Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy Knoxville on 11-11-11: Low Key or Dying Out?

A few souls brave the cold at the Occupy Knoxville Rally, 11/11/11
Josh Flory, whose business blog Property Scope I read everyday, recently wrote an article on the local Occupy Knoxville contingent of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The people he interviewed suggested they were taking a lower key approach than some groups and had decided not to so much occupy a spot as to hold intermittent marches and rallies. Someone from UT suggested that the message of Occupy Wall Street, which has emerged as something along the lines of economic equality is thwarted by the system, doesn't resonate with east Tennesseans.

Occupy Knoxville Rally 11/11/11
 
Information and sign-up table, Occupy Knoxville Rally 11/11/11
 I would agree to an extent, though I would take some exception with both parts. I think the occupation hasn't been the same here, less as a strategic decision, and more as a dwindling of energy. I know they intended a 24/7 presence in Krutch Park at the beginning. While the UT person was correct, obviously, that east Tennessee is more conservative than the places with larger movements, I can't help but remember the hundreds - and I thought maybe a thousand - of people who gathered the first night. Somebody in our area obviously agrees with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Speaker at Occupy Knoxville Rally
 
Speaker at Occupy Knoxville Rally, Market Square
Mr. Flory had visited the 11/11/11 gathering on Market Square during the day. I visited after the sun fell. It was cold and a bit windy. People hurried through Market Square intent on their destination and not as interested as they usually might be in the rag-tag gathering. Speeches were made from the stage: some prepared, some less so. Even the prepared speeches seemed to ramble. The tone and phrasing could have been lifted from many protests and rallies over the years. Few seemed to be listening.
 
Speaker addresses the crowd while co-protester texts on stage

So what happened to the energy and excitement? Where has the movement strayed? I have a few thoughts on the topic. I offer them as someone who is basically sympathetic to many of the complaints and concerns of the Occupy movement:
  • Whose bright idea was it to occupy an outdoor physical space as winter approached? Did that really seem like a good idea? Did you think the American economic system would collapse as a result of your efforts before the first frost? Really? It was an untenable approach from the beginning.
  • "We'll occupy this park until . . . until . . . well, for a long time!" Could an open-ended, unfocused goal be a good thing? I think not. There needed to be a good (early) point to declare the occupation a success and move on toward more seriously building a movement to address the problems.
  • "Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters." - Bob Dylan - I am a Bob-head and so agree with the sentiment, but could this movement flourish with no central voice? If no person or group is able to speak for the unwashed masses, then the masses are just, well, unwashed.
  • "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" or the central message? It's just all over the place. It leaves the group open to charges of just being "lazy" people who don't like for hard-workers to have money. They are too easily dismissed as "whiners." The message can even be subtly complex: Explain how the system is gamed to make some people incredibly wealthy while others struggle to eat - but pound away on one message. Pick a message, any message.
  • Dress for success. When I saw the first group of marchers there was no way to stereotype them. Old, young, employed, unemployed, educated, uneducated, black, white; they were all present and accounted for. The narrative of aging hippies and young neo-hippies just didn't fly. It flies better, now. Where did everybody else go?
Wall of Slogans, Occupy Knoxville, Market Square, 11/11/11

So, what will happen with the Occupy movement? Will it be a distant memory by the time the leaves return to the trees? Will they find a unified voice? Will they be able to communicate a coherent message to a place as conservative as East Tennessee? We'll check in later and see what happens.

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