Opinion Columns & Blogs

SLO Occupy camp all but unoccupied

I moseyed down to the county courthouse the other day to check on the local version of the national Occupy Wall Street movement. I wanted to get a sense of where they are these days and where they intend to go.

In other words, it was a case of “Whither Occupy SLO.”

What I found instead was “wither Occupy SLO.”

The once-lively “occupation” had been drastically scaled back from its headier days of October and November. A canopy hovered over a motley collection of signs and petitions.

There was a table, and a Christmas tree festooned with empty water and soda bottles.

I didn’t see any humans, although there was a blanket stretched across a pair of chairs that had been pushed together. Some boots protruded.

It could have been someone. But even if it was, I didn’t want to wake him up to discuss the nature of an apparently slumbering political movement.

Maybe this torpor was just the result of it being the holiday season. Or maybe the movement is simply “chilling.”

Still, there is a difference between being laid back and being comatose.

Frankly — and I say this with concern, not scorn — I am worried about Occupy SLO and to some extent about the movement nationally.

Let us all pause to remember what gave the movement its impetus. It arose to draw attention to inequality between the rich who run the country and the rest of us.

It disseminated that message about concentration of wealth very nicely in the fall. “Occupy” was especially good at framing it, with its contention that 99 percent (the have-nots) of the population are under the thumb of 1 percent (the haves) of the population.

Most of us, clearly, are in the 99 percent category.

Occupy delivered its message through a series of high-profile demonstrations, including some in San Luis Obispo.

But the road has not been smooth in recent weeks. I am guessing that if you gave the average noninvolved American citizen a Rorschach test and said “the Occupy Wall Street movement,” he or she would reply “confrontation” — not inequality.

Losing the message this way is exactly what the movement’s enemies want. I have little doubt that those opponents have helped create the shift in focus by infiltrating the Occupy movement and becoming agents provocateurs.

The use of agents provocateurs, for those of you who don’t parlez francais, is, roughly explained, the practice by the state and/or its institutions of inserting agents undercover into a reform effort and goading it to violence and vandalism, in an effort to discredit the movement and, more importantly, its aims.

The Occupy movement is no different. Every time I hear about a store window being smashed or something untoward happening, I think, agent provocateur. (However, I will give Occupy credit for often resisting these state-sponsored vermin, especially at UC Davis, where they did not get violent when they were pepper-sprayed).

But let’s give other credit where other credit is due. Some people in Occupy, especially in SLO, have contributed to the movement’s slowdown by a lack of both discipline and goals.

The lack of discipline led Occupy SLO to resist having structured leadership. That’s all very democratic and touchy-feely, but a movement that is attacking something as behemoth as the way the world’s wealthiest nation distributes that wealth needs a game plan and people to implement it.

Well, maybe I’m being too harsh. The movement locally does have a website and schedules events sporadically. And it does occasionally man the courthouse site.But still, it seems like not very much — present and accounted for, but generally inert, like the guy dozing in the chair in front of the courthouse.

Perhaps the Occupy movement, having succeeded in getting out its message that too many people have too much of the wealth and are sticking it to the rest of us, is simply retooling.

Perhaps they will come out with new approaches to knocking the plutocrats out of power in 2012.

Let us hope so. The job is a big one, and it needs to be done.