Monday, October 3, 2011

It's More Than You Think.....

Daily Kos member
#OccupyWallStreet - So I Went Down to Liberty david miznerFollow .

Share7 permalink 143 Comments check out the scene, and what a scene it was. These are the impressions of a visitor; for more authoritative accounts see (among many others) MoT, OllieGarkey, AoT, and Kevin Gosztola, who's being doing great stuff at FDL.

The Place

I took the C to the last stop, Fulton Street, and coming up from the subway got turned around, so I stopped at a newsstand. I said, "Where the protest?" and the newsstand guy pointed and said, "Two blocks on right." Then he gave me $2.25 worth of purchases for $2 because I was, he said, "doing good thing." A OWS fan! Liberty Square is a you-can't-miss-it kind of place, sitting at major foot traffic hub on Broadway, framed on three sides by huge buildings. A ignorant passerby would see the crowd in the square and think: something's happening. The square offers campers no grass, just cement (although there are flowers and newish trees), so the mattresses I saw are surely much in demand. The place can accommodate a lot of people, but one of the campers told me that if people continue to join they'll have to find a satellite site.

The People

I stopped counting at 400 (not including media members: I saw a few dozen reporters) but it was impossible to know how many were campers or even participants. Two of the campers I spoke to estimated that there were more than 200 in their ranks. A diverse lot in terms of gender, race, and age. Most of the hardcore are alternative-looking Phish-friendly folks: dreads, noserings, tats, piercings, patchouli. Deal with it. They're the tip of the spear. In any case, far from all the occupiers fit that profile. There was, for example, a union electrician who'd driven down from Boston to support the effort. "It's key that young people are pushing the movement forward," he said. Attractive and articulate spokespeople seem to be emerging. Hero Vincent -- a 21-year old black artist originally from NYC who'd come up from Charlotte, North Carolina to take part in the occupation -- held a press conference and did well. When a reporter said something about the occupiers opposing the middle class, Vincent said, "We are the middle class. Or we want to be. We hope to be." And I spoke to Alex Carvalho, the occupier who'd apparently just managed to book Radiohead to play there. Carvalho, a 27-year-old doctor from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, cogently explained how his interest in public health had led him to join the protest. (Not all the protesters are quite so sharp PR-wise. Asked on camera who was to blame for the crappy economy, a protester said, "Woo. That's a deep question.")

The Atmosphere

You can feel the excitement; the occupiers are palpably thrilled that they've caught a wave (or created it), and that they've taken action. "No more fear," read one of the hundreds of signs. I came away from Liberty Square energized and determined to do what I could to support their efforts. I sensed anxiety among the occupiers as they struggle to keep expanding the movement. On top of the task of trying to manage public perception (a challenge they seem particularly aware of and focused on), there's the task of trying organize themselves, a diverse and ostensibly leaderless group composed mostly of people without organizing experience. And they're extremely tired. Make no mistake: it's not easy camping out, and the weather is about to turn chilly. They're sacrificing. In no way are they satisfied just to have attracted attention: they want to change the country and won't be satisfied until they do so. They're for real. And contrary to the claims of the detractors, they're not trustafarians who have the luxury of protesting; on the contrary, they're exploited, pissed off, broke, uninsured, and unemployed Americans who have taken on the burden of protesting. Mixed in with their excitement is no small amount of desperation. That said, it's a party! At one point I found myself standing among Death (someone dressed as Death), a fake Fox News reporter, and a sparkly haired woman who tried (unsuccessfully) to get me to dance to the beat of the drummers nearby. Donating is easy: you just walk up to the desk at the center of the square and give whatever you'd like. I gave cash and, remembering the newsstand guy, gave another quarter.

The Cause

The occupiers now have a declaration and will at some point present a list of demands. They're in the process of writing them -- no simple task. Dismissing the idea that they should have come up with demands in two weeks, Hero Vincent pointed out, with admirable grandiosity, that it took months to write the U.S. Constitution. My sense is that the effort took off not despite the lack of specificity but (partly) because of it. The protest is channeling the widespread free-floating anger at Wall Street and corporations. People know they're getting screwed and they know who's doing the screwing. And I believe that the perceived singular focus on Wall Street (even if no such singular focus actually exists) also has worked to its advantage. Inferring from the declaration, I assume the demands will include a variety of anti-corporate agenda items; as such, they may not carry the universal powerful appeal of a more straightforward anti-Wall Street message. But the cause, however it manifests itself, is righteous. The occupiers' fight is our fight. No one knows what the budding movement will accomplish; the mere thought that it might accomplish anything significant seems fanciful, a few thousands ragtag protesters standing against the corporate-imperial state. Yet I've come to believe that in this dark and darkening moment, a citizen uprising such as this is not only our least worst hope but our only hope.


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