Los Angeles is no longer occupied. After two months of Tent City across from City Hall, the LAPD finally moved in after midnight on Wednesday to disperse those who remained after multiple warnings. All told, some 300 occupiers were arrested by the 1,200 police officers who conducted the final eviction. Later that morning, sanitation workers arrived in protective gear to clean up the 30 tons of debris left behind. The farmers market can move back in, and people in search of some fresh air or respite can once again enjoy the 1.6-acre park in the heart of downtown.
The Los Angeles police have been widely praised for the restraint they showed in dealing with the demonstrators (as compared to the New York Police Department, for instance), while the mayor has issued statements supporting their concerns and defending their First Amendment freedoms. The First Amendment can be "messy," he said.
Of course the First Amendment protects unpopular voices against official silencing. But there are limits to the time, place and manner of public protest, and if you ask me, the Occupy movement has tested those limits and lost much of the public support it might have earned. I can't help but wonder how many of the farmers who lost their markets or families who couldn't take their children to the park felt about a movement that was supposed to represent them. By the end, it wasn't clear what the tent dwellers actually stood for, but it was clear who was paying the price.
I was coming back from lunch the other day when the protesters blocked the street in front of my office, forcing the rest of us to cool our heels on the corner. It was a nice day, and I don't have to sign in and out for lunch, so I was OK. But looking around, there appeared to be very few 1 percenters in the Friday lunch crowd. The men and women I saw were office workers, folks with exactly one hour to eat lunch and do their errands, and many of them were complaining loudly about being docked for pay in jobs they desperately need. Hardly a way to win friends and influence people.
Indeed, I'm not sure anyone who has paid attention to the signs at Tent City or to those wielded by protesters harassing office workers could tell you exactly what this movement stands for. So you're the 99 percent. (And I'm not sure this is even true of all the Occupy students at fancy colleges, whose parents pretty much have to be in the 1 percent to pay those tuitions.) And then what? Does that mean you're for higher taxes on the wealthy? Fine. Then register to vote, and support Obama, who is, too.
The early hopes of some liberals that Occupy would do for progressives what the Tea Party did for conservatives has long since been dashed. If anything, the fragmentation of the effort, and the lack of concern displayed by occupiers for the rights and livelihoods of other members of the 99 percent club, probably cost progressives more support than it gained for them. The 1 percent most people were denouncing by the end were not the rich but the occupiers themselves.
There are a good many people -- if not 99 percent -- who are angry and insecure and desperate in this country right now. Many of them feel, rightly or wrongly, that no one is speaking for them. They deserve a voice. The First Amendment certainly can be messy. But those who care about political change might be better off adopting tactics that win the support of those who are hurting, rather than imposing costs that make them hurt even more.