On Monday, December 12th, the Portland, OR faction of the broader Occupy Wall Street Movement decided to “occupy the ports,” unequivocally overstepping the boundary between peaceful protests and acts of aggression against the rights of others. Most of the protests thus far have focused on gathering en masse on public property for the purpose of raising awareness (though raising awareness of what has been a continuous debate both within the Occupy Movement and from third-person perspectives). This is not to condone their treatment public property by other Occupy groups, let alone their act of occupying it. It does mean, however, that so long as they yield to the rest of the public and allow other citizens to use that property as well, there is little reason to remove them. Arguments could be made, of course, that because the property is owned by the public and serves a certain function, it is regulable by the public. This is true, but not the point here.
From the beginning of the Occupy Movement, there has been a lingering question: exactly what do they stand for? Occupy Wall Street alone is a rather discordant coalition of socialists, libertarians, communists, and anarchists who, until recently, did not appear to have any decisive end goal except “striking a blow for the 99%” while adhering to the fallacious principles of class warfare.
But at last Occupy Portland has offered us a glimpse in the true driving force behind the movement: nihilism. It is, and always has been about the demonization of wealth and the destruction of the self-interested individual. Nominatively, Occupiers claim that the “1%” are not paying their fair share to the “99%,” which demonstrates a variant of the equally irrational doctrine of altruism. Altruism is submission – submission to society, submission to the “common good,” submission of one’s neighbors to oneself, and submission of oneself to one’s neighbors. Value is placed, not in one’s own life as the only legitimate primary value, but in something subsidiary. It rejects the notion of man as a rational being and instead debases him to the status of a compilation of flesh and blood to be sacrificed on whatever savage altar happens to be most preferable to the onlookers.
The actions by the Occupiers in Portland were similar to altruism in this respect – they were an example of theft which they claimed was designed to hurt the 1% while helping the 99%. However, this was no theft in the traditional sense of the word, which implies a thief who receives physical benefits from his theft. The wealth which was stolen by the Occupiers is simply gone. From the richest executive to the lowest day laborer of each of the affected businesses, the time and the effort which those men and women had put into their labor, or would have done had the opportunity not been forcibly withheld from them, is lost. This is nihilism – the rejection of wealth, individual rights, and self-interest. Destruction is the only goal.
I should go ahead and dispel any objections libertarians and possibly some of the more rational anarchists might have against that statement. Your goal, however fallaciously you may support it, is not theirs. Individual liberty is not the purpose of the Occupy Movement, and it never has been. All those who lend their support to Occupy Movement, even if only in part, receive the guilt in full. You can no longer close your eyes to the screaming mob before you and assert that you support what they “really” stand for while simultaneously denying that the destruction of the individual is not their goal. You cannot hide behind the thin veil that is the mismatched, contradictory, philosophic chaos of the Occupy Movement and say that not every member stands for the same thing – they do not have to, and nor do you. Your very support pushes the mob forward against the liberty which you claim you love so dearly. You, by your voluntary act of association and assent, are no less culpable than the most ardent nihilistic insurgent at these rallies, and perhaps, even more so.
When Occupy Portland made the move to block off the ports and prevent the transportation of goods to and from the ships, they initiated force. Thus, they effectively destroyed the daily income of union workers, agricultural producers, store owners, truck drivers, and many others. Even the customers of these businesses were injured – the goods and services that they wanted to purchase were forcibly withheld from the stores themselves and, as such, were withheld from them.
It would be almost laughable that the Occupiers claimed to stand in “solidarity” with the workers and the “99%” were the costs of yesterday’s triumph of anarchy not so sobering. As OregonLive.com reports:
“Indeed, around 375 International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers on two shifts went without work — or pay — for the day, said Mike Gardner of ILWU Local 8 of Portland. Dozens of locally based companies like Boshart’s paid their employees but said they’d lost anywhere from $400 to $10,000 as they reworked the logistical puzzle of managing loads of everything from hay and animal feed to consumer goods with Columbia Sportswear, Nike and Intel labels… West Coast seaports generate more than $700 million a day in economic activity and a daylong shutdown could affect as many as 260,000 employment hours and more than $9 million in wages, Thomas said. He didn’t have figures for lost revenue and income on Monday, or the cost to respond to the protest.”
In the face of such economic loss, local union leaders who generally support the Occupy Movement are learning far more quickly than some libertarians what it truly means to grant their assent to the Occupiers. The union leaders and workers, realizing the cost that this demonstration would levy on them, criticized the move and quickly tried to argue that the Occupy Movement had been “coopted.” Rather, they asserted that such actions are not true to the intent of the Occupy Movement, which supposedly is to oppose the corruption within our own government that leads to the benefit of the few.
But what does all of this mean in relation to the goals of the Occupy Movement? Through their willingness to injure the individual rights and economic well-being of even those they claim to defend, it is clear that the Occupiers do not care about achieving liberty or allowing a broader base of people to pursue their self-interests. As the Occupiers themselves said, they were explicitly targeting the ports which they feel “are an engine of wealth for country’s richest 1 percent.” It is the destruction of wealth that they desire – so what if a few others were injured in the process? They are out to make a “better world” without corporations.
But better for whom? Certainly it is not better for Dan Kephart, a truck driver who had to negotiate himself past the protesters: “Everybody’s got their right to protest — I just won’t get paid if I can’t pick up the load… I’m just a guy trying to make a living.” It was clearly not better for the union workers who went home to their families empty-handed. It is not better for Matt Hudson, vice-president of one of the trucking companies affected whose business alone lost $10,000 in that singular protest.
Force must be met with force. The Occupiers chose to initiate force and violate the very real rights which those individuals had to exercise their liberty and go about their daily lives without forceful obstruction by other human beings. The right to their liberty was injured, the right to to buy and sell their property as they please was clearly injured, and their right to their own lives, the most fundamental of all rights, was forfeited to the whims of the Occupiers, even if only for a day. If Portland does not have enough officers to clear the roads and to stop the initiation of force through just, retaliatory force, then the Oregon National Guard should be used. People are quick to point to what they consider “shameful” behavior by the police, more often than not in an irrational context. But few have noted what was truly shameful about Monday’s events – the police sat by and did nothing to protect the rights they swore to defend.
So why, even in this clear-cut case of the Occupiers overstepping their bounds, did officials fail to respond? At least directly, the police should not necessarily be blamed – they often receive their orders from other officials and act in accordance with those orders to save themselves from some kind of punition. Portland authorities over the police, however, can be blamed. The reasons for their mistakes may vary. For one thing, Portland officials could share some of the same premises as the Occupiers, thus disallowing them from distinguishing between the real right to protest and the illegitimate actions which unfolded on Monday. Or, they lack the philosophic fortitude necessary to stand against the onslaught of vitriolic, fallacious complaints which would assuredly follow such an action even when it is just. It falls on those charged with defending our rights to do so, not only physically, but also philosophically. Failing to stop a violation of individual rights simply because of some irrational fear that the violators themselves and their facilitators will dislike the move is unacceptable. They not only consented to the actions of the Occupiers, but they implicitly assented as well – they allowed the rights of innocent people to be offered up to the irrational goals of savage cowards hiding behind masks.
At the close of the protests, Matt Hudson was clearly unhappy with the Occupiers’ actions: “This completely defeats the message Occupiers are trying to get across… This obviously affected more than just corporations.” Unfortunately these actions do not “defeat” the message of the Occupiers – they embody it.