The other day, I wandered up to Union Square to see what all the fuss was about.
There, along the sidewalk near the old Capitol, about four dozen folks — young and old — stood and sat. They waved signs. They chanted. At one point, they marched around the square.
About a dozen police, both from the Raleigh Police Department and the State Capitol Police, looked on for a while. When three of the protesters wouldn't get up from chairs lined up along the walkway, police arrested those three and five others who wouldn’t step aside.
The protesters were Raleigh’s version of Occupy Wall Street.
Without incident, the Occupy Raleigh protesters had been hanging out on this section of sidewalk, about one-eighth of the walkway around Union Square, for a couple of weeks.
But someone over at the Department of Administration decided that they represented a threat. The agency ordered that their chairs and coolers be removed from the street.
The police also removed some portable barricades that had been placed between the sidewalk and grass, and that had come to serve as a wall on which to hang the protesters’ signs.
Before police moved in, I asked Capitol Police chief Scott Hunter whether there had been any complaints about the protesters. No, not that he was aware of, he responded.
I have to admit that I find the Occupy Wall Street message a bit confused, the agenda nebulous.
Still, some people want to dismiss the protesters as old hippies or college students with nothing better to do. In Raleigh and elsewhere, they don't always fit the profile.
On the Capitol grounds, one middle-aged woman held up a sign: “I’ve got a job.”
Mostly, they seem like people angry over what some have called the culture of privatized profits and socialized risk by the investment banking crowd. On its web page, the Occupy Raleigh group discusses undoing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened up political campaigns to more corporate dollars and prosecuting Wall Street financial wrongdoing.
To some degree or another, the protesters have tapped into anger over the fact that the financial wizards on Wall Street wrecked the economy but don’t appear to have paid any price. Meanwhile, everyone pays more at the pump and more at the bank machine. Their retirement investments don't move much.
Anger, though, is no substitute for a realistic policy agenda.
But no violence has taken place locally. No one has been inconvenienced. Except when cops are arresting people, you can still walk down the sidewalk outside the Capitol.
So what’s the big deal? What’s so worrisome to government officials about a few dozen people engaged in a little political dissent? And why do some pundits want to dismiss these protests as an “old, discredited brand of radical politics” and attribute to them things that they haven’t said?
What are they afraid of?