Public Nuisances

Let’s Squash the Squatters

November 01, 2011

Multiple Pages
Let’s Squash the Squatters

Squatting. It’s so…European. Like the bidet, squatting as political theater never caught on in America.

Lengthy “vigils” and “tent cities”—such as the Ottawa Peace Camp on Parliament Hill (1983-85) inspired by Greenham Common—tend to be a foreign phenomenon, too.

I’m guessing Americans aren’t as accustomed to everyday austerity as their Euro counterparts. (Being obliged to shove coins into a meter to watch TV might have sparked a second revolution in the land of monster truck races and mega malls.)

That’s the novelty of “Occupy Wall Street” and its offshoots: Protests in the United States don’t normally turn into communal sleepovers. From Haymarket to today, American demonstrations generally last a few hours—the outermost acceptable length of a Hollywood movie.

I wasted enough time in the Reagan/Mulroney’era “No Nukes” movement to accurately predict who’d initially populate my local “Occupy” thingie in Toronto’s St. James Park: dreadlocked Caucasian vegans and neo-punk anarchists, all under 30 and all middle class at minimum. In other words, the same conformist non-conformists who showed up at “Occupy [Your City Here].” All very “Stuff White People Like.”

The other constant was, well, change. Drawn by the free food and smell of cannabis, that demographic shifted a little each day, here and elsewhere. The mix started out as 90% activists/10% street people, the uninstitutionalized mentally ill, and the like—a ratio that is now upside down, and not just here, but at Occupy Oakland and elsewhere.

“Socialism doesn’t work, and neither do homeless people.”

In my time, homeless guys shuffled along the edges of our marches, bumming smokes and letting out a toothless shout about “the mayor, that bastard,” then went on their way. In 2011, demonstrators made the mistake of standing still. Having welcomed gypsies, tramps, and thieves into their midst, then coming to regret it—real winos aren’t the dignified tramps of The Fisher King—those original “Occupy” activists quietly decamped rather than raise the alarm.

Eventually, not even progressive institutions such as Mother Jones and the Daily Kos could ignore the steady reports of rapes, robberies, and racial “hate crimes” occurring at “Occupations,” although the Daily Kos posted their litany in A Modest Proposal disguise.

Call it the Deadbeat Constant, perhaps, or Conquest’s missing Fourth Law of Politics: “Communities of idealists will be infiltrated and overtaken by criminals sooner rather than later.”

Leftists consider criminals fellow outsiders and support them accordingly—from a safe distance. This misguided and sometimes fatal proclivity is well documented, from Sacco and Vanzetti to Jack Abbott and Mumia. Liberal Hollywood made its billions in part by glamorizing gangsters and murderers, transforming hideous, low-rent bank robbers into the breathtakingly beautiful heroes of 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde (to cite one among thousands of examples).

Liberals consider hypocrisy the deadliest sin others can commit because it is their own fatal flaw. Away from the stage, screen, and recording studio, leftists keep criminals and other low-rent sorts at a safe distance, like the rest of us rednecks and squares do. It’s all fun and games until somebody loses a laptop or a hymen.

To anyone with a passing familiarity with history and human nature, it was obvious these “Occupy” “communities” contained the twin seeds of their own destruction: Socialism doesn’t work, and neither do homeless people.

Utopian communitarianism among unrelated strangers is doomed; if such colonies survive, it’s because they evolve (counterintuitively) into efficient capitalist enterprises. (Do the brand names “Amana” and “Oneida” ring a bell?)

More frequently, though, the scroungers eventually outnumber the conscientious workers, with predictable (to non-idealists) results. Attempts to dial back life to Year Zero inevitably usher in pestilence and genocide. Tom Wolfe’s “curious footnote to the hippie movement”—the return of such archaic diseases as “the mange, the thrush and the rot” to the 20th-century intersection of Haight and Ashbury—gets cited ad nauseam, so here’s Beatle George Harrison’s recollection of the same time and place:

I went there expecting it to be a brilliant place, with groovy gypsy people making works of art and paintings and carvings in little workshops. But it was full of horrible spotty drop-out kids on drugs, and it turned me right off the whole scene. I could only describe it as being like the Bowery.…

I know a little bit about history and confess to some confusion this time around. The other reason American protesters don’t do vigils and “occupations” is because when they’ve tried to, the cops broke it up. Dedicated to “preserving disorder,” (Democratic) Mayor Daley’s cops cleared out Lincoln Park in ’68 using tear gas and batons.

(It’s been Democratic officials who’ve busted up their local “Occupy” campouts, not because they are secretly law-and-order types—I wish—but because Blue cities tend to be full of hippies and homeless dudes in the first place, so disaster had a head start.)

Over forty years ago, another “occupation” of Wall Street lasted only a few hours. On May 8, 1970, New York mayor John Lindsay ordered all flags on city buildings lowered to half-staff in memory of the students who’d died in the Kent State shootings four days earlier.

When anti-war protesters assembled at the George Washington statue on Wall Street that day waving Viet Cong flags, construction workers who were building the World Trade Center teamed up with stockbrokers and cops to battle the hippies down the street.

The Hard Hat Riot is a sadly neglected slice of American history, part of the era before police “forces” turned into “services,” when they arrested burglars rather than homeowners who pointed guns at them, and when protesters risked death (and sometimes got it) rather than heartburn. (Kent State students spent the days before the killings looting local merchants, not being catered by them.)

At one time if you crapped in the park you’d get a ticket or a trip to jail; today you get free food from a nearby deli. Something’s wrong with that picture. In every way imaginable, America’s gone soft. It’s almost enough to make me miss the ’70s.


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