The danger isn't police batons, it's infectious stupidity. Nobody in the Occupy movement should get drawn into a necessarily bounded discussion of "civil rights," the "law," the "First Amendment," or anything related. Of course the Occupy demonstrations aren't always legal. That's the point. And here is where a lack of leadership, organization, and agenda shows itself both as a blessing and a curse. More importantly — and much more interestingly — the dilemma also shows up a lack of outside leadership, whether from politicians, intellectuals, academics, the media, unions or the clergy. Which raises an additional, philosophical question of when it may be that going through the motions ineptly may be worse than not going through the motions at all.
Let's stipulate that some of the recent police crackdown may be justified. We like to see a modicum of public order, which does not include people shooting themselves in tents pitched in public places, etc. Since nobody is in charge of Occupy encampments it has become too difficult to guess what excessive offence(s) may be next. But arguing, correctly, for the clearing of public spaces on the grounds of public safety dangerously invites counter-arguments about "rights."
The character of arguments over "rights" as well as that of arguments over an "agenda" (or lack thereof) tend to blind us to the implied assumptions in an emphasis on outcomes. But why should the Occupy movement be focused on outcomes? Is an ideal list of policy demands the beginning and the end of what's wrong?
What's really wrong with America can't be fixed without fundamental process reform, reforms that address the general problem of why, when a large majority of the American public wants a particular public policy (take your pick), our political system does not deliver. Meaningful process reform, in short, is a revolutionary act. To varying degrees the Occupy movement may be vaguely aware of this, insofar as they have resisted formalizing a set of demands. But what if the Occupy movement were fully aware of the revolutionary needs of the moment? "Let's replace the government of the United States," they might say, "with one of our own devising, one that's more democratic, more accountable, more just, and more effective at the provision of public goods and services." A good government instead of a bad one. Would anybody listen?
This is not a trivial question. Unless and until the groundwork for fundamental change has begun to be laid the public is most unlikely to become enthused about it. But the Occupy movement are themselves far from capable of making the case. Conversely, if the Occupy movement were to fold under pressure and adopt as their agenda a specific set of outcomes, then the prospects for process reform inevitably would be pushed further into the future. Maybe, in theory, outcomes and process reform could be advocated simultaneously but, in practice, to be able to secure the most widespread public agreement possible, it's difficult to see how both together could take center stage.
Logically, the Occupy movement can't solve its dilemma. What's required is outside leadership — intellectual firepower and organizational acumen — always committed to the central tenet of non-violence, and additional years of hard work. It's great to see the Occupy movement manifest public discontent, it's a start, and hopefully the movement will maintain their incoherent balancing act as long as possible, but in and of itself Occupy is not the answer.