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Opinions Vary on What Occupy New Haven Wants

Some say ONH gains by not presenting one consistent demand. Others argue that this hurts the movement.

Last Tuesday, the chant “What do we want?” was easy to hear during the "March on Jobs," a downtown event where Occupy New Haven joined forces with community and union groups.

But when the sound of police sirens and horns from the drivers of cars drowned out any intelligible response, the answer to the question “What does ONH want?” remained unclear.

"We Are All Leaders"

By email last week to Patch, Micah White, the senior editor of the Vancouver, B.C.-based magazine Adbusters who co-conceived what has become the Occupy movement, pointed to the magazine’s first tactical briefing to its readers in July. While acknowledging the roots of the movement in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the briefing advised future occupiers to “zero in on what our one demand will be.”

One single demand never emerged, and, after the November crackdowns and a failed attempt at a manifesto earlier this fall, White and the magazine’s founder Kalle Lasn began to refer instead to the “plural voices of everyday America.” They urged a march to real democracy of leaderless, democratic crowds.

“Our group is absolutely horizontal and the term leaderless is slightly misguided. We don't have officials or figureheads, but we are all leaders. Our consensus and our commonality leads us,” said Occupy New Haven member Meghan McGaffin last week.  “We are led by the ideal that all people deserve an honest government, a vote that counts, an opportunity to find fulfilling work, equal treatment under the law, and a safe place to live.

Branding the Occupy Movement

“Absolutely, they lose,” said Chuck Mascola, president and founder of the New Haven marketing firm Mascola Group, of ONH’s lack of one consistent message or demand.  “People don’t understand what the objective is. If you consider the title ONH as their brand, which is a sub-brand of Occupy nationally—that’s where the problem began."

He termed the word “occupy” aggressive and off-putting, adding that he has been to Washington for large-scale events on other issues.  “They wrap around a single theme.  It’s pretty easy for people to figure out.”

“Occupy hasn’t done that,” the branding guru said.

"Crisis of Joblessness"

The event that comprised ONH’s direct action last week—and one that embraced the rush-hour timing White and Lasn now advise as a tactic for Occupy’s nonviolent events—addressed the grievances of an economy with insufficient jobs and the violence that some say joblessness begets.

“New Haven is having a crisis of joblessness and hopelessness,” said Susan Valentine, an organizer with the New Haven affiliate of UNITE HERE. 

She took part in the march that drew hundreds of participants to the atrium of city hall before the group took to the streets downtown.  

“The lack of jobs and violence in the streets—they’re connected,” Valentine said.

David Burack, a Connecticut native who worked in New Haven in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, concedes that the inchoate structure of the Occupy groups, which he suspects is by choice, has its advantages.

“If you cannot be pinned down, if you have no recognized leaders or organization or creed, platform or consistent set of demands, then you cannot be categorized, contained, defeated, and you have an open tent which can take in a lot more followers,” the self-described "bit of an activist" observed.

He credited the occupiers with consciousness-raising, terming the very fact that ‘class’ is now an acceptable part of today’s dialogue as a major step forward.

“But there is no escaping the fact that for a movement to be effective, it has, for better or worse, to become institutionalized, have a program and a strategy,” Burack continued, citing the Tea Partiers as an example.

He added that an agenda and an organization has to emerge “if the legacy of the Occupy movement is to be more than, ‘We occupied a bunch of parks.’”

Lance Coughlin December 12, 2011 at 03:17 AM
What do we want? I dunno! When do we want it? now!
Lance Coughlin December 12, 2011 at 03:19 AM
By the way your poll stinks. There should be a box for I don't care about these whiners.
Douglas Sharafanowich December 12, 2011 at 12:17 PM
Slight modification: What do we want? I dunno! When do we want it? Um, now?
Don Charles December 12, 2011 at 01:42 PM
AMEN to Lance's comment. One Of The 66%. You know the percent that doesn't believe in ONH or OWS. With the unions and the Socialists and Anarchists behind them they will never be successful.
Michael Krauss December 12, 2011 at 01:53 PM
I can't understand why some people seem not to understand or want to understand this huge issue of economic disparity. The movement IS the issue.The very real disparity between the top 1% and the rest of us is REAL and is catastrophic. That people earn more than others is a natural function of any economy BUT...that the1% who earn the most pay the very least in taxes placing a huge burden the remaining 99%, (the rest of us). This huge imbalance is perpetuated every day. Those who protest and those who are still silent have seen and experienced enough. They believe that there must be a turn to fairness. Should their voices NOT be "heard" peaceful protests may possibly become something else. This is said as a "threat" but as a reasonable possible conclusion.
BJ December 12, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Mike, you're laboring under some misconceptions when it comes to who pays taxes. The top 1% of earners alone pay nearly 40% of the income tax. The 'rest of us' who pay the remaining amount of income taxes aren't the 99% because about 46% of earners not only don't pay any income tax at all, many also-- because of refundable credits like the tuition credit, child credit, and the earned income tax credit-- get refunds/gifts from the government. And as G.B Shaw once noted, when the government robs Peter to pay Paul, it can count on the support of Paul.
Jacquie December 12, 2011 at 07:00 PM
@Bob - Just like how lower-income earners have tax credits, so does that 1%...THAT is where the problem lies. Technically, they should be paying 35% (not 40%), but when you consider all of the incentives and breaks they receive, their loses are FAR less than 35%. This is what needs to change. Here's an interesting article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/18/the-top-10-tax-breaks-_n_850534.html
Harry Balzonia December 12, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Wow, that hard working guy has nice things. I choose to collect and sit on my can all day. Why shouldn't I be ENTITLED to have nice things also?
BJ December 12, 2011 at 08:31 PM
Strictly speking, Jaquie, there's not one tax credit in that list, and no credits available to the 1% are refundable. Just about every tax break shown there is available to most people (obviously the mortgage and real estate tax deductions aren't available to those who don't own homes). Just about any worker at Sikorsky is eligible for the other 'breaks' listed (health insurance, 401Ks, etc). So, the tax 'credits' you seem to believe are exclusive to the 1% simply are not. Sure, the tax brackets of the top 1% of earners make those breaks more valuable in terms of dollars, but don't we all wish we could make more money for a whole variety of reasons? But please don't believe that the 1% aren't paying a whole lot on taxes-- it just ain't so. When you make enough to get hit with the Alternative Minimum Tax, you'll know you're on the road to financial success, although you'll get pounded on income taxes.

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