I spent last week-end at Freedomworks' Blog Con in Denver, Colorado. It was an extraordinary event, in part because Tabitha Hale, Sarah Desprat, Kristina Ribali, Celia Bigelow, Matt Kibbe and the rest of the crew at Freedomworks did such a wonderful job and in part because we spent an inordinate amount of time interacting with Occupy Denver.
The protesters invaded our conference to cause trouble twice, we checked out their "little Obamaville," and a large group of us were on the scene at their home base when 300 amped-up police in riot gear started pushing the Occupiers back. During the protest, my buddy April Gregory and I were forced across the road by police in riot gear, had a gun pointed at us by a cop, and listened to an Occupier screaming to the police that he hated them and was armed.
It was good times.
So, I've seen the Occupy Denver movement in action, I've talked to the protesters, and I've visited their hobo town. There's a lot you can learn from my experience without having to put up with the smell (and, yes, many of them REALLY do smell.)
1) They deliberately try to cause trouble, but play the victim: Just this week-end, the Occupy Movement went to our conservative conference twice with no other purpose than to disrupt it. The protesters refused a police order to leave a park. Individual Occupiers threatened police, intentionally walked into areas the police had declared off limits, and deliberately walked backwards into cops in full riot gear -- but when something happens, it's NEVER their fault. This is like standing in the middle of a busy freeway at rush hour and claiming you're an innocent victim being oppressed by the system when you're inevitably hit by a car.
2) They really are a leaderless movement: Like the Occupy Movement, the Tea Party is a leaderless movement. However, the Tea Partiers have a fairly coherent set of ideological goals. Talk to people at the same rally or at rallies across the country and they will give you similar explanations of why they're attending. Moreover, the Tea Party is only leaderless on a national level. On the local level, there are people who are at least nominally in charge of organizing the rallies and getting people where they need to go.
At Occupy Denver? Not so much. The word that best describes their attempt to figure out how to deal with the fact that 300 police with riot gear were about to descend on them is "hapless." They tried to vote on it, but half the people couldn't hear what was being said, the group split its votes, and they ended up declaring that they were going to leave although most of the people wanted to stay. Of course, then the crowd just ignored what was "decided" and did what it wanted to do anyway. Long story short: The average group of ten-year-olds playing kickball is far more organized than Occupy Denver.
3) They're useless as a political force: Occupy Denver doesn't like Obama, it has no central message, no real leadership, and my impression was that at least a third of the people attending would find holding a job as a fry cook at McDonald's to be as difficult as climbing Mount Everest.
At some point, if you actually want to accomplish something in politics that moves you beyond being just a yowling mob, you must get organized around some central principle. You're not going to really get anything done if all you can do is yell "Let's go" and have people follow you if they feel like it, based on whether it gets them away from the cops or sounds like fun.
4) They are dangerous to themselves: My impression of Occupy Denver at the park was that the crowd was a mix of hardcore activists, generally well meaning liberals, college students, thrill seekers, the homeless, and junkies. Mix all of that in with high tension, drugs, a "No snitches" attitude (that was written in chalk at the camp), and people staying overnight -- and you have a recipe for danger.
Imagining someone getting raped or murdered in Civic Center Park after dark isn't hard at all, especially when you have naive college kids who may think they're safe because they're "at a protest" mixing with street people in an area where the cops aren't welcome. No wonder they actually need "rape free zones" with guards to keep it that way at some of these Occupy events.
5) They are dangerous to everybody around them: Don't get me wrong; most of the Occupy Denver protesters aren't out there to hurt people. The problem, however, is that they are in essence little more than a free roaming mob that keeps wandering into volatile situations where they assume that anything that goes wrong is someone else's fault.
This would be dangerous under any circumstances, but there were people I'd classify as "violent" at every confrontation last week-end. The first time Occupy Denver came by Blog Con, a lady shoved Steven Crowder and another guy apparently attacked a cop and got arrested. The same lady was also around the second time Occupy Denver came to Blog Con and she shoved Crowder AGAIN. When the police cleared Civic Center Park, the violent guy who was arrested was there along with a guy screaming about having a gun. So you have a handful of people who are prone to react violently in the crowd, while tensions are off-the-charts because of a situation created by the Occupy Movement, and the other protesters automatically side with each other against everyone else. It's actually a surprise that there have only been 3700 plus arrests, 200+ incidents, and seven deaths caused by the Occupy movement so far.
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