As Occupy regroups, there will no doubt be debates over whether to adopt Oakland's more confrontational approach nationally or to press on with the awareness-raising teach-in vibe of Occupy Wall Street, which so far has been highly effective in shifting the political debate – in part, one suspects, because many of the protesters in Zuccotti Park seem so nice. (And, one further suspects, so white.) It's a classic tactical argument: propaganda by word, as anarchists used to call political theorists, versus propaganda by deed, their euphemism for people willing to blow things up.
"Here's the thing we've got to remember," Riley says. "Every progressive movement in U.S. history has been portrayed negatively by the media at the time it happened. Look at articles about the Montgomery bus boycott while it was happening. It's kind of like with black music, the way it's always the music from black people 30 years ago that's the good shit. And music that black people are making right now is the ignorant shit. That's always the story."
Riley did not vote for Obama in 2008 – he has described himself as a communist and on principle only votes for propositions and ballot initiatives, not candidates – and he has no plans to support the president in 2012. "If this movement gets involved in electoral politics, that will kill it," he predicts. "The anti-war movement was strong right before Kerry ran, and then it got turned into a pro-Kerry movement. Killed it. The folks that are suggesting Occupy move to electoral politics are ignoring history, ignoring what actually creates change. People get involved in electoral politics because they think there is no movement that can create change. But now we have one, and we have to continue to create a movement that can stop industry at will around whatever demand. At that point, we'll get politicians to do whatever we want them to.
Olsen also expresses ambivalence about the political system as it stands. He thinks more highly of Ron Paul than a number of politicians on the left – he doesn't agree with Paul's politics, but he respects the fact that he hasn't been bought. Before he goes back to work, he's also thinking about how he might put his newfound fame to positive use, perhaps embarking on what he's calling an "Occupy crawl" to other locations around the country.
"Honestly, I don't know if we'll see anything directly attributable to Occupy happen in the political world," Olsen says. "It would be great if we could get money out of politics, if we could end all of our wars, if we could..." He trails off. "These are the things we're fighting for. But the commonality among just about everybody out there, whether they call themselves a libertarian or an anarchist or a communist, is that they want politics returned to the people. And that's what I think will happen. We're not going to give up until we feel like we are being properly represented." Olsen, the accidental radical icon, flashes a tight smile. He starts talking about his own injury and subsequent notoriety again, though maybe he's also speaking about the Occupy movement as a whole. Olsen says, "I don't want to see this go to waste."
• The Latest From Occupy Oakland's General Strike
• Inside Occupy Wall Street
• Taibbi: My Advice to the Occupy Wall Street Protesters
• A Sign Occupy Wall Street Is Having Political Impact
• Photos: Occupy Wall Street Timeline
This story is from the February 2nd, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
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