Right next to the tables where the chess players wait, chessboards laid out, clocks set up, to gull some passing businessman or arrogant NYU student out of his lunch money, the remnant of the Occupation remains.
Below the break-dancers spin and tumble enjoying the first days of spring. A bad drummer by the fountain persistently whacks away providing a dissonant soundtrack to the yuppies toting bags full of supposedly organic groceries from the stalls of the farmers’ market.
Occupy Wall Street isn’t much in the news now. It lost the battle on the southern frontier and has settled into a prolonged brawl with Trinity Church that was doomed from the start. Not too long ago, the Occupiers earned constant headlines. Now they have been reduced to a single folding table manned by a beardo with a banner featuring Martin Luther King and Obama. “I have a dream, not a drone,” it reads.
A homeless man toting a rusted shopping cart full of bottles and cans stops by to chat with him and then moves along after dropping a dime in the coffee cup.
Thanks to New York City’s recycling laws, the cans and bottles are money in the bank. The homeless man with the rusted shopping cart is working for a living while the Occupier has a coffee cup and is protesting for a living.
This is Occupy Wall Street and even though spring is in the air and the weather is warm enough for a renewal of the occupation, you don’t hear much about them anymore. And there are good reasons for that. There are bands to follow, streetcorners to squat and trends to hop on elsewhere in the country. If you’re going to protest for a living, California with its more temperate weather, is a better bet than New York City, where the warm weather is only now waving a flag while promising to show up in a month or two. But the bigger reason is that Occupy Wall Street is now surplus to requirements.
New York City radicalism is a lifetime occupation for a small fringe, but the fringe is mostly ignored. The Trotskyite fronts never stop organizing anti-war rallies and informational events, no matter who sits in the White House. If Dennis Kucinich won in 2016 and replaced the Defense Department with the Department of Peace, on the next day the usual suspects would still assemble at Union Square, right between the chess players and the breakdancers, and demand an end to war.
Under Clinton, the anti-war business was booming on the fringe, but the news media never deigned to show up and inflate rally counts the way they did once Bush was in office. The same press releases against the War in Yugoslavia were ignored until they were dusted off and swapped out for Afghanistan and Iraq and then suddenly the media couldn’t get enough of them.
The same aging Stalinists, Maoists and Trots, the Grandmothers for Peace and the Schoolteachers for Socialism and the ragged college students clutching their copies of Noam Chomsky, suddenly became important and relevant when they marched against Bush, even though they had been marching against Clinton without a single reporter in sight, have now gone back into purgatory.
The signs are still there. Smeared and taped to lampposts they denounce American imperialism in Syria, drone strikes in Afghanistan and the usual Latin American aperitifs. There are movie showings, speakers and rallies– but no further attention is paid to them. Because they are no longer convenient.
Occupy Wall Street, which under all the coats of paint was the same thing with a different brand, is no longer convenient. It served its purpose as an election weapon. Now that the election has been won, by the class warrior glutted on Wall Street money, no one cares about the little hairy man sitting at the folding table and trying to push buttons.
The remnants of the occupation sit at their card tables, like the last Japanese soldiers on a lost island, unwilling to understand that they were nothing more than a tool that venture capitalists investing in Green Energy and medical IT and a hundred other things, not to mention the usual mortgage men, used to get what they wanted.
Occupy Wall Street was every bit as hollow as any other election stunt. It was a temporary alignment between the agenda of the left and the far-left or the far-left and the really-far-left. The details, like the slapfights between the various species of Maoist, don’t matter. What does matter is that there are, as Elaine on Seinfeld once said, successful and unsuccessful Communists. The successful kind pose for official portraits. The unsuccessful kind have to compete with breakdancers, chess players, and burly black men wearing pink “I Am a Girl” jackets collecting petition signatures for the U.N. Plan International campaign to fight gender inequality.
The convenient radical is only convenient when the left, in all its varied forms, is out of power leading to a common front. Then his toxic ideas bleed into less radical sections of his movement. Each setback radicalizes the opposition until it becomes hard to tell the men from the pigs and the liberals from the commies. And then success is achieved, some section of the coalition is carried forward into power and their unlucky cousins are left behind at their folding tables.
That is how the Democrats turned so far to the left and adopted most of the talking points of the anti-war movement. But then once in office, they still found that they had wars to run. It’s all very well to say that Martin Luther King had a dream not a drone, but it’s hard to fight terrorists with dreams. Even when your anti-war credentials are impeccable, you sometimes come to the conclusion that it takes a drone.
These days the anti-war movement is making more headway with some Republicans than Democrats; which shows how desperate they have become. And Anti-Wall Street? The Democratic Party is Wall Street. Take away the V.C.s, the trial lawyers and the entertainment industry, and you have eliminated the non-contractor funding for the party of the jackass.
Occupy Wall Street, like Obama pretending to scold Wall Street’s bonuses, was a joke. A joke that its supporters and his supporters never understood. The punchline is power. Those who have it and those who don’t.
The radical is a convenience. In a common front, he provides ideas and energy. If he cleans up well and comes up with some moneymaking ideas and a seat at a non-profit foundation, then he can get an invite to the White House even if he has blood on his hands. But for every radical who finds a spot on the board of the family foundation of some deceased Republican millionaire, there are a dozen who never get a clue or come to understand the nature of their profession.
When the alignment has passed, then the convenient radical either becomes a successful leftist or he gets a job peddling Fifty Shades of Grey at the nearby Strand bookstore, once a radical haunt, now made over into another Barnes and Noble, under the guiding hand of the wife of Senator Ron Wyden; a most successful leftist indeed.
Like every other profession, some radicals move up the ladder and others remain toting around books full of Marxist theory among the skyscrapers of the Capitalist reality. The passion and energy is a bank that the left withdraws from when politically convenient and ignores when politically inconvenient.
The energy and appetites of the beast still lurk in every city where the theoreticians spin their webs, the propagandists inflame and the perpetual students gesture animatedly. As progressives they believe that inevitably every terrible idea that they have will go mainstream and the last sixty years have largely borne them out in this. But the filtering mechanism is the issue.
In the era of Obama, the filter is weaker than ever. The pattern echoes the ongoing one of every prior administration which, even in its conservative periods, has been more willing to let in bad ideas than the left. But the floodgates are not entirely open either because the one great difference between the successful leftist and the unsuccessful radical is the old maxim about why treason never prospers.
The leftist and the radical, successful and unsuccessful, are both tyrants at heart. But the leftist understands that tyranny is a vehicle for personal power and prosperity. The radical does not.
The difference between the leftist and the radical is that the radical sits outside to promote the cause, while the leftist profits from his shivering. The radical can, and often does, become the successful leftist, but to do so he must learn the basic lesson that the endgame is wealth and power. That wealth and power can come from wrecking a nation, but the wrecking ball can’t come too close to the homes of the Marxist millionaires picking up the tab.
The convenient radical understands this. Like Noam Chomsky or Oliver Stone, Howard Zinn, Bill Ayers or Michael Moore he has the timing and the instincts to get the right exposure at the right time and then profit from it. His ideas are radical, but his instincts are impeccable. He knows the right people and the right buttons to push. But most of all, he doesn’t collect donations in a coffee cup. While he writes furious essays denouncing capitalism or screams at Wall Street through a megaphone, he has a broker and an investment plan that will ride out the tough times.
Though the convenient radical may despise those on the left to the right of him, he understands how to cater to them and how to embed his ideas in theirs. The inconvenient radical is a man of poor instincts. He is the sort of man who is still sitting under that statue of George Washington lifting his sword to mark the departure of British troops from New York City watching the breakdancers spin and the shoppers move dazedly in the organic triangle between Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and the Farmers’ Market without realizing that the occupation is over and it’s time to move on.
Wall Street has won because it is simply capital and the liberals and the leftists have their capital that they need investing. Money always wins, in one form or another. Societies may collapse into dysfunction, but there will still be someone there selling them coffee and croissants at the end. And someone advancing him money and investing in coffee cup manufacturers and looking at commodity prices and calculating supply and demand. They may not do it well, but they will do it. There may just not be a middle class to do it with.
The convenient radical understands that Wall Street reflects his priorities. If he wants to push billions in bad loans to minority homeowners or invest in Green Energy, then it will be on board. Money will be lost, but it will be someone else’s money. The inconvenient radical does not understand this. He thinks that there will one day be an actual victory. The banks will fall and be replaced by communes where food will be awarded based on the results of quizzes about the life and ideas of Michel Foucault .That is what makes him hopelessly stupid, occasionally convenient, but largely useless.
The inconvenient radical does not understand that the commune is not an option. There will either be a society with a large middle class dominated by the middle class or a society of the poor dominated by the upper class.
The convenient radical understands this and seeks the society in which a large underclass is dominated by a narrow elite. This is the society that he tirelessly inveighs against and wants to create. This outcome is what makes the left into the totalitarian entity that it is. The knowing hypocrisy is what distinguishes the successful leftist, from the inconvenient radical.
Originally published at Sultan Knish.