Occupied Territory

Protestors choose their strategies: teacups vs. tents


Just when I thought I could sleep through this Rhode Island political season, we finally have Occupy Providence. Now that we do, my first question is, with a state as small as Rhode Island, shouldn’t it be called Occupy Rhode Island?

Occupy Wall Street is of course, the non-response to the Tea Party movement. I say non-response since the two movements, despite protestations by members, have so much in common. For example, while the Tea Party is further along in the solution game with an actual platform, both groups talk more in generalities rather than specific solutions (i.e. cut spending, taxes, the deficit and the size of government, illegal aliens are illegal, end corporate bailouts, obey the Constitution vs. end corporate bailouts, end greed, close the gap between rich and poor, create more jobs, etc.). The “how” is what seems to be lacking.

Both groups: 1) Are made up of many local units that don’t always agree with one another; 2) Are pissed off about certain government spending; 3) Contain extrem- ists providing targets for the other side (i.e. racists and communists who just want your stuff); 4) Keep people guessing about who is funding them, pulling strings or taking advantage of them; 5) Have to tip-toe around support from elected officials and political parties which, of course, are major causes of the problem to begin with.

The Tea Party has made an impact through the political process, electing candidates on all levels and then pressuring them to hold the line when it comes to compromising on spending cuts, lower taxes, deficit reduction and, some would argue, exercising common sense. The Occupiers are in “information/educational” or stunt mode, as in letting people know via their takeover of public parks and other actions that they are really pissed off at corporations, greed and the growing divide between the haves and have nots. It’s about “taking control of democracy” and fighting perceived evils within the system, including the new C word (corporation).

This makes the Occupiers much more interesting, in a movie of the week sort of way, when it comes to watching their attempts to figure out how to: organize and turn their anger into political power locally and nationally; keep their internal extremists under control; handle the PR problems of wanting to avoid feeding the homeless and vagrants crashing their occupations; fend off (at least publicly) the multi-millionaires trying to tie themselves into the movement; deal with the winter (will they hibernate?); and avoid assaulting or eating one another. They are planning a convention and ratification of a platform this summer and there is no truth to the rumor that MTV wants to make the New York operation the next Real World house.

Which brings us to Providence. Like many of its brethren, Occupy Providence is fighting with authorities to stay where it is, using the human mic system that I’m sure someone has tried to copyright by now, and as I write this, planning on celebrating Halloween by dressing up and visiting area banks and corporations to wish them a Happy Halloween (hopefully with non-corporate candy or organic fruit). Actually, they are going to companies that received bailouts and asking for their money back, following such other actions as encouraging Bank of America account holders to close their accounts.

Occupying Burnside Park in Downtown Providence, the group holds nightly general assembly meetings with working groups dealing with issues such as direct action, food, legal, media, facilitation and sign spelling (just kidding). They even have a communication language (i.e. to indicate a clarifying question: make a “C” with hand). They, like their national counterparts, stress nonviolence, although civic disobedience and lack of permits are apparently OK.

It’s easy to get drawn into the theatrical aspects of these battles, and forget that both sides at the core have good points, and are legitimately angry at government policies that have unnecessarily damaged the lives, hopes and dreams of too many people. I like to play in the middle, so let’s assume I’m head of the MOR (Middle of the Road) Party. As titular head of the MORs, I hereby reaffirm the primary operating principle of our new party:

Any candidate who chooses to run under our banner must pledge to commit him or herself to address the three major problems that currently threaten the future of our country: We must enact systemic, realistic and transparent changes to ensure our workers can find meaningful employment. We must eliminate any special interests that come at the expense of the public interest. And finally we must also find a fair way to address the embarrassing (and widening) gap between our richest citizens and our poorest.

All candidates who wish to apply, please fold up your tent, put the teacup back on its shelf and let’s get serious about change.