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The Occupy protests around the world have so far achieved nothing except irritate the establishment. These protests, which began on 15 May in Madrid, have been motivated by a vague desire to correct the inequalities – the rich getting richer, the poor poorer – that have resulted from the functioning of the globalised market economy. They have involved parallel demonstrations by mostly young people in Spain, North America, London, Frankfurt, Rome, Melbourne and Chile. In most places, the police have either moved the protesters on (using pepper spray fired at point-blank range in California and Oregon) or have kept them under close surveillance (London). With winter now setting in, most of the protesters will pack up and go home, at least till the spring. No government has fallen as a result of an Occupy protest, none of the vague aspirations of the demonstrators has been met by the authorities.
What has gone wrong?
The defects of the Occupy movements are as follows:
1. A successful protest movement needs close well-coordinated organisation. The organisation of the Occupy protests has been singularly fuzzy and amateurish.
2. The Occupy movements lack a specific list of concrete demands to be presented to the authorities and promoted in the media.
3. It looks very much as if the protesters are not attacking the free market system as such, simply certain abuses (eg corporate tax avoidance) of it. Their demands are not sufficiently radical to attract the mass support needed to rattle the authorities. Except in Spain, the protests have been supported at best by a few thousand people.
3. It has not been decided how long the movements will continue in existence in the absence of a positive response from the authorities. What do they propose to do if the authorities continue to ignore them?
4. The protesters seem to be acting autonomously without international coordination.
5. No attempt has been made to establish an electoral machine to contest the establishment at the urns. As a result, the recent parliamentary election in Spain was a shoo-in for the right-wing People’s Party, which is even less likely to be sympathetic to protest than the ousted Socialist Party.
To protest in these circumstances is simply to let off steam. The Occupy movement needs to get serious if it is to make any headway.