As protesters in Oakland swarmed by the thousands into the city's port as the culmination of a day of demonstrations there, New York's ongoing encampment seems to be losing its momentum, both on the ground and in the press. When influential liberal Hendrik Hertzberg joins the New York Post's editorial page on the side of an issue, it's probably time to at least give their arguments a listen.Rocked by Wednesday's arrest of a volunteer on sexual assault charges and facing ever-more exasperation from local businesses around Zuccotti Park, the protesters' political actions have started to catch far less media attention than the simple question of just how much longer they can realistically stay.
After Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters on Wednesday that "this isn’t an occupation of Wall Street ... It’s an occupation of a growing, vibrant residential neighborhood in lower Manhattan," the Post editorialized on Thursday that it was "time to throw the bums out." The crotchety editorial asserted that the protest had run its course, at least as far as an encampment in the city could do:
What began as a credible protest against bank bailouts, crony capitalism and the like has, in large measure, been hijacked by crazies and criminals.
Beyond that, too many protesters demonstrate by their actions a level of contempt for residents, businesses and workers in the area that long ago crossed the line.
“If Brookfield were to come to us and say that their rules are being violated ... the Police Department will do what it has to do,” Bloomberg said last week. “But this is not a public park.” No, it’s not.
But it is a public nuisance -- and it needs to be dealt with just like any other public nuisance.
Writing for The New Yorker, Hertzberg takes a national perspective, but his point is similar: The occupations in cities nationwide risk turning the public against them as they usurp shared space. "If the Occupy movement doesn’t move beyond encampments—especially encampments in public places that ordinary people normally use for recreation and relaxation without some corporation charging them admission—it will surely turn sour, and so will the public’s view of it," Hertzberg wrote in a blog post Thursday. In his opinion piece for next week's New Yorker, Hertzberg expands on the point, suggesting the occupiers should quit while they're ahead: "If the weather and the cops pare the numbers in the camps, it’s far from unimaginable that ideologues in the mold of the Old New Left—people for whom the problem is 'capitalism' per se, as opposed to a political economy rigged to benefit the rich at the expense of the rest—could end up dominant."
To some degree, that may already be happening. An apparent failure of a demonstration by just a few protesters on Thursday night led to a rumored police crackdown in camp, and got almost no notice by the press. About 100 demonstrators left Zuccotti Park to march to Goldman Sachs, where President George W. Bush was reported to be visiting. Based on the Twitter streams of Keith Olbermann and Democracy Now reporter Ryan Devereaux, it seems the marchers got to Goldman, heard Bush wasn't actually there, left, then heard Bush was there and returned but he was gone by the time they got back. The lackluster action got no attention in the local press, and only a small write-up on Politico. But according to organizer Megan Hayes, the increased police presence the march garnered led to a rumor in Zuccotti Park itself that mounted police were raiding the camp for drugs. That turned out to be false, but it suggests the occupiers' activism is losing its focus as they turn more attention toward keeping the encampment intact.