It’s not that the people sitting behind my mom and stepsister at “Porgy and Bess” didn’t deserve it. They were talking and texting and opening little candies encased in noisy plastic wrappers through nearly the entire show. One woman started singing during the overture. Their only response to my mother’s “Please, could you keep quiet?” was loudly saying “Mind your own business,” and continuing to talk. By all means, if an usher came over my mom and stepsister would easily have been in the right, and the four behind them would have been escorted out.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, my mother heard one of the women say, “That little bitch just gave me the finger!” My stepsister admitted to doing this when the intermission hit, trying to explain that she just has a bad temper, and that the women were being so mean to my mom and she just wanted to protect her. But there was no way an usher coming over would be able to kick the noisy women out without also taking my mom and stepsister. “I know you get angry, but we just lost all the moral high ground,” said my mom.
It’s not that the NYPD doesn’t deserve it. They’ve cracked skulls, made unlawful arrests and terrorized what would have been peaceful protests. They’ve turned into Mayor Bloomberg’s personal army instead of an impartial force for keeping peace and order. Any outside observer, even one unsympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement, could probably see that the cops were taking it too far. That is, until some OWS renegades decided to dump human feces in an open-air plaza while others taunted police with doughnuts on strings.
Any activist movement, even ones with defined leaders and singular messages, is going to deal with the folks on the fringes. There are many members of peaceful protests who react to opposition by saying “they should be shot,” or who find themselves in front of a camera and proceed to make themselves look like idiots. And it doesn’t matter if the leaders of the movements say that these people don’t represent them, because if the violent, immature people say they’re a part of your movement, then they are.
This is never more true than it is for Occupy Wall Street, a movement that admits to being “organized using a non-binding consensus based collective decision making tool known as a ‘people's assembly.’ ” Consensus is great when it comes to Quaker meeting houses, but it's a bit harder to maintain when it involves hundreds of thousands of people in cities across the world, many of whom are young, angry, and want to take action against the powers of oppression.
Between their Stop and Frisk tactics and the Rape Cops scandal, there’s been a lot of anger-inducing material coming from the NYPD lately. Their treatment of OWS protesters hasn’t helped. The NYPD has its "fringe" too, and the cops participating in these scandals may very well be it. But the way things are set up, they are the power, and even their fringe can get away with things the activists can’t. It’s not fair, and that is one of the many things OWS is trying to change. But if people don’t like the cops, it doesn’t make them go away. If people don’t like the activists, it’s over.
Nobody likes to consider public opinion. We spend most of our childhoods hearing our parents tell us that we shouldn’t worry about what other people think. So why make the effort to win your enemies over if this is how they treat you? Why not fight fire with fire? Because at the base, activist movements are a popularity contest. They’re about remaking the world in the image you want, with people who share that vision, and convincing people who didn’t know who you were that they should be hanging out with you. And nobody likes to hang out with kids who carry around buckets of human feces.