In 1981, a group of demonstrators set up camp outside a British air base to protest the government's decision to allow U.S. nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to be based there.
The Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp initially generated a great deal of publicity, inspired imitators in other countries, sporadically tried to block access to the air base, and perhaps reached its zenith in 1983 when as many as 70,000 people turned out for one of its demonstrations.
The women survived several attempts by police to evict them, and eventually the authorities left their tent cities alone, as long as the women, and they were almost all women, confined themselves to picketing, leafleting and chanting.
In 1991, thanks to a nuclear-arms treaty with the Soviet Union, the last of the cruise missiles were removed, taking with them, one would have thought, the reason for the camp. But the women stayed on for nine more years, expressing an increasingly vague and inchoate commitment to "peace." Many of the Greenham women cited a sense of unity, sisterhood, shared purpose and, when pressed, little desire to return to the humdrum routine of their former lives.
One senses that, in accelerated fashion, the Occupy Wall Street movement has arrived at that point. On Wall Street and in cities across the country, the protesters have effectively made their point about income inequality — the 1 percent versus the 99 percent; lopsided tax breaks given to hedge-fund managers and the proclivity of Wall Streeters to lavishly reward themselves regardless of whether their performance merits it. And, yes, economically the great middle class has been stagnant for a decade or more.
As the Occupy movement drags on — the first encampment went up Sept. 17 — the issues that inspired it are receding in the public consciousness and the issue has increasingly become the encampments themselves.
There have been problems of noise, sanitation, isolated incidents of crime and violence and the inevitable run-ins with police, but generally the Occupy movement has been a benign one. But its time in the public square is over. Public space meant for the enjoyment of the many should not be arrogated to advance the interests of the few.
Go home. Find political candidates who share your views and go to work for them. Raise money. Man phone banks. Knock on doors. Help the poor and minorities and those with limited English get government IDs in states that have passed voter-suppression laws.
And don't forget to vote yourself. It really works in this country. Always has.