Paul Greenberg

Listening to a representative crew from Occupy Little Rock entertain a packed house the other evening brought back my own wasted youth.

I was completely absorbed at the time in my synagogue's youth organization, Young Judaea, which naturally we called a movement. High school just got in the way of its conventions, camps, teenage courting rituals, and late-night, oh-so-serious discussions. The Movement was one big kumsitz, and at the end we usually had solved all the world's problems to our own considerable satisfaction, including the Jewish Problem, though naturally enough we thought of it as more of a Gentile problem. Those were the days, my friend/ We thought they'd never end.... All in all, quite an education in ideology. Every kid ought to have one, if only to get past it. - - -

As a young editorial writer in little Pine Bluff, Ark., I used to sit up half the night listening to Bill Hansen, the town's official outside agitator and guiding spirit of the Pine Bluff Movement, defend the Marxist version of history and everything else.

Those were the days, all right, the bad old days when the Jim Crow laws were crumbling all around and needed just one more good push to disappear, which is what he was in town to provide. His orthodox Marxism didn't much appeal, but at least its ideology was coherent, not to say rigidly constraining. Like a straitjacket. What does Occupy Name Your City have for an ideology? Besides an aggrieved air that it hopes to fill by plucking an issue here and there from the nation's well of general dissatisfaction these days. The result is an eclectic mix of impulses rather than a political program. - - - Every ideology needs a banner for people to flock to. The tea party has laid claim to the Gadsden Flag ("Don't Tread on Me"), but what is the Occupiers' emblem? They have chants, but where are its songs, and how have a protest movement without songs?

When the Lord God split the sea for the Children of Israel, Miriam led the women in song. What would Occupy Canaan do -- recite a chorus of complaints about the poor quality of that day's manna? Occupy isn't so much a movement as a restless mood.

Listening to the Occupiers explain the trouble with the world, or at least with America, anybody who's ever raised a teenager should be able to understand what's going on. The answer to the most Frequently Asked Question about Occupy This or That -- what is it these people want? -- becomes clear soon enough: a little attention for goshsakes. Who doesn't from time to time?

And that may be all that's behind the slogans and marches, the daily menu of issues (Ask for Today's Special!) and general cri de coeur against The One Percent, Corporate Greed, People Who Just Don't Understand, and unfeeling adults in general. In the end, all the demands boil down to just one: Look at me!

The Occupiers can be appealing. It's hard not to love these kids of all ages, including the superannuated ones who sound as if they're still Finding Themselves. They're a tribute to the enduring power of human innocence. But they begin to achieve the tediousness that is the mark of a protest movement at its end, not its beginning.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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