It’s been a month since the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests began. By now, the movement has spread all over the United States, from New York and Boston to Austin, Oakland, and yes, Santa Cruz. The protests come as no surprise; any time there are high unemployment rates among the youth there is bound to be dissent.
A leaderless movement, the OWS protests don’t have a single, unified demand but rather are concerned with a variety of problems people see with this country’s economy, including government corruption, the overwhelming influence and power of big corporations, and unfair tax breaks and loops holes for those in the top 1%. The participants are also of a wide variety; there are educated college students, grandparents, blue-collar workers, middle class parents, unemployed workers, political activists, famous television, film and music personalities, Jews, Christians, atheists, and so on.
Unfortunately, a mass protest with no designated leaders, cohesive message, or any definable organization means that anyone can jump in and claim that their personal beliefs are part of Occupy Wall Street. Racists, anti-Semites, anarchists (not the pacifist ones), lazy people, complainers, and other fringe groups can hop in, flash their signs, and be seen as in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
To be clear, I do not accuse these protests of being anti-Semitic, nor do I think that the movement in general has anti-Jewish bias or sentiment. Actually, hundreds of Jewish protestors who are part of the OWS movement gathered on Yom Kippur – the holiest day in all of Judaism – to show solidarity between traditional Jewish values and the messages of OWS. However, some conservatives have accused the protests of being anti-Semitic in an attempt to discredit the protests and undermine what I believe is the very genuine motivation behind Occupy Wall Street.*
While I disagree with those who are exploiting the incidents of anti-Semitism present at these protests to destroy the movement, it is important to point out that those people ARE there, and they are trying to jump on the bandwagon of OWS. A short video compiles images of some of the riff raff who have infiltrated the generally positive and sincere concerns of those protesting the corruption of Wall Street. The video was clearly made by someone who wants to paint the movement as anti-Jewish, which I do not agree with, but it does show an example of some of the people who have infiltrated the protests and are detracting from the real message of the protestors, so I suggest checking it out.
How can we prevent, or what can we do, to stop these bandwagoners from detracting from the message of OWS? I am sympathetic and mostly supportive of the movement, as I see corporate greed and unfair tax policies as a threat to middle class Americans. But I am disturbed and disgusted by unsavory people who are tainting (either purposefully or not) the image of the protests. Like this guy (image at right). It hasn’t been confirmed whether or not this man actually defecated on the cop car, nor has it been confirmed that he was even part of OWS, but his image has been spread all over the internet and has made people question what this movement is actually all about.
Another example of bandwagoners could be found in Santa Cruz last week. Granted, I haven’t been to the actual site of Occupy Santa Cruz protestors, but downtown there were several young people (looking ragged, or more like the homeless-by-choice contingent) carrying cardboard signs that said “Occupy Santa Cruz. Slap a hippie, $1.” These people were obviously not part of the real movement, but they had taken the name and used it to protest…I don’t even know what. No, these people aren’t what the majority of OWS protestors are like, but they are giving a bad name and a bad image to the movement by pretending to be a part of it.
This leads me to ask: what do we even consider the real OWS movement? If anyone can write “Occupy (fill in the blank)” on a sign and carry it around, does that make them part of the movement? Are we to take them seriously? Are they advocating a message for real change? If a neo-Nazi in full regalia shows up at OWS with a hateful and violent message and claims to be part of the 99%, are we to concede that the entire movement is a crock?
As time goes on and the Occupy Wall Street movement progresses and changes, the answers to these questions remain to be seen. It does, however, raise questions about the effectiveness of a leaderless movement without a defined mission, message, or motive. I want to have faith in these protests, but there needs to be a way to distinguish between those who want practical change and those who just want to hang out.
*Exploiting Anti-Semitism To Destroy Occupy Wall Street, The Jewish Journal