Saturday, October 15, 2011

You've got to clean up after yourself

Today in The New York Times, another article about "Occupy Wall Street" that jogs some thinking. The police are moving protesters aside, so the walkways can be cleaned. Afterwards, the protesters are welcome to return, but sleeping bags and tents will not be allowed back in.

Facing Eviction, Protesters Begin Park Cleanup

Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park swept and scrubbed on Thursday afternoon, hoping to stave off eviction.Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park swept and scrubbed on Thursday afternoon, hoping to stave off even temporary eviction. (Robert Stolarik for The New York Times)

The issue of litter and filthy sidewalks might seem pedestrian, but in a way, it may symbolize a lot more.

The challenge by the police, and the attempts to rise to the occasion and clean their own mess can be seen as a test: if the so-called rabble here can actually be constructive instead of destructive; if they can show that they are not simply a bunch of "dirty hippies" or "messy socialists," then not only will they be allowed to continue the demonstration in the manner they see fit (with those tents and sleeping bags allowed back in), but even more importantly, with greater public support.

No one said change has to be disorderly. Socialist vandals are scary precisely because they cause chaos. In demonstrations past (think G8 or WTO), some of more idiotic individuals revel in it. But that so-called 99% includes middle class people, and they do not relish disorder.

This is therefore a litmus test for "Occupy Wall Street." Can you stop the destructive imbeciles among you, those people who have no civic regard and no sense of public-spiritedness, who litter with abandon and break things, just because they feel vengeful, annoyed, or simply malicious. Those people are as much about "me me me" and self-gratification and rejection of social norms as the high-fallutin' CEOs on Wall Street.

So this battle's one for the middle class. You, "occupiers" -- can you show that you can make this arrangement last? Do you have enough respect and discipline to not just be an angry mob that leaves trash and destruction and discomfort in its wake? Do you have decency and concern for others? Without this, how do you expect to gain the trust of the common people.

Oh, there may be proposals for people to act for the greater good, but I fear those ideas may be shouted down by the ass holes among them, and the thing will degenerate into the lowest-common denominator of every-man-for-himself-except-we're-mad-at-Wall-Street-too. When the Left and the Radicals can show a modicum of care for others in their midst, and for the land and public areas that are shared by everybody; when it's not the pot-smokers and unruly, but the studious and well-behaved, then this 99% idiom might actually convince the center to join in.

This battle for cleanliness and the resolve to clean is really a battle for this nascent movement. Let's hope the extremists don't win.

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