OLYMPIA – It may be pointless to offer advice that hasn’t been requested, but should some leader of the Occupy movement ask I’d be happy to give it.
This assumes, of course, that this is a movement and has a leader, the first of which is debatable and the second often denied. Still, minor problems like that never keep a reporter from sticking his nose into something.
The first advice would be to rethink your math. One of the favorite chants in Olympia last week as groups marched through and around the rotunda or piled into committee hearing rooms was “We – ARE – the 99 percent.” It’s catchy, but shows a certain innumeracy.
Last week’s antics to commandeer budget hearings suggest you believe you are 100 percent of the 99 percent and endowed with the certitude that what you say should go. In truth, you are an unknown portion of the 99 percent, as is almost everyone else in any committee room, legislative chamber and hallway. The people who rely on state services for food, shelter, day care, medicine, education assistance – all of whom are coming to Olympia to express their views about proposed cuts – are part of the 99 percent. So are most business owners, tea party adherents, legislators and lobbyists. Your rights are no less, but no greater, than theirs.
Second, lose the chant “This is what democracy looks like.” You don’t live in a democracy. You live in a republic, where the “demos,” or citizens, elect representatives to make most big decisions. Considering you’re occupying the heart of the state republic’s machinery – a bicameral legislature, elected executive offices and the state’s highest court – the fact seems obvious.
But if you insist on talking about “what democracy looks like,” lose the call for the state to adopt a special tax on the rich. Voters turned that down last year. Even though some members of the state’s 1 percent supported it, most notably Bill Gates pere et fils, a strong majority of the 99 percent did not. The two-thirds majority required for tax increases that many protesters don’t like? Also approved by a significant percentage of the 99 percent.
Third, respect the rules, even if you don’t like them. A large group of protesters essentially shut down a Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing Tuesday by playing the “mic check – mic check” game. This is a system Occupy protesters have devised for areas where microphones and megaphones aren’t allowed: One person says a sentence, or a fraction of a sentence, and the rest of the group shouts it back. Although the system at least doubles the amount of time required to express a complete thought, some protesters are so fond of it that one declared “microphones are undemocratic.”
They wanted the committee to adopt their general assembly rules, where everyone who wants to speak is put in a “stack” and people reach consensus by “twinkles up or twinkles down”: supporters wiggling fingers up, opponents wiggling down. Trying to impose your rules on someone else’s process is a bit like going to a vegan friend’s house for dinner and demanding he make you a cheeseburger.
Fourth, do keep telling state troopers and other law enforcement officials you support their jobs. Not only does it seem sincere, it’s true in a way you might not be considering: they’re making overtime providing security in and around the Capitol. Be grateful that in carrying protesters out of the Capitol last week, troopers showed admirable caution, with one officer on each limb, and a fifth behind the head to make sure it didn’t bonk on the marble steps. Don’t harangue them with your views on things like the relative worthlessness of money, as one protester did for an interminable period Monday night. If you’re there to get arrested, pipe down and get it done. And no biting.
Finally, pay no attention to people who want you to shut up and go home. Considering legislators show no interest in doing anything right now at the Capitol, someone else has to, and it might as well be you. But be careful who you follow. Remember an axiom from a previous era of protesters in the streets: “People who shout ‘Power to the people’ often mean ‘Power to the people who shout power to the people.’ ” And because free advice is sometimes worth exactly what you pay for it, don’t listen to me. Listen to the Beatles’ “Revolution,” a cautionary song from that era, paying particular attention the last verse.