Occupy Providence Picks the Wrong Target


Occupy Providence in Burnside Park last fall.

In case you haven’t noticed, there will be two different types of occupations in Providence this week. Netroots Nation will be inside the convention center and Occupy Providence will be outside.

David Segal has a piece on this site pointing out why that’s perfectly legal. And it’s good Providence has such a strong protection for protests.

Yet I have to disagree with Occupy Providence’s tactics here. Reading through the Occupy Providence Google group, you can see the ambivalence towards Netroots Nation displayed by Occupy Providence’s most vocal members. A few think it’s nothing more than establishment, Democratic Party hacks (in this telling, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is a “staunch militarist” and this article in the Phoenix is proffered as proof of Netroots Nation’s lack of ideological alignment.

Others believe that the bloggers attending will be more than neoliberal sheeple, capable of calling the President out on his failures over the past two years and supportive of fighting Wall Street.

Regardless of where you believe Netroots Nation falls on Occupy’s wonky sellout scale, the occupation’s location doesn’t connect well with the demands being made. They are as follows:

  1. No taxpayer bailout of 38 Studios.
  2. Tax the wealthiest in Rhode Island and nationally.
  3. Solidarity, not austerity, locally, nationally and internationally.

The attendees of Netroots Nation will be in a position to deliver a total of zero of those demands. The first is next to inapplicable to the vast majority of conference goers. Indeed, a taxpayer bailout of 38 Studios seems unlikely. Going into an election season, no RI politician wants to be seen as throwing more money into 38 Studios’ burning, sinking ship.

Congratulations Occupy Providence, your first demand is met.

The third seems intentionally vague. (Solidarity with what?) However, anti-austerity forces will find their man in Paul Krugman, though some in attendance might’ve moved passed him to Modern Monetary Theory which posits that national debts don’t matter (this school of economic thought seems to be strongest at the University of Missouri-Kansas City of all places).

So this leaves us with the second demand: tax the wealthiest. While a few of the politicians in attendance may have the chance to act on that demand come next January, for Rhode Island, the pressure needs to be applied Thursday at the State House. As the House of Representatives takes up the budget bill, a document which will impact the lives of all Rhode Islanders; Occupy Providence will be in the wrong place, protesting people who will only be impacted for a few days. Thursday, at least, should be devoted to the General Assembly. Then Occupy Providence can head over to Netroots Nation for a weekend protest of the convention’s enablement of the great Democratic Party sellout.

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A native-born Rhode Islander, educated in Providence Public Schools, went to college in North Carolina and a political junkie and pessimistic optimist.

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