Occupy the Ports: 2011 Version of the Boston Tea Party?
The latest tactic of the Occupy movement: PORTAL COMBAT.
Yesterday, OWS took to the ports of the West Coast, from Oakland to Portland, to stage a unique protest of the companies and institutions they believe have directly contributed to the financial crisis and the long, downward slope of economic possibility for the majority of Americans.
Ports? you might say. Yes. Ports.
OWS always strives to occupy symbolic spaces: Wall Street in New York City, both McPherson Square – two blocks from the White House – and Freedom Plaza in the District of Columbia, and City Hall in Los Angeles, to name a few.
Occupying ports – in light of the Occupy movement’s M.O. – at once seems odd and brilliant.
Odd because I don’t think most people see ports as the symbolic financial and trading hub like in the oldyn tymes. If this were the mid-18th century, ports would have more symbolic and concrete meaning – after all, that’s why a group of Bostonians threw loads of dubiously-taxed tea into the city’s harbor. The ports represented what would and would not enter the colonies, and their version of occupying the port demonstrated the seriousness with which they believed in their right to representation. In the 21st century, on the other hand, skyscrapers and hegemonic banks are more viewed as the seat of wealth inequality and ever-dwindling economic opportunity for the 99%.
Yet perhaps it is brilliant as well. Protesters can only encamp in front of banks and government buildings for so long before evictions sweep the tents away or the media wants a new angle to cover. In short, OWS needs to stay in the news.
That may sound crass to some, but I don’t think that recognizing that need undermines the purpose of the movement. The easy way to dismiss OWS is to ask what they stand for, or to assert that they have no real and tangible goals aside from being a nuisance. I do believe that long-term and meaningful changes in the way that both government and the private sector operate are major goals, but one major purpose is also to remain dynamic and visible, in order to remind the public at large (and government, and corporations) that the sentiment behind the Occupy movement will not just fade into the background. In order to remain visible though, they also need at least some tactics that don’t require impromptu tent cities.
Not everyone is happy with the way that “Occupy the Ports” was handled, however, and David Weigel at Slate points out that the port workers themselves arguably were the ones to suffer, since they couldn’t work and were not paid for their unexpected time off.
I sympathize with those workers, but we also need to recognize that OWS is a young movement still trying to figure itself out. There are many suggestions out there for how OWS should maneuver itself, from planning day-long occupations this coming spring to making it their mission to end the filibuster. I think that the port occupations – which organizers claim “disrupt the economic machine that benefits the wealthiest individuals and corporations,” as well as highlight the problematic treatment of port workers by corporations – are part of the movement’s attempt to figure out how best to both remain in public sight while continuing to call attention to the myriad ways in which wealth inequality is playing out across the country. I’m not saying it was perfect. But it organized enough people to actually impact port operations –a demonstration of the Occupy movement’s organizational ability and power – and unique enough to remind the American public that sweeping the encampments from public spaces won’t stop the movement from being a little rough around the edges, thoughtfully disruptive, forceful, and organized.
[Photo from Wikimedia Commons]
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