Lessons Learned from Occupy (or what not to do as a liberty activist)

Back in October 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement first hit the streets with a breathtaking bang that held all sorts of potential as a radical and powerful vehicle for real change.  At the time, I diverted much of my energy from the liberty movement to test out these new activists and discover whether they could be swayed toward the philosophy of liberty and the economic solutions the liberty movement has to offer.

It was a leaderless movement with no stated ideologies or goals other than to bring attention to the growing economic crisis developing not only the U.S., but across the entire globe — economic issues that libertarians and Austrian economists have been concerned with for decades, and thus have had decades with which to formulate and refine their solutions to these economic problems. Central to the Occupiers’ concerns was the growing economic inequality and wealth disparity in America, a wealth gap and disappearing middle class that Austrians have long tied to the Federal Reserve and plutocratic banking elites who manipulate the global economy through their convoluted system of unbacked fiat currency, derivatives, fractional reserve banking, and the reckless flow of easy credit.

Six months into the Occupy movement, however, it appears that the movement is headed down the same destructive financial path as the federal government itself.  They are running out of money, and fast. Just like our own federal government (not to mention state and local governments) the Occupy chapter in New York City that is the epicenter of the national movement is spending their money at an alarming pace and are set to run out of money in a few weeks should they continue spending at current levels. 

During the first weeks of the movement while momentum and public expectations were at their highest point, $500,000 of donation money was accrued within a matter of weeks. This initial spike in donation money may have given the Occupiers a false sense of financial largesse with which they proceeded to make grandiose plans on how to spend the money, rather than draft a strict financial plan of how to efficiently squeeze the most out of every dollar.  As of March 2nd, that initial $500,000 has been dwindled down to roughly $44,000 remaining in the general fund, while $90,000 has been set aside to bail out jailed activists for a renewed rash of protests planned this spring. 

 The first valid question to come to mind is how they were able to spend such vast amounts of money in so short a time period. Sleeping in tents and marching with homemade signs doesn’t cost anything, assuming that the tents were pre-owned to begin with, occupants are sharing their tents, and the signs are made from salvaged and recycled cardboard. Chanting slogans costs nothing, and megaphones and other amplifying devices that cost substantial money are not permissible under NYC ordinances — hence the development of the human microphone. So what exactly is this $15,000 per week being spent on? 

 The Occupy tactic parallels the federal government’s tactic in dealing with a budgetary crisis, in the sense that both entities believe they can spend their way out of it.  Though luckily, unlike the federal government, the Occupy movement is not able to accrue debt; instead, they will simply run out of money and be forced to cease further operations until more money is raised.  This behavior begs the question of whether or not the Occupiers acquired their sense of fiscal responsibility (or lack thereof) from the government’s current policies and the prevailing culture of easy credit and reckless spending.

Their primary tactic is to do nothing, to take no action at all, whereas liberty activists are hot on the trail of local politics and direct action within their communities, running for local political office and turning the system on its head through intense and fiery grassroots efforts. If we’re not running for office ourselves, we’re attending local political and community meetings, walking door to door in our neighborhoods  canvassing for liberty-minded candidates, and making endless phone calls. Libertarians are planting community gardens, and starting up community currencies backed by commodities such as silver and gold. They don’t just hold signs and chant slogans to passerby, they dig their hands into the dirt and get down to real business. True activism is hard work and it takes far more effort, initiative, and personal drive than it required to merely sleep in a tent or attend a workshop of likeminded people whose minds don’t already need changing.

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