The #OccupyWhatever protest has an eerie feeling of déjà vu surrounding it. Back in 1985, when I was attending Cornell University, the movement du jour was encouraging universities to divest from companies that did business in then-apartheid South Africa. At the time, my addled mind convinced me this was a great idea — despite the logical arguments from my Texan Conservative floormates that this would have zero impact on changing the government there. It did, however, give me my first opportunity to try my hand at photojournalism — as all the accompanying photos demonstrate.
For several weeks, the university was littered in red ribbons and armbands, signifying support for divestment.
Eventually, a shantytown appeared directly behind the administration building of Day Hall, conveniently placed in a location surrounded by structures, making it relatively easy for tours to pass by without horrified parents seeing what was going on. The center of the protests, where one could pick up literature about divestment, eventually became capitalized — Shantytown — and an easily recognizable landmark where one could meet a fellow student.
The protests led to sit-ins inside Day Hall, and all it accomplished was to irritate other students who had to conduct business there.
Eventually, the protesters refused to leave the building at the 5 PM closing time. Students were warned to do so or risk arrest, some left and some didn’t. Those who didn’t were arrested. They were carted downtown but were not prosecuted.
It soon became apparent that many of those involved had no clue what was being protested but simply wanted to belong. This included a friend, who said exactly that to me, and was closely involved with the protest. He said the administration was pissed, but tolerant. They didn’t want to look like they were shutting down free speech. Then two things happened that chopped away at that patience:
First came the hunger strike. Now the University had a serious liability issue on its hands, and rumor had it — and I stress it was a rumor — that one of the hunger strikers had already attempted suicide earlier in the year. Hoo boy.
Then this happened:
A fire had started inside one of the shanties. The movement actually kind of died of its own accord after that. There were no more protesters shouting through campus, no more red ribbons, no more sit-ins, and the University subtly let it be known that the movement’s public run was over.
The ironic image of the movement consuming itself in a rush of flames has already been playing itself out on a larger canvas with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. The incidents of violence (all 189 of them) are becoming increasingly serious and more prevalent. The leaders of the cities in which these protests are occurring either support the protests or they don’t. If they don’t, their patience will wear thin as public pressure mounts — from merchants whose businesses are being disrupted, from the health department, or from some critical mass of criminal behavior being reached. If they do support the protests, it will take a literal or metaphorical inferno for the movement to be disbanded.
Eventually the police will move in. Protesters will get hurt of their own accord. There will be recriminations and the strong leaders will dismiss them, reminding everyone that they showed extraordinary patience and waited until something truly had to be done. The MSM will crow and scream over fascist mayoral regimes, and eventually the whole thing will be forgotten well in advance of the election. Given the documentation that the movement is being organized and perpetuated by anarchists like Lisa Fithian, should this surprise anyone? Never mind the oxymoron of anarchists organizing — what would you expect when anarchists organize a movement? Anarchy, perhaps? That’s what we’re seeing. If anyone is still insisting that the Tea Party protests bear any resemblance to the #OccupyWhatever movement, they should stop smoking crack. As for the movement itself, the messaging (which has never been clear) is rapidly evolving: this just a bunch of unemployed hooligans, hangers-on, and people who aren’t even trying to find a direction in life, disrupting society with their nonsense.
And it will end in self-consuming flames.