I’m still unsure about the Occupy movement. I see that, in the United States, it represents a profound discord among Americans who feel frustrated with the financial meltdown and the current administration’s response to it. My smart American peers hope that the protests will coalesce into a Tea Party of the Left. Such a group would pull the Democrats to the left as the Tea Party is pulling Republicans to the right.
I find the Canadian protests more vexing. Here’s the first paragraph of Occupy Vancouver’s ‘working statement’:
We, the Ninety-Nine Percent, come together with our diverse experiences to transform the unequal, unfair, and growing disparity in the distribution of power and wealth in our city and around the globe. We challenge corporate greed, corruption, and the collusion between corporate power and government. We oppose systemic inequality, militarization, environmental destruction, and the erosion of civil liberties and human rights. We seek economic security, genuine equality, and the protection of the environment for all.
That’s about as specific as their demands get, as far as I can tell. Personally, I can get behind opposition to environmental destruction (I fight that battle, in various forms, every day in my work), but none of their other topics really speak to me. Or rather, they’re not effective when bundled together in this catch-all, ambiguous fashion.
And that’s my key issue with Occupy Vancouver, I guess. Specificity matters. Protests are rarely successful, and the ones that are, in my thinking, are those with a hyper-specific objective. Protests opposing American participation in the Vietnam War or logging in the Clayoquot Sound identified a specific outcome and worked toward it.
We must distinguish, in other words, between dissent and deviance. Dissent is like civil disobedience. It occurs when people are willing in principle to play by the rules but have a genuine, good-faith objection to the specific content of the prevailing set of rules. They disobey despite the consequences that these actions may incur. Deviance, on the other hand, occurs when people disobey the rules for self-interested reasons. The two can be very difficult to tell apart, party because people will often try to justify deviant conduct as a form of dissent, but also because of powers of self-delusion. Many people who are engaged in deviant conduct genuinely believe that what they are doing is a form of dissent.
Are those engaged in Occupy Vancouver dissenting or deviating? Some of each, I suspect.