Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Wall Street protest I understand

Like a lot of people, I find myself vaguely sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street protesters—but only vaguely, since the protesters themselves are somewhat vague on their purposes and goals. Rage is a warning, but it isn't an agenda.

Lots of my lefty friends today are lumping this Wall Street protest with Occupy Wall Street—and heck, it makes a great, even cinematic photo. But two problems with the conflation of the pilots and the rest of the protesters:

• I see no evidence that the pilots were trying to link up with the OWS protesters in a show of anti-corporate solidarity. Even the Daily Mail story hints as such: "The demonstration coincided with the 11th straight day the Occupy Wall Street encampment, which has seen thousands of demonstrators descend onto downtown Manhattan - and hundreds arrested." (Emphasis added.) Now, that's fine, because two separate protests aimed at Wall Street might suggest a growing discontent, but the fact of separateness doesn't really indicate—as my friends seem to suggest—that Occupy Wall Street is achieving some kind of critical mass.

• On the other hand, it's easy to see that the pilots are expressing something more than inchoate rage. They're looking for a new collective bargaining agreement that covers all pilots swept up in the merger of United and Continental airlines, and they're haggling over things like seniority, pay, and benefits. They have an end result in mind, and the protest is a means of achieving that goal.

The Occupy Wall Streeters, on the other hand, don't seem to have an end result in mind. They're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. I get that, and I sympathise with it. But if you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there. 

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