I've finally realized something I should have already have known, that the Occupy Wall Street movement is about leverage. It's natural over time for those who rule to employ the law to disenfranchise those who oppose or threaten them. In the last thirty years this means that wealthy corporations and powerful business interests have been handed more and more direct control over the levers of governance, while those who might object to this concentration of power have been more and more cut out of the process.
As a proud member of the progressive blogger brigade I have sometimes wondered -- as I cataloged more and more brazen abuses of authority from the quiet comfort of my home office in my middle-class neighborhood -- "This is an outrage! Why aren't people rioting in the streets over this?" I was not alone in my confusion. But the answer was not simple.
It's entirely possible that people were protesting these outrages, but how would I or anyone not already aware have known about it? 50,000 people might have gathered in peaceful protest, but if there are no pictures anywhere did it make any difference? Remember "Free Speech Zones?" Bush and his enablers segregated protesters in pens, far away from events and nowhere near reporters, in a constitution-shredding stunt that nonetheless successfully curtailed criticism by using the force of law against citizens.
But you don't even have to look that far; there are many more subtle ways to defang the first amendment. In Zuccotti park -- the bizarrely privately owned public space that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters brilliantly decided to use as their base -- mechanical sound amplification is illegal. Apparently we must relax regulations on for-profit media, but we have to crack down on soapboxes. Go figure. Likewise other "occupy" groups have run into zoning regulations, camping regulations, use permit regulations, and more. In the age of corporate deregulation it's curious how we find our constitutional free speech and assembly rights so difficult to exercise.
In the face of these structural impediments, OWS has managed to find leverage. After realizing that officially-sanctioned marches -- no matter how large or how popular their message -- don't make the nightly news, they decided instead to park themselves in the middle of Manhattan where they couldn't be ignored. They were then ignored and discounted because of their "outsider" status for another two weeks until the powers that be overreached and sent in the police who also overreacted. Then it was a story. And every time since then that city officials and the police attacked peaceful protesters the story grew.
Likewise dealing with the lack of amplification OWS invented the "human microphone" which allows them to transmit their thoughts to each other, albeit slowly. It's inefficient and subject to ridicule, but it also embodies the very spirit of the free speech that it transmits. And more than that, it creates leverage. At a speech in Chicago, the infamous Scott Walker was interrupted and effectively shouted down by a group using the human microphone to drown out his electronic one.
Through collective action OWS has shown us that we can use the natural leverage of our superior numbers against the legal leverage of those few who are actually in power. I'm inspired and I compliment their efforts. However, this is an arms race. There can be no doubt that American aristocrats and their toadies will also discover ways to counter anything they see as effective. The destruction of multiple OWS encampments under media black-out and with DHS coordination is start of a bourgeoisie backlash. I'm cautiously confident that this movement can innovate in the face of an opposition with too much undo leverage, and that the opposition will expose its straight-up Machiavellian core for the public in the process.