Manhattan Moment: Two distinct groups make up 'Occupy' protesters

Strange to say, but there may be something valuable going on among some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Until now, two narratives have defined both the press coverage and public discussion of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators camped out in lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park.

The first depicts a collection of buffoonish, semiliterate juveniles engaged in a seeming left-wing version of a college prank. There is, to be sure, something to this story.

In last week's Zombie Parade the protesters, giddy with their cleverness, portrayed themselves as the living dead whose lives had been sucked from them by unnamed corporations.

One of the pre-Halloween costumers was asked why she had chosen to dress up like a zombie who looked like Marie Antoinette, the French queen guillotined by the revolutionaries of 1793. She replied that she had no idea of who Marie Antoinette was but just liked the look of the costume.

The second narrative sees the protesters as ripe to be harnessed by the labor leaders who hope to tap into their energy on behalf of the Obama 2012 campaign.

Watching New York Federation of Teachers President Mike Mulgrew prance about, speaking in the name of the protest, you might think Occupy Wall Street had signed on to a campaign to raise teachers' salaries in a city whose budget shortfalls are already producing layoffs.

But both of these explanations presume that there is a single, largely unified group of people in Zuccotti Park. There isn't. The exhibitionists, lost souls and zanies acting out tend to congregate in the Western stretch of the block-long park.

To their east, where anti-Obama placards outnumber those supporting the president, a more cerebral group of protesters is gathered. Their organizational skills have kept the encampment running in reasonably good order for these past three weeks.

Some of them, carrying anti-Obama placards, are standard issue leftists who, like the New York Times editorial board, think that the president's problem is that he has been too moderate and thoughtful.

But others are caught up in the practical details of self-government on a small scale. They are doing their best not to be co-opted, which is why, despite the hoopla from labor leaders, they haven't signed on to the union campaign. Like Students for a Democratic Society in the early 1960s, they are grappling with a paradox.

On the one hand, they insist that corporations ineffectively run the government; on the other, they want more government regulation to control the corporations.

By contrast, the Tea Party has a ready and plausible answer as to how to restore self-government and break the grip of the crony capitalism that ties the Obama administration to Wall Street. They want to drastically reduce the size of government.

The protesters have no such view. Like their 1960s predecessors, they're chasing their tails trying to imagine procedural reforms that will allow the demonstrators to govern themselves, while also curbing the power of those greedy capitalists.

It's too easy to dismiss the protesters, with their "Eat The Rich" signs, as just spoiled "trustafarian" misfits. They see themselves as the American equivalents of Egypt's Tahrir Square protesters who brought down President Hosni Mubarak, but they haven't noticed that it's the Islamists who are inheriting the Arab Spring.

Mocking them is easy; but here at home, the problem of crony capitalism is in fact eating away at our civic entrails. Leftists willing to grapple with this malignancy should be welcomed, if only for the potential seriousness of their efforts.

As the more thoughtful 68ers eventually discovered, the idea of reforming government by expanding it is a circular dead end.

This piece originally appeared at The Washington Examiner.

Fred Siegel is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and scholar in residence at St Francis College in Brooklyn.

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interesting piece

The left wing media would like to portray the "occupy" folks as the "more popular left wing version tea party", but it comes up short every time. The reasons are many, but here are a few.

Occupy is not a grassroots movement. The real Tea Party is, in spite of many attempts to portray otherwise. There is no money from the Koch brothers, the Republican party really doesn't want anything to do with it, and no large company has provided any financial support. The media undoubtable spent a fortune looking for such funding and found,,, nothing (not that they didn't make things up anyway).

All tea party events were paid for by those who where there. They got permits, paid for them, paid for whatever stupid things cities made them pay for, and for police that they didn't really need (the only time they were necessary were to protect them from loopy left wing counter protesters, who by the way had no permits and were more then willing to break laws). They didn't leave a mess, left when they said they would. They don't overstay, camping out, making an annoyance of themselves. They don't want to inconvenience anyone and cost other people their time and money. People at Tea Party events haven't been in a protest before, and likely won't again. There has NEVER been an arrest anywhere at any of the thousands (outside of left wing counter-protestors) of tea party events.

Occupy by the other hand is being funded by major labor unions, Soros and his ilk. The left has a large "professional" protestor group, since there isn't anything that can't be protested. People do it for a "living". These people protest things all the time, they have been far more quiet about it lately since Bush left office.

They don't seem to care that they are annoying commuters, local shop keepers, that they block traffic and sidewalks. They don't care they are using misusing police services, that they trespass on other peoples private property, make a huge stinky mess and cause public health problems. They don't care that they have overstayed their permits or that they are costing taxpayers huge amounts of money on overtime and cleanup. They will not pay the bill (not that anyone is going to bill them, a courtesy no tea party group would ever get).

Since the left has a "professional" protestor, their individual favored causes come to the front even if it has nothing to do with the main event. So you have gay rights activists next to pro-Islam activists at a event that is reportedly about big business. So you got people with very different goals, in fact incompatible goals, a recipe for no good. And no focus. Tea parties have a focus, big government period. Tea Parties don't have pro-life activists trying to refocus the event on abortion. They see that this event isn't theirs, and they know that if the Tea Party is successful, its cause is helped by it.

Another big difference, the length of time. What is the purpose of protesting this long? I can't find a good reason. In fact it will hurt their cause, as conditions worsen and the many inconveniences to non-protestors drags on. They will turn people against them, that they are hoping to influence! How does annoying commuters going to bring about the working people? A Tea Party event was never longer then an afternoon or so, on a weekend so you didn't have to take time off from work. Tea Party people have real lives, like jobs, businesses, churches and families.

When it comes to arrests Occupy is nothing like the Tea Party. No Tea Party protestor has been arrested. For anything! Even after thousands of events! Occupy had 700 arrests in NYC alone (blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge during rush hour). Most Occupy cities has had at least one arrest. What does getting arrested accomplish? Well, nothing but costs for the police and taxpayers. Hopefully there won't be large scale riots, something that the Tea Party was always charged with, but never did. Occupy protests will only lead to them as people sit around with nothing to do.

Goals. The Tea Party had goals that are possible, are necessary and are doable. Occupy has goals that aren't possible, aren't doable. Some would be nice as most utopian ideas sound good, but how do you have free college, a high "living" wage, "free" healthcare without bankrupting society? The answer is you can't, no matter how much "love" you apply. Other demands are nutty like how would a large government stop big business from doing what it does? The only reason why a big business can have cronyism is the big government! Why is that so hard to see?

The Tea Party wants individuals, families, small businesses, churches and local schools and charity organization as the centers of society. Occupy wants big government agencies and its "professional" employees, big green organizations, big universities, big education, a "safety net" for the lazy and stupid and "world" government. So the goals they may share (cronyism) are pretty small compared with the overall goals.