End Occupy Philly

Pizza parties and '80s proms are undermining the message, so it's time for the Occupiers to go home and stop pretending to be Martin Luther King Jr.

This past Monday, as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was being dedicated in Washington, DC, a headline flashed on my Twitter feed: “Occupy Wall Street protests echo roots of 1965 Civil Rights movement.” The same sentiment came up again in an Inquirer article about a recent swipe Herman Cain took at the Occupy movement: “I wonder if Citizen Cain would feel the same if the heroic men and women of the Civil Rights movement hadn’t risked their lives just so he could be [in his position, today],” wrote columnist Annette John-Hall.

Interesting analogy. I’m fairly certain, however, that the Greensboro Sit-Ins did not, like Occupy Philly, include a comedy show or an all-day music festival. (This Saturday! Free live music at City Hall, folks!).

For me, that clinched it: it’s time to end the Occupation.

Before Occupy Philly schedules their next march toward the Philly Mag offices, however (perhaps after another  drum circle), some context:

I have, since the very beginning, been on board with and sympathetic to the Occupy movement. When it got pelted with criticism for being unfocused and whiny, I rolled my eyes. The protestors’ economic and political grievances (the need for more corporate regulation, health care improvement, educational reform, etc.) were varied, but they were certainly bones I wanted to pick, too.

Besides, I can relate. I, too, am a debt-saddled 20-something who spent two years looking for steady work after accruing said debt. Our generational mood is black. Let us be heard! So as the movement sprawled across Philly, Dallas, the local Rite Aid, and Mars, I was along for the ride.

But there was something about the Civil Rights headline that truly stuck in my craw.

A quick middle-school history refresher: the Civil Rights leaders risked their own lives and their families’ lives and safety for their cause. They faced angry, violent opposition. Hate crimes killed civilians. Martin Luther King, Jr. was, you’ll recall, shot and killed. Activists spent decades symbolically and legally chipping away at a system that left them not just poor, but certified second-class citizens.

So the crowd at City Hall getting large-with-pepperoni donations from Jake’s Pizza? No. No, that’s not anything like the Civil Rights movement.

In fact, I’m not seeing much movement there, at all.

Unless, of course, you count the morning yoga sessions. Or the ‘80s prom party earlier this week.

As one protestor told the Metro, “People were dancing around drum circles, playing music on their laptops— it’s a social community. Like everyone else, we have fun.”

Terrific. Glad you’re making friends. Perhaps it’s time to head over to Federal Donuts for a half-dozen?

I’m not trying to be a Scrooge, here. Heck, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez performed at the March on Washington. There’s a place for culture in protest.

But it’s hard for any movement to keep up momentum when its trajectory is all over the map. Throw in a “let’s have fun while we’re at it” mentality, and what you have is a block party with angrier signs. Voters (or, God willing, a legislator) might actually hear an argument about the need for, say, tuition vouchers, or less military spending. But an angry mass causing traffic because of the “1 percent” and blasting “Foster the People” on their laptops? That may not resonate quite as strongly.

And that, mostly, is my concern.

The “anything goes” milieu at Occupy Philly is undermining the importance of the issues they’re taking on, and, more troublingly, overshadowing the efforts of those either actively trying to enact reforms, or working hard to shake the system from the inside out, someday—people who are now being blindly swept into the “directionless youngster” file.

We should be angry and worried. Changes need to be made, and action should be taken to instigate those. Occupy may be the first of those steps. But it’s become clear that this movement has exhausted its constructive energy, and that it’s time–at long last–for our Occupiers to go home, shower, get a good night’s sleep, and, like the activists who changed this country 50 years ago, wake up to wage their next battle—with a little less party fever.