As someone both privy to the early political maneuverings of the Occupy movement, and one of the reporters tasked with keeping up to date on the state of our own homegrown protest, Occupy Olympia, I feel qualified to talk about the Occupy movement.
It began as an idea floated around by the Canadian website adbusters.com as a protest against corporate greed and abuse. An occupation of Wall Street. It was picked up by various social networking sites, and began to take a much clearer and more defined shape.
I myself did some work trying to focus its goals and methods via a popular website.
As the movement progressed, it took on more ideals and characteristics. A community of sorts grew out of the movement, something like a self-sustaining commune. It was, for lack of a better word, a really cool premise for a movement. A youth-based movement. We all thought it would be the 60s come again.
Boy, were we wrong.
In the early days of the Occupy movement, things seemed to be going great. Protesters were, for the most part, being respectful and relatable. Everything was just peachy keen. Occupations were springing up all over the world like wildfire. People thought this would be a truly powerful movement.
I was assigned a story on Olympia’s branch of Occupy protesters. I hadn’t had a chance to check out the camp yet, so I was excited to see the movement in person. It would be a nice change from supporting it from behind a computer screen.
There’s a German word, fremdscham, which roughly means: the experience of being embarrassed for someone who lacks the awareness to be embarrassed for themselves. What I experienced during that first day at Occupy Olympia was an intense feeling of fremdscham.
What I came expecting was like minded idealists, people from all creeds, uniting together to try to put an end to corporate greed.
What I got was a bizarre mix of anarchists, conspiracy theorists, and people so radical they made me cringe.
To be fair, I had found myself wondering what exactly the people of Olympia had to complain about. They’re Western Washingtonians, they share a state with the most generous billionaire in the world, as well as some of the world’s most prolific corporations. They’ve all benefitted from these companies in one way or another.
Still, I tried to stay open-minded. My first few minutes of visiting the Occupy camp was punctuated by anarchists shouting at one another, drug dealers flitting about plying their trade, and thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Somehow, the Occupy movement had managed to bring together everything shameful about our town’s liberal population.
I was bombarded with conspiracy theories (that were absolutely filled to the brim with anti-Semitism), dirty looks (I was dressed in clean clothes, so stuck out like a sore thumb), and perhaps worst of all, people who were horribly misinformed.
I like to pride myself on being well-informed and up-to-date regarding politics, and was absolutely appalled at the bald-faced lies being accepted as truth at the occupy camp. Claims of Israeli-run shadow governments, forced government sterilization, and even claims that Barack Obama was a lizard man. Instead of being a place of open discourse and free thought, people found themselves in an echo chamber controlled by the most radical participants.
Many of the Olympia occupiers were children of the reasonably wealthy, and came off as entitled and childish.
Things like petty vandalism or all-night parties quickly became commonplace, and actual political activism was put aside.
I had always said from the beginning that the protest would have to appeal to the common-man to have any chance of success. This meant being respectful, moderate, and non-threatening.
These radicals had managed to turn a movement with great potential into nothing more than a liberal tea party. They lived up to every negative stereotype America has about liberals. This was slowly reflected by the rest of the movement, where moderate voices were drowned out by radical ones.
These protesters turned everyone in Olympia against them, and most people I know were relieved when they were finally ousted from their tent city.
I heard horror stories about the cleanup. Soil turned to slush by human waste, used needles and condoms littering the ground.
The only lasting effect Occupy Olympia had was to waste taxpayer money and damage public lands.
It was a great idea, but it ignored the lessons of the past. It allowed itself to be turned into an echo chamber for radicals. It drove away anyone who was the least bit moderate.
They became a nuisance in the public eye. In the end, the public saw them for what they were, what we were. Just a bunch of kids talking about things we didn’t understand.