Ever since they first camped out, then decamped and had to keep dodging police with orders to arrest anyone camping, setting up shelters or any other permanent-looking obstructions, the OccupyWallStreet protest has been living on borrowed time.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD made clear they might have to accept the protest, but wouldn't tolerate any disruption in the flow of the city's traffic or business – a defeatist criterion for protesters, who were there to get the attention of Wall Street and try to at least change what it considers business as usual, if not stop business cold.
Yesterday the Mayor loaned the Occupation more time, saying protesters can remain "indefinitely" as long as they and the city can maintain a balance of chaos between a protest disruptive enough to be visible and the city's ability to function.
Last night protest organizers began touting their plan for a "Millionaires March" – a kind of countercultural Christmas Caroling event in which the main body of protesters will visit the front stoops of wealthy New Yorker financiers, including ultra-conservative conservative political funder (and oilman) David Koch, Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch and others.
The purpose is ostensibly to highlight the two percent tax on millionaires that expires in December, but is at least equally designed to reframe the intent of the movement as a protest against tax laws, corporate and financial regulations and government oversight organizers say all align to favor of big business and millionaires at the expense of the middle- and working classes.
Trying to put a face on 'the economy'
The Millionaires March – more a Billionaires March, but that doesn't alliterate – will not include a stop at Mayor Bloomberg's place, out of consideration for his decision to let the Occupation stretch out its protest a little longer.
"The bottom line is that if people want to express themselves, as long as they obey the laws we'll allow them to," Bloomberg said to reporters as he prepared to march in yesterday's Columbus Day parade. "If they break the laws we're going to do what we're supposed to do and enforce the laws."
The Millionaires March is a bit of theater, a hook to keep the interest of the media and the public – a hook more provocative and relevant, if less funny, than the march of the "corporate zombies" the Occupation staged last week with protesters made up like movie zombies shuffling through the afterlife in search of money to eat.
Although most people get the intent of the Occupation movement, grievances against economic conditions or policies are usually too abstract to catch the imagination of most voters who, again ironically, are usually too busty making a living in a tough economy to pay much attention to new political movements.
Despite the odds, OccupyWallStreet has become a semi-coherent voice for what has been a diffuse and largely silent sense of dissatisfaction with the economy and distribution of wealth in America, at least among non-billionaires who resent being taken advantage of by companies they have to do business with, but don't know what to do about it.
Quixote dresses financiers in windmill costumes
Having a horde of angry, shouting untouchables wash up on the doorstep of billionaires does more than give a voice to dissatisfaction. It gives substance to what is becoming a substantive and potentially dangerous point: The global economy is a mess because financial deregulation, rampant greed and a sense of infallibility and of entitlement gave even previously respectable Wall Street companies permission to openly plan to fleece their customers and gut the economy for their own benefit.
Wall Street's economy bounced back pretty quickly after the first big crash in 2008, with the help of billions in rescue funds from the U.S. government and taxpayers.
Neither brokerages nor banks have done much since then to either renegotiate usurous loans, reinvest in communities that found themselves on the rocks after a tide of money from bad investment opportunities, deceptive loan practices and corruption raised all boats, but only let a few sail away before evaporating and letting everything else fall where it may.
Walking around a millionaire's building and shouting is an intimidating thing for a mob to do. Under other circumstances it would look more like too much of a personal attack to be legimate political protest.
That's the problem with economic problems, though. "The rich" may be the ones benefitting from the economy, but "the rich" don't have a face or a name, any more than does "the economy" when businesses use it as an excuse to ramp up demands on existing workers to avoid hiring new ones at the risk of slowing the growth rate in their profit margins.
Showing up on someone's doorstep makes clear who "the rich" are, which of "them" are at least partly to blame for the state of the economy, and creates a much more stark divide between those who grow rich at the expense of others and those who are manipulated, used and left poorer by a system that is unfair even when its operators follow the rules, let alone now.
As a practical effort to address either the economy or those with their hands on its strings, the Millionaires March is hopeless.
As a protest tactic, it's confrontational, theatrical, but rhetorically effective, like Quixote tilting at windmills.
He never can win, and maybe he never should. But seeing him do it gives everyone else ideas.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.