Sunday, November 27, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Needs To Expand Its Tactics

Occupy Wall Street is a new social movement that seeks to challenge the highly imbalanced distribution of wealth in the United States. Beyond this basic message it is unclear what the movement -- which has spread across the country -- wants to accomplish. Nevertheless, the movement has generated a lot of energy among progressives and captured media attention.

Not all of the attention, however, has been positive. Instead, the media has reported conflicts between various "Occupy" protesters and police. One of the most dramatic media reports involves a campus police officer at the University of California at Davis employing pepper spray against peaceful student protesters.  Municipal officials in various other locations have also sought to eject the protesters from the public spaces.

New Strategies Required

Although it seems abundantly clear that some of the police measures have violated either federal or state rights of the protesters, members of the Occupy movement will probably need to rethink its strategy in order to remain relevant. To date, the group's most visible strategy has involved the physical occupation of certain geographic spaces. Indeed, the name of the movement reflects this primary mobilization strategy.

Maintaining the occupying strategy as the single or even most prevalent tactic, however, could doom the movement. Although the protesters certainly have the right to assemble and engage in speech activities, it is unlikely they have the right to occupy public spaces indefinitely. Indeed, the Constitution allows government officials to use reasonable "time, manner and place" restrictions on public expression - so long as the restraints are unrelated to the content of the speech. Accordingly, the movement's primary strategy -- physical occupation -- is on a collision course with the government's ability to place certain restraints on protest activities. If the movement cannot engage in its primary protest strategy, then it is effectively silenced.

To avoid this inevitable defeat, the Occupy movement should move beyond this limited approach and engage in broader strategies. This could include having speeches and rallies (not simply occupying space), articulating concrete agendas, lobbying lawmakers, adopting media campaigns, and other strategies commonly used by successful social movements. Broadening the group's activities could also generate interest among individuals who do not have the luxury of spending time away from work and other responsibilities in order to occupy various locations of power. Until the movement adopts additional social movement strategies, it will likely dissipate without influencing public policy or politics.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Washington Post Column Suggests a Conflict Between Feminism And Domesticity

Emily Matchar's column in the Washington Post suggests a conflict between feminism and "domesticity."  Such a conflict is artificial.

Matchar's column is personal. It begins with a listing of her plans for the holiday season:
I’m planning on canning homemade jam this holiday season, swept up in the same do-it-yourself zeitgeist that seems to have carried off half my female friends. I picked and froze the berries this summer, and I’ve been squirreling away flats of Ball jars under my kitchen sink for months. For recipes, I’m poring over my favorite food and homemaking blogs — the ones with pictures of young women in handmade vintage-style aprons and charmingly overexposed photos of steamy pies on windowsills.
Matchar contends that her personal story defines a new generation of women, who subscribe to the "New Domesticity":
Around the country, women my age (I’m 29), the daughters and granddaughters of the post-Betty Friedan feminists, are embracing the very homemaking activities our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shucked off. We’re heading back to jam-canning and knitting needles, both for fun and for a greater sense of control over what we eat and wear.
Matchar then explores whether this development is a positive step for women or whether it spells a defeat for women's equality. Matchar asserts that the New Domesticity is a positive move that allows women to make decisions about their lives, such as choosing the ingredients for the foods they eat.

Although I enjoyed reading the article, I believe the question it seeks to answer presents an artificial conflict. Feminism was never meant to extricate women against their will from "domestic" life. Instead, feminism seeks to empower women to make choices that benefit them and their families.

Furthermore, I quarrel with the description of some of the activities in the article as signs of "domesticity." Choosing to can food, sew buttons on shirts, or cook meals does not relegate an individual to a life of domesticity. Indeed, feminists were not concerned with domestic activities as such but with the unquestioned assumption that domesticity was the natural place for women. The women in Matchar's article clearly have choices.

Well, now I am going to watch football and finish the last slice of White Chocolate-Dried Cherry-Toasted Pecan Bread Pudding (along with a cream sauce) that I made for Thanksgiving (pictured above). Just call me Mr. Domestic.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jonathan Chait Asks: "When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable"

Jonathan Chait has written another critique of liberals. In a recent New York Magazine column, he asks "When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable"? Unreasonable, of course, means criticizing President Obama for taking rightwing or centrist positions.

Several others have written this jaded analysis before. The details are quite mundane (see relevant commentary on Dissenting Justice).

But here is a not-so-mundane response to Chait. With respect to US history, I believe that "liberals" became "unreasonable" when they demanded full suffrage and emancipation for blacks in the early 19th Century. Thankfully, some folks in US history had courage.

Chait's essay is just another strained analysis by political moderates, who are so threatened by progressive criticism that they feel a constant need to defend so-called liberal politicians and condemn the Left.
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