The Occupy Movement's Penchant for Inflicting Collateral Damage Isn't Winning it Any Friends


In 1863 poor New Yorkers rioted over the use of conscription to fill Union ranks and a loophole that allowed rich people to pay $300 to avoid military slavery. For editorializing in favor of President Lincoln and the draft, the offices of Horace Greely's New York Tribune were all but destroyed by rioters, until the Tribune staff gunned up with muskets. The rioters also hoped to bring down The New York Times, another pro-draft paper, but according to C.J. Chivers' nonfiction book The Gun, the mob was deterred from its course by the sight of editor Henry Jarvis Raymond seated securely behind a newly minted Gatling, which at the time cost roughly $1,000, and fired ammunition that was half as expensive. Raymond apocryphally instructed others in the NYT building to "Give them the grape, and plenty of it." As a result, not a window at the Time was destroyed. But poor unarmed blacks, who white New Yorkers saw both as competition for jobs and the catalyst for their own enslavement to the military, were beaten and hanged, despite having no more say in the matter of conscription than they did in being used as chattel. 

If there is a filament connecting the conscription riots of 1863 and the Occupy Wall Street movement of today, it is the tendency of the mob to abuse their fellow 99 percenters for the sins of their government and its corporate beneficiaries. 

Last night, San Diego residents held a fundraiser for two street vendors whose carts were burglarized and vandalized, with blood and piss, by Occupy protesters. The protesters were angry that the vendors would not "donate" their wares to the movement. CBS Los Angeles reports that the vendors, one who sold hot dogs, and one who sold coffee, also received death threats for refusing to give away their goods.

At the Port of Oakland earlier this month, workers and observers could only enter—and more horrifying, leave—the port after the mob "voted" their permission. When one trucker tried to break through the blockade, his vehicle was attacked. The protester who did the attacking had this to say: "These people tried to kill us. I can't believe they are being that aggressive over a paycheck, over your own people fighting for you." (Savor the irony.) While people waited into the early morning hours for permission to see their families and do their jobs, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who gave the OK for Oakland Police to fire tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of Occupy Protesters, sat safely in a government building.

Even if we are to assume that the bulk of these crimes have been committed by members of Black Blocs—groups of anarchic nihilists who cover their faces in order to wreak meaningless havoc, yet are not really on board with the wider aims (whatever they may be) of the Occupy movement—and other minorities of the movement, there's still no good explanation for why Occupy protesters on the whole are causing more harm to their local economies than they are to their government.

Show me an Occupy demand that can be met by destroying the livelihoods of people who are on the cusp of poverty (due to government regulations on food vendors), smashing the windows of a Men's Warehouse and a coffee shop, trashing the bathroom of a Manhattan restaurant, pushing an old lady down a flight of D.C. stairs after imprisoning her and her fellow conservative conference attendees using a human chain, or "clobber[ing] a store manager with a credit-card reader." You can't. That's because the government holds the strings here, not the people who Occupy is hurting. The government gives away corporate welfare, controls cops, sends perverse signals to the market, drops bombs, exposes itself to regulatory capture, deals out special favors to big interests, operates drones, prohibits drugs, and destroys immigrant families through deportation. Hot dog vendors sell hot dogs, restaurants sell food, store managers manage stores, truck drivers drive trucks. 

While disrupting local businesses is significantly easier than disrupting local and national government (Hot dog vendors don't pack heat, the government—and sometimes, the NYT—does), screwing over the rest of the 99 percent simply because it's easier isn't going to accomplish Occupy's goals, unless of course triggering schadenfreude and alienating possible allies are agenda items on one of the dozen-or-so lists of demands floating around the web.