what these kids want.  They want a story to tell.  They want to feel like they are doing something “radical” even when they’re doing the equivalent of writing “Fuck the Police” in spray paint on an abandoned building.  Empty protests spoken in clichés. 

As I said at the start, I support the idea of a more equal distribution of wealth in the means of taxing the rich, not simply taking away their money, and using it to help the indigent.  Large corporations shouldn’t get taxpayer money and should be punished if they happen to get it and use it inappropriately.  Before I went to Woodruff Park, I believed this to be the centerpiece of the movement and stood with them on this account, in theory.  But now that I’ve spoken with them and seen their methods, I believe the Occupy Atlanta movement to be one big blind circle jerk set to the tune of a CSNY song being played through a five-hundred dollar stereo connected to an iPhone.


6 comments:

  1. Thanks for your perspective. Do you feel this way about the Occupy movement in general, or just Occupy Atlanta? I had been interested in joining the movement, but here in Atlanta it has appeared a little less focused and organized than the Occupy protests in other cities.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Josh,

    I remember meeting you when you visited the info table at Troy Davis Park. I am the "Evrick" you mentioned on this blog post, although that is a gross misspelling of my name.

    I thought I should let you know that I have a disorder called Apraxia which affects my speech which explains my stuttering.

    Also, I am not a spokesperson for Occupy Atlanta, and was just volunteering for that brief moment the day you appeared and I cannot justly be quoted when describing the Movement since I do not know all the facts and made that clear to you.

    How can you say that the movement is largely "white people in their twenties" when hundreds of People of Color have come out to show their support? We are a movement of people of all political affiliations, religions, races, ages, genders and sexual orientations, representing the economic grievousness of the majority of the 99% of Americans. We are hoping to inspire change in world. We are simply NOT a radical leftist movement, like the corporate media likes to say. We know true change can't just happen over night. Additionally, just like you, we are creating space for people to practice and protect their First Amendment Rights.

    Thank you for understand.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is happening in Madison, WI too and I don't really understand it...It mostly just seemed like a lot of people sitting around in tents not really getting much done.

    ReplyDelete
  4. On the very day, before the mayor had his costly nervous breakdown on our dime and sent in his nightrider marauders,we had some sixties excitement and "connective-collectiveness" (fresh invention)while facing the mammoth Koch brothers monument, the Georgia Pacific building on Peachtree, where we gathered in a collosal circle, holding hands while chanting until the building levitated. All done to honor the Yippies of the sixties who levitated the Pentagon. It was a be-in protest on Peachtree, full of amusement for participators and spectators. It was so enegizing on the walk back to the park that once there the satyrs and flutes and drums begat spontaneous dancing. Very transformative in the heart of Atlanta. And later that night, the heart was snatched by the marauders! Occupy is about getting off our keyboards and going to our public space to look into the eyes of real people and communicate directly about our issues. What will come of it, who knows. It is a refreshing start that will snowball if we all participate.

    ReplyDelete
  5. josh, you are so stupid it is amazing. i can't believe you are even allowed to have a website to post your stupid thoughts. your picture is so stupid too. wow, you got banged up...that's fascinating. hate you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Now that's a good addition to the conversation!

    ReplyDelete