By Vladimir Gladkov
The Occupy Movement which spread around the US like a forest fire last year, igniting mass protests against economic and social inequality, seems to have lost momentum. Since last month’s violent clash with California police, the Occupy activists haven’t been hitting the headlines. It seems that a series of government crackdowns on the activists has finally brought the results. However, the activists around the country keep insisting the movement is just being regrouped before a new phase of actions this spring. But will the movement manage to keep the public attention especially on the eve of the upcoming presidential election?
The incident at the end of January in Oakland, California where about 300 demonstrators were arrested as a the result of a violent clash with the riot police seemed to be a proof that the Occupy Movement regains power. By the end of 2011 the movement was almost quenched after the police had cleared most of the protesters’ camps from city centers. The initiative that had influenced not only America but also the rest of the world, leading to the founding of almost 3,000 occupy communities around the world seemed to have completely depleted itself. The Oakland incident put the Occupy Movement back in the centre of public attention.
An attempt of the protesters to take over a disused building of the Henry Kaiser convention centre in order to draw public attention to the problems of the homeless led to the violent crackdown of the police, who used tear gas and flash grenades. About 300 people were arrested and at least 3 policemen and one demonstrator received serious injuries. However, while the Oakland incident still hasn’t been followed by any new actions, the public enthusiasm about the movement has started to die out.
Representatives of the groups around the country keep claiming they remain in the shadows in order to prepare for a new, much more intense phase of the struggle which is to strike the streets of America this spring. The movement even demonstrates signs of a more serious organization, as the activists in Des Moines and Chicago have rented offices, which may become a significant step forward. While the authorities are still far from praising the movement, the protesters managed to demonstrate a number of significant victories in their war against inequality. For example, in Providence, R.I., activists reached a deal with the city, agreeing to abandon their camp peacefully this month in return for the city’s opening of a new day center for the homeless.
At the same time many experts look skeptical at the ability of the movement to regain power. One of the main challenges the Occupy activists are facing is the upcoming Presidential election. In the wake of an event of such a scale, the protesters risk being viewed by the public as bunch of annoying noisemakers.
“They’ve gotten the people’s attention, and now they have to say something more specific,” said William A. Galston, an expert on political strategy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Average Americans want solutions, not demonstrations, and their patience for the latter won’t last indefinitely.”
While the activists demonstrate the ability to organize, renting offices and bargaining with the officials, they still lack a single political agenda. While their goals are good, some of them are too utopian and could hardly be taken seriously by the majority.
“People have different goals,” says Dorli Rainey – an activists’ leader from Seattle, “Mine is, we’ve got to build a movement that will replace the type of government we have now.”
Another serious problem of the movement could be the possible dissent with the labor unions which have generally supported Occupy’s ideas. While the movement calls workers to stay home from work on May 1, the unions state they don’t plan a strike for the day.
Started as a natural reaction to the inability of the government to deal with the deep social and economic problems, The Occupy Movement managed to rapidly gain massive public support. But now its leaders have to come up with a brand new effective strategy to keep the public attention. Otherwise the initiative is doomed to oblivion.