Don’t watch the Occupy Boston protest on TV. Go down to Dewey Square and see it for yourself. Listen to the stories about people who work from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. and still can’t pay the bills. Watch the execs in silk ties smirk their way past the camp. See the diversity, from socialists to Ron Paul-ies to Anonymous activists in Guy Fawkes masks.
You’ll see a modern protest movement that is taking the high road, winning hearts and minds by being far more polite and humane than its targets. (In turn, they’re being treated with admirable patience and sympathy by Mayor Menino.) You’ll wonder why people took so long to hit the streets against the institutions that turned the American Dream into a scam, then got its own victims to post the bail(-out).
How much will Occupy Boston cost the city? Likely less than the 80-odd days of drunken crime and traffic jams we call Red Sox home games. Why does it lack a unified message? Because protest movements have those only in retrospect. The Founding Fathers were still debating the point of the Revolution in the 1790s.
Neither group will want to hear this, but the Occupy movement has a lot in common with the Tea Party. Both are partly manufactured, largely grassroots populism standing up to an out-of-control system. Their differences are real, but our problems are not left vs. right. They are ultra-rich vs. everyone else. They are faceless multinationals vs. small businesses and actual people. They are NAFTA vs. Main Street.
Occupy that common ground, and the system really might shiver. For now, it is enough that the Occupy movement is emboldening people to tell the painful truth.