Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Occupying Wall Street

Honey, bring me my checklist of '60s dreams come true. (Yes, that's Peter Yarrow on the left. And we're singing "Blowin' in the Wind." At a protest!)

By now you've heard of the Occupy Wall Street protests, yes? You may be skeptical of them. I was, too, so last Tuesday night, on Day 11 since the kids started camping out downtown (and two days after that really nasty pepper-spraying episode), I went to check them out. This is what I wrote in an email to some friends:

Can I get sincere for a second?

I went down to the Occupying Wall Street protest tonight....I'd been meaning to check it out, and then this afternoon I saw that Cornel West was going to be speaking, so that settled it.

There were a good 500-700 people there....hard to be certain how many were tourists and protest-tourists (inc. myself) but the core group was definitely in the hundreds. The conversations I listened in on were intelligent, naive, passionate, respectful.

Brother West was amazing, of course. He doesn't shake hands; he hugs. Also he's like 6 feet tall -- 6-3 with the afro. Everything that's conducted there is done so without microphones, so anyone who is speaking (on "the people's mic") says a few words at a time, then waits for them to be shouted out by the crowd in unison. And I have to say, it was pretty electric when we were shouting along with West's mini-sermon.

From what I saw in an hour, including a portion of their evening General Assembly meeting which was much, much more organized and more democratic than I expected, these kids (and they are mostly kids, with a few O.G.'s scattered around) are earnest and committed.

Now...their mission statement is straight-up kooky. They look way too "dangerous" to get any traction with middle America. Undoubtedly one of these kids is going to say or do something stupid. They're easy to write off in any number of ways. But every day they're out there (this is Day 11) gives them a little more credibility, that at least they're serious about sticking it out. It gives more time for Michael Moore and Cornel West to attract attention and people like me. And, best case scenario, enough non-threatening, establishment-type regular folks get on board that it gives cover for a mainstream Democratic politician to embrace at least the underlying emotion behind the protest. We're not going to get Wall Street out of Washington, but if this could convince one of our elected officials to show a little spine, well, it will have been worth it. That's an extreme long shot, but hell if we can't show some love to some people who are out in the streets.

As Occupy Wall Street has continued to grow as a national movement and in the attention paid to it, I've become even more fixated. So I went back down there today (I thought I'd make a couple donations to their "library" -- the Autobiography of Malcom X, and the Portable Voltaire) and my trip confirmed that it's a really positive, inspiring scene. Just good vibes.

The protests have taken some flak because "they don't have a central message" or "they don't have any solutions." That's what I thought, too, until I went down there. But that's not really where it's at. These protests are about the frustration that the 99% of us are, now more than ever, at the mercy of the other 1%. So what does that mean? Income inequality? Corporate influence in politics? Wall Street recklessness? Media fecklessness? The housing bubble? College tuition costs?


And by drawing sustained attention to these issues, these kids are doing something meaningful.

It's not on them to come up with the solutions. (Might I add at this point that they've revised their mission statement in the past week to make much less kooky. Some of them still look "dangerous;" some of them are street urchins. But most of them are decent, friendly people.) What this movement needs is for ordinary, voting Americans and establishment politicians to work within the system to make the system work for us again. The pendulum swings, and it's time for it swing on back a little.

There's a lot more I could say here, but let me just sum it up by saying that on the whole, it's an incredibly positive scene. That if you have a chance to check it out, you should (and perhaps even refrain from judgment until you do). If you're not happy about the way things are going, join in.

1 comment:

David said...

Only in NYC could this really get pulled off. Over here in "middle America," they're all seen as wannabe hippies who are a bunch of socialists who've never earned any of what they've gotten.

Glad you got to be a part of your second protest against the man. BOMB SUV'S NOT IRAQ!