After Zuccotti

Although admittedly without cracking my First Amendment book, Judge Stallman’s order upholding the eviction of Zuccotti Park seems as correct as his decision to temporarily enjoin the eviction, pending litigation, was admirable. “Reasonable time/place/manner” restrictions are the critical and necessary “but” to every claim of a First Amendment right to protest, and especially given the reports of drugs, crime, and health hazards we’ve heard from Zuccotti Park, Brookfield seems well within their rights to eject 200 unexpected campers. I rather enjoy these lovable scamps of the left, but if they camped out in my backyard — and if I had a backyard — I’d do exactly the same.

The question now is what Occupy Wall Street does without its symbolic-speech (read: publicity stunt) element. The movement can certainly survive and, truly, its organizers should take this as a chance to shed the occupation’s many downsides. The necessities of “occupation,” for instance, created a veritable breeding ground of bad news stories detailing crime, sanitation issues, etc., all of which fade once Zuccotti Park ceases to be a center of human habitation. Like a ship scrubbed of barnacles, the “occupation” can transition to an effective messaging operation with Zuccotti as a non-permanent base of operations…

…but first the “occupiers” will need to accept a top-down structure. Disorganization served the movement — or didn’t hinder it as much as it could have — so long as the protester’s message was effectively made by their mere presence in the park. But without this gimmick, to attract continued media attention, and to continue influencing the debate, the movement will have to work for it, which will require a solid agenda, and a well-thought-out method of disseminating that message. The next step could be as simple as a continued but not overnight presence in Zuccotti Park, where a rotating staff hands out leaflets, waves signs, makes screen printed tee-shirts (yes, of course I have one), and generally reminds the financial capital of their existence. That level of activity, though, already presupposes the structure the Occupy movement has rejected all along — but it’s time for them to give that up. Call it something like the routinization of charisma: Occupy Wall Street needs to normalize itself, and grow into a real movement, if it’s to survive.

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