NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The 10-day forecast for Manhattan indicates that the freak snowstorm we had a couple of weeks ago isn't likely to be repeated soon. The weather will be sunny, with a chance of rain only on the 16th.
I'm beginning a column on the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations with the weather report because it's come down to that. Weather is the greatest challenge that the OWS faces -- not a pepper-spraying, barricade-happy,
New York City Police Department. It's not Mayor Bloomberg or a long-suffering landlord. It's the vicissitudes of weather, and the fact that this populist movement is in danger of withering away unless the demonstrators show a bit more foresight.
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I know, OWS is intentionally leaderless. Having a leader is not necessarily a great thing, as WikiLeaks has learned. But OWS is also directionless, and that could mean that it will be futureless.
OWS also has a serious public relations problem, as indicated by screaming
New York Post
front-page headlines playing up every dirty skell taking residence at Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park). It's true enough, as I
a while back, that the allegations of anti-Semitism at OWS have been wildly exaggerated. But let's not forget that the Tea Party was subject to similar bad publicity, concerning racism, at about the same stage of its development and it managed to shrug it off. You can't say that about OWS, or at least not yet.
Even more important is the sense I'm getting that OWS isn't going to outlast the bad weather. The Tea Party was, and is, a major influence on Republican politics. OWS, despite being far more broadly based, has no chance of attaining the same status as the Tea Party if the present trend continues. What OWS needs is to evolve, and evolve fast, if it is to even come close to the Tea Party in significance. It needs a makeover.
I did quite a bit of reporting on the Tea Party for my
, and I picked up some insights that I'd like to pass on:
Make better use of the Internet.
From the beginning, the Tea Party has made superb use of the Internet, helped along, no doubt, by the funding it has gotten from the Koch brothers and other right-wing fat cats. (See "Get a sugar daddy," below.) Occupy Wall Street has a reasonably good
, but it lacks substantive content.
One reason, of course, is that it doesn't have an agreed-upon agenda -- such as the
that I offered a while back. OWS already has an issue upon which all factions agree, which is income disparity. Yet nowhere on the site is there any discussion of income disparity, not even any of the widely cited statistics on the subject.
What's needed, for starters, is an eloquent explanation (perhaps a video, narrated by a non-divisive celebrity) explaining just what income disparity is and why it needs to stop. OWS needs to also make better use of the Net in organizing mini-OWS protests, and spreading the word.
Get a sugar daddy.
To become a serious political movement, OWS will need money. I know, the OWSers hate the influence of money on politics, but it is going to take money to fight the influence of money on politics. They need a sugar daddy, a left-wing counterpart to the Koch brothers.
The right-wing blogosphere
contends that George Soros is already all over the OWS like a cheap tarp, but the evidence for any direct involvement is thin. Soros, or perhaps those ice cream moguls from Vermont -- somebody -- needs to step in with an open wallet.
And I don't mean
desperately needed as they are. I mean big money to fund big stuff -- organizations! Lavish Web sites! Staffing! Stuff the Tea Party has. Sorry, guys, but that's your role model, or ought to be.
Chuck the criminals, bigots and crackpots.
OWS needs to have a zero-tolerance policy toward skells. Pervs need to be handed over to the cops as soon as possible. Self-policing just isn't going to work. And when some jerk comes along with a Jew-baiting sign, he needs to be frog-marched off the park, or surrounded by screamers.
OWS also needs to be sure that it not be hijacked by people with agendas that stray too far from the core 99% versus 1% template. Sure, there's nothing its thus-far nonexistent leadership can do about the occasional crackpot wandering by, but OWS needs to see that the signal-to-noise ratio remains low. It has to focus on the key objective: the need to reduce income disparity and attack abuses on Wall Street, and not "ending the Fed." Here's a reality check: If Ron Paul is in favor of it, stay away from it.
None of this can happen if OWS doesn't get its act together. Right now it's just too anarchic. I suspect that the reason for that is that OWS is literally anarchic. Like the Tea Party, with its tendency to gravitate toward the extreme positions of Ayn Rand, OWS gravitates toward anarchism, which is self-destructive in the early days of a political or social movement.
OWS needs to use that Soros (or whomever) money to fund a real organization with real leaders, just as the Tea Party has several highly competent groups (Tea Party Express, Tea Party Patriots, etc.).
Which brings me to my final and most distasteful suggestion:
Don't be afraid of the Democratic Party.
The Tea Party didn't originate that way, and a lot of its members are opposed, but it has become an arm of the Republican Party.
That was inevitable after a gent named Dick Armey, a former majority leader of the House of Representatives, began to exert influence on the Tea Party through a group he formed in 2004 called FreedomWorks. His influence was resisted by some in the Tea Party, who were afraid of the trend toward becoming "Teapublicans," but Armey became one of the guiding lights behind the Tea Party movement and one of its most effective spokesmen.
So if a prominent, well-connected Democrat comes forward to lend a hand, the OWS protesters should welcome him or her.
It's not part of the makeover, but it would help, too, if OWS voluntarily relinquished part of the park, so that residents could start using it again. I'm sure that the number of demonstrators is going to shrink once the foul weather blows in. Might as well take advantage of that for PR purposes.
Time to start playing the game, guys, if you want to really to become part of history and not just a footnote.
Gary Weiss's forthcoming book, AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, will be published by St. Martin's Press on Feb. 28.
Gary Weiss has covered Wall Street wrongdoing for almost a quarter century. His coverage of stock fraud at BusinessWeek won many awards, and included a cover story, �The Mob on Wall Street,� which exposed mob infiltration of brokerages. He uncovered the Salomon Brothers bond-trading scandal, and wrote extensively on the dangers posed by hedge funds, Internet fraud and out-of-control leverage. He was a contributing editor at Conde Nast Porfolio, writing about the people most intimately involved in the financial crisis, from Timothy Geithner to Bernard Madoff. His book "Born to Steal" (Warner Books: 2003), described the Mafia's takeover of brokerage houses in the 1990s. "Wall Street Versus America" (Portfolio: 2006) was an account of investor rip-offs. He blogs at garyweiss.blogspot.com.