Taking a page from the Arab Spring uprisings, the Occupy Wall Street protestors have thus far refused to state a definitive purpose or agenda, frustrating both their detractors and most adamant supporters.
It’s hard to argue with the strategy, as remaining all-inclusive and serving as a neutral sounding board for the opinions of all people wishing to vent their anger and frustration with Wall Street greed and government corruption has allowed the protests to grow exponentially day after day. However, continuing to maintain a rudderless movement at this point poses several serious risks to the cause.
First, it opens the door for well organized special interest groups to co-opt the movement for their own agenda. We have already seen the “endorsements” from various well organized national labor organizations and activist groups. This is all well and good, but the longer this movement remains leaderless at the grassroots level, the greater the temptation and opportunity will be for these groups to take control of the message and direction.
Second, without leadership, a unifying message and an agenda, the movement could fizzle out without accomplishing a thing. The weather is already getting cold, and soon it will be freezing in places like New York. Maintaining large crowds will become harder and harder without inspiring leadership and defined goals. If the crowds die, so will the media coverage, and chances are the movement itself wouldn’t be far behind.
Finally, the longer the movement goes without creating a clear identity for itself, the more time it’s handing to its detractors to fill that void with ugly, false mischaracterizations and outright lies about their positions and intentions. This effort is already well under way via a well orchestrated media campaign spanning the internet, television and talk radio aimed at branding the Occupy Wall Street protestors as a “filthy mob”, “dangerous rabble looking for handouts”, “spoiled kids who don’t want to work”, and so on.
In the end, movements that actually motivate large amounts of people to take to the streets for any prolonged period of time are very rare in America. What’s more, there’s no reason a peaceful movement whose only purpose thus far has been to bring attention to America’s unsustainable economic inequality and unholy alliance between Wall Street and the government shouldn’t unite all but a small handful of the wealthy ruling elite desperate to maintain the corrupt status quo of a rigged system.
We should all hope this opportunity isn’t squandered.