Sunday, November 6, 2011

Co-Opting Protest: Anti-Nuclear Activism as the Opiate of the People

Occupy Vermont is active in Burlington Vermont, as Occupy movements are active in many states.

As usual, however, Vermont is different. Reading the newspaper reports, it seems that Occupy Vermont is now about Shut Down Vermont Yankee. According to WPTZ, Occupy Vermont protesters marched through Burlington chanting "Vermont Yankee has got to go."

Shutting the plant down will decrease jobs in Vermont and export the jobs to New Hampshire and Quebec. Shutting the plant will achieve the exact opposite of the Occupy movement's goals. Yes, the goals are fuzzy, but there are goals. The Occupy movement wants decreased income disparity, lower unemployment and no bail-outs for the rich.

However, Occupy Vermont been co-opted to the anti-nuclear agenda. Most Occupy movements want changed banking laws, increased economic stimulus measures, and income re-distribution. In Vermont, the anti-nuclear movement provided Occupy Vermont with something easier to achieve. The anti-nuclear movement provided the Occupy movement with....a scapegoat.

The Opiate of the People

In my opinion, fear of nuclear is today's opiate of the people. Politicians don't have to worry, as long as there's a nuclear plant around. Keep people busy marching against a nuclear plant, keep the anti-nuclear rhetoric flowing...and people won't notice rising prices, rising taxes, and falling wages. People won't notice that teachers are being laid off, that unemployment is becoming endemic, that bankers get bonuses with taxpayer long as they have a nuclear plant to protest!

Was Co-Option of Occupy Vermont Inevitable?


Occupy Vermont didn't have to go this way. The Occupy movement has been widely criticized for having fuzzy goals. Indeed, that makes it easy for well-organized groups with clear agendas to co-opt the movement. Still, this co-option has happened in this state because anti-nuclear groups in Vermont are so well-funded and so willing to step into any gap. It didn't happen in other areas.

I am aware that what we usually hear about the Occupy movement is about violence and brutality, mostly on the West Coast. I want to compare Vermont's movement, however, with some other East Coast movements. The video below is from the Occupy Boston movement. Occupy Boston is holding a series of lectures, the Howard Zinn lectures. This video is part of that lecture series: a talk given by Vijay Prashad on October 25.

Prashad went to several East Coast Occupy sites and asked what their issues were. The goals varied by city: unemployment, hunger, student loans. (This is described in the first five minutes of the video clip.) In other words, the Occupy movement responds to local problems. I am not endorsing their solutions, but the Occupy movement does want economic betterment for ordinary people.

Right here, Vermont's middle class is embattled, with long-term unemployment, layoffs, and high heating oil prices affecting everyone. (The Burlington Free Press has an excellent article on Vermont's Shrinking Middle Class.) In our neighboring state, New Hampshire, hospitals are refusing to take Medicaid patients. Things are going badly in our corner of New England.

Meanwhile, our Occupy Vermont movement has been co-opted by the anti-nuclear groups! They want to shut down one of the premier economic engines in the state, and cause wide-spread poverty in the southern half of the state, and widespread rejoicing in Canada.

Sometimes I think Vermont can't get anything right, even protest!

We need to break the stranglehold of anti-nuclear groups on the public discourse. We need to Change Vermont for the better, not for the worse. We need to build the middle class, not destroy it.

In other words, we need Vermont Yankee to keep operating and keep employing Vermonters.

1 comment:

jimwg said...

I'm still in the dark as to EXACTLY what the anti-nukers' beef is outside trying to avenge Hiroshima. Do they really believe people who are for nuclear plants care less about their families and society than they do?

James Greenidge