The protest permit would have allowed 10,000, but the Associated Press is reporting that the Occupy march on the West Lawn of the Capitol ended up drawing just a few hundred activists yesterday. Some of the low turnout can be chalked up to the bad weather, but you’d think people who willingly sleep outside for weeks at a time wouldn’t be so deterred by a little rain.
The underlying problem may be that the movement is having some serious identity issues, now that the curious onlookers and fair-weather supporters have checked out for the winter. Right now the Occupiers have fizzled down to two core elements: professional liberal activists and radical anarchists. Needless to say, they’re having a hard time agreeing on which path the movement should head down:
The Occupy movement includes activists who want to change government from within and anarchists who oppose all government. Tension between the two camps was evident at Tuesday’s gathering, where some taunted police while others participated in earnest group discussions about how to influence their elected representatives.
Anne Filson, 71, a retired teacher from Madison, N.H., said she was disappointed by the turnout and said Occupy protesters needed to stick to their core message of narrowing the gap between rich and poor. Protesters did not help the cause by carrying profane signs and antagonizing police, she said.
“What I regret about some of the Occupy movements is the dilution of the message,” Filson said. “A lot of Occupy people have to realize that they’re being counterproductive.”
The future of the Occupy movement depends on whether the earnest activist-types like Filson stick around. They’re obviously frustrated at the lack of direct political action and the violent antagonism. The problem is, their goal – to dramatically increase the size of government – is in direct conflict with the goal of the radical anarchists. One of these groups is going to have to win out for control of the movement’s direction–and my money is on the extremists.