If you’ve ever idly wondered what it would be like to watch the Lone Ranger being led into an ambush by Tonto, then look no further than northern California, where Occupy Wall Street has been forsaken by, of all places . . . San Francisco. When the anti-capitalists lose the support of the City by the Bay, then you know it’s all over: Up is down, black is white, and the Grateful Dead is having its amplifiers unplugged by doobie-smoking vegans. When the Baysiders love thee not, chaos is come again.
According to a SurveyUSA poll published yesterday, one quarter of those in San Francisco who once supported Occupy have changed their minds, while only 3 percent have come around to the Occupiers’ cause from a position of skepticism. By such progressions do movements end. The support/oppose split is now 35/57 — down from a high of 58/34 — and while 36 percent of registered Democrats have kept their faith, 31 percent agreed with the statement, “I supported the movement when it first started but now I oppose it.” If Occupy left its heart in San Francisco, then the people of that city have broken it. It is hard to see where the movement’s dying embers could possibly be rekindled.
As much as anything, this trend demonstrates that behavior does matter after all. Occupy’s various franchises have frequently resorted to violence, indulged in undemocratic behavior, and, with varying degrees of legality, established camps that quickly became hives of sexual assault, disease, and infighting. Even some of those who hoped that the movement represented the coming of the Age of Aquarius are having to reconcile themselves with the reality that it was a damp squib after all. And the more serious thinkers on the left must, despite public protestations to the contrary, have been quietly embarrassed by many of those who picked up their cause and ran with it.
According to Jay Leve, editor of SurveyUSA, those who maintain their support of the protesters are disproportionately young liberals, while most of those who are “open to having their minds changed” are increasingly fed up with the protesters. OWS would have done well do heed its masterminds’ advice last year and gone home to regroup and “emerge rejuvenated.” Go West, young man has not proven good advice for the boys of the patchouli brigade.
The false but persistent refrains that the many were being tainted by the few and that the movement was “mostly peaceful” have been thoroughly exploded. Only in San Francisco could 21 percent of polled adults still claim to support “the [Occupy] movement’s goal of taking over vacant buildings to use as the movement’s headquarters” when the resultant violence had occurred on their own doorstep. But Americans are a pretty sensible bunch overall, and, even in the nation’s most liberal major city, 71 percent opposed the willful breaking of the law. Likewise, while 28 percent of respondents regarded the police response as “too harsh,” 68 percent considered it either “not harsh enough” or “just about right.” On this question, there is no particular split between Republicans and Democrats: 70 percent of registered Democrats answered that the police reaction was either “not harsh enough” or “just about right,” compared with 76 percent of Republicans. It is not a good time to be an Occupier; whether dressed in red or blue, the “99 percent” appears to be standing athwart Occupy yelling “Cops!”
Further, the Oakland riots have done little to undermine the perception that the Occupiers are generally middle-class whites. On every question posed by SurveyUSA, the racial group that exhibited the least enthusiasm for the movement was African-Americans, many of whom report feeling patronized by, in the words of African-American writer Kheven LaGrone, “privileged white men coming to trash Oakland and then going back home when they got tired.” LaGrone noted yesterday on Oakland Local that he “disagreed with [the OWS] use of the word ‘police brutality.’ In the name of public safety, the police ordered the predominately white Occupy Oakland protesters to disperse. . . . The protesters had the option of leaving the area but they chose not to. In effect, they forced the police to get physical. The police gave them a reality check.” The poll bears this out. Seventy-seven percent of blacks polled opposed the taking of vacant buildings, while 77 percent approved of the police response and 40 percent lamented that the police held back. Indeed, a greater proportion of blacks have changed their mind about Occupy than of any other ethnic group, with almost a third dropping their support. (One should note that because the number of blacks in the twelve counties of the San Francisco Metropolitan area is small, these statistics have a much larger margin of error than the poll itself.)
Many of the Occupiers I met down in Zuccotti Park last year were convinced that they were in the vanguard of a revolution. But for any group successfully to prosecute radical change, the public must remain sympathetic when the fists start flying. Responding to the second Oakland riot, San Francisco has shown us its limit, and, in doing so, caught up to the nation at large.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.