For weeks, I have on various sites taken heat for defending the rights of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters. I am, by nature, a virtual absolutist on free speech rights. You have the right to assemble, speak, and protest, as long as you don't infringe on my right to do the same. I also had one caveat: that support would only last until such time that the movement in its totality crossed that line.
I think we have seen OWS clearly cross that line this week.
Protests around the country, most spectacularly in Oakland, show the true nature of this movement. This is a movement, at its heart, that is anticapitalistic and marginally anarchistic. But they are also, by nature, unwilling to accept your right to practice your own free will...only their rights are pre-eminent. The more we discuss issues with these groups, what we see is that they do not value your right to practice in a free market, or go about making a living. Only their world view matters.
A perfect example? In Oakland last week, we saw an unlawful protest turn violent. When police legally attempt to clear the plaza, the protesters fought back. They did more than peacefully resist; they attacked police members. Many question the tactics of the police, and frankly, even I think they went overboard. But the rights of the OWS cannot infringe on other Oakland residents' rights either...and it has been, since they have occupied and restricted movement in that area. The entire concept of 'occupying', by nature, implies taking over an area that does not inherently belong to them. And that is what they have successfully done over the past few months...only now are we seeing the far reaching repercussions for other citizens.
Then, the Oakland protesters went one step further. In an attempt to call a 'general strike', along the lines of famously successful protest movements in Europe, the protesters in Oakland this week (which, according to police and the OWS leaders there, numbered about 7,000) attempted to 'peacefully' shut down the Port of Oakland. In the process, they are endangering the jobs of thousands of middle class persons, who rely on the port for their income. They will fail in their attempts for a 'general strike', of course, for a very simple reason: people don't want to strike and stop working; they, in fact, for the most part want to work more. These protesters are doing more to stop commerce, and threatening well paying jobs, than actually supporting these middle classes persons in their quest to maintain their living.
You see this trend in the OWS protests across the nation. In Manhattan, Michael Bloomberg is almost at the end of his rope, as small businesses continue to lose thousands of dollars weekly because of the protesters, and layoffs are beginning. In Denver and Oakland, we see protesters destroying property of small business owners, most of whom are not anywhere near the 1% of income makers in this country. Independent and swing voters abhor this kind of action; they want answers to real problems in this country...not a violent revolt.
Ironically, one of the main complaints from leaders in the OWS is that the mainstream media is ignoring them, and their petitions. I would argue that the media is doing them a favor. The more we learn about these guys, the less likely the mainstream of America is going to like what they hear. For example, one common thread that now emerges, which was hidden in the early weeks of this campaign, is now quite apparent: that the primary goal of many if not most of the protesters is, in their own words to end capitalism. I would wager most Americans think such concepts are abhorrent.
Ultimately, this will have serious repercussions. First and foremost, it will delegitimize what little mainstream credibility the OWS has. It will continue to alienate most Americans, who want answers to their daily questions, like how to pay their bills, not new problems, such as the risk of violent insurrection. We are already seeing these findings in new poll results by Quinniapiac, which shows 30% favorability rating for the OWS versus 39% unfavorable rating in their newest poll. Finally, and maybe most interestingly, it is going to paint the Democrats as the party of violence. This may not be 1968 again, but it is close. And we already know that the OWS is planning protests at both the Republican and Democrat National Conventions next year, just to prove the point further. Obama has also tacitly approved of these protests. Many Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and others, went much farther in their support. They are now bound to these protesters, whether they like it or not.
I still don't believe that most of the Occupy Wall Street protesters are violent...but that doesn't matter. In the same way that a tiny, tiny percentage of Tea Party protesters were fringe and painted the entire movement as racist or bigoted, we now have a small percentage of violent protesters involved in OWS. I would wager that number is far more in number than the fringe members of the Tea Party, considering the number of arrests, injuries, and the gross amount of property damage resulting from the OWS movement, versus a practically nonexistent amount of those factors with the Tea Party. The fringe will ultimately define the movement, whether they like it or not. And painting the movement as anticapitalist, anarchist, and violent clearly will be detrimental to them, their allies, and the Democrat Party.