Wednesday, October 12, 2011

occupy wall street

(mounted police and barricades in front of the NYSE)

A few days ago, one of my west coast friends asked me if I had been down to the protests at Wall Street.  I had not.  To be honest, I live in a nice little bubble called Westchester, and was barely aware of what was going on -- other than the fact that it was costing in the neighborhood of $2 million a day in police overtime, which the local news looooooooved to point out at every opportunity.

So I decided to go check it out.  But first, I decided to do a bit of research as to what was actually being protested.  It was disconcerting to me that I could articulate the money spent on police overtime, but not the issues at hand. 

First, I went to, an "unofficial de facto online resource for the ongoing protests happening on Wall Street." (emphasis in original.)  Okay.  Fine.  But there wasn't any information about what was actually being protested, other than general blahblahblahing about returning America to the hands of it's [sic] people.  I found this disheartening.  I personally feel that a protest should have one clear message in order to have the most impact.  Unless it's a general awareness-raising exercise, in which case I think that the protest should have a beginning and end, in order to pack the most punch and avoid just petering out over time.  But enough of Erin On Protesting. 

I decided to head over to the press release issued by Adbusters, which stated that the goal of the protest was to "demand that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington."  Other than the distasteful reference to Gomorrah (ugh, homophobic rhetoric comes to mind every time I think about Sodom and/or Gomorrah), I was pleased - I at least knew what the message of the protest was: campaign finance reform.  Thus equipped, I decided to head down and see what was what.

My first surprise was that Occupy Wall Street was not actually on Wall Street.  Wall Street had a lot of police and barricades, but not a lot of protesters.  It turns out that "Occupy Wall Street" was actually taking place at Liberty Park, which is not bordered on any side by Wall Street.  But that is okay, because the best way to find a protest is usually to head to the general vicinity and follow the line of police, which is what I did in this instance.  There I found Liberty Park, complete with signage that brought up all manner of fond memories of my days living in Berkeley.

All that was missing was a guy standing on an upside down pickle bucket repeating "Happy happy happy" over and over.  If you have ever spent time near the UC Berkeley campus (specifically on the corner of Telegraph and Bancroft), you know what I'm talking about.

There were signs protesting the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.  There was a labor union protest.  There were signs about the greed of "the bankers".  There was a very clever American flag with missiles and submarines instead of the red stripes, and corporate logos in place of the white stars, which I was disappointed not to get a photo of.  People were mad about fracking, they were mad about capitalism in the US and abroad, and they were mad about the way workers are treated around the globe.  They were mad that the top 1% were not taxed more, and they were mad about the distribution of resources in our country. 

I care about all those things too (except maybe the bankers, I've always found that confusing since I don't know what bankers we're talking about).  But that's like 37 protests, not just one.  I was disappointed that none of the signage articulated the "one clear demand" that I thought was at issue -- a commission to investigate and reform corporate funding of political campaigns.  Without that one clear message, how are we supposed to know when the occupation of Wall Street can end? 

I have participated in multi-issue protests before.  But still, with those events, there was a clear message -- a list of demands.  That wasn't the case down at Wall Street today.

 (a lot of tarps, which made me think for a second I was at the
Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, until I saw all the men)

The result of all the many protests going on was that the whole experience felt kind of disjointed to me.  I felt like tugging on someone's arm and asking how you were supposed to know where your group was.  It's also a little weird to show up to protest one thing and be lumped in with a bunch of other protests of issues you may or may not be on board with.  I mean, maybe you hate capitalism but love fracking.  Or vice versa. Maybe my internet research was inaccurate or insufficient. Since there's no leadership for the protest, maybe what I found is just one group's message, and all are invited to bring their message to the table. I am not sure. But I spent time trying to figure it out, I went down there, and I'm still not sure what's going on. To me, that's a problem.  I asked a few people I know today, and most of them have absolutely no idea what is being protested.  That makes a demonstration a lot easier for people to ignore.

And so, with that, I purchased a copy of a socialist newspaper (how's that for irony?) and left. 

(apparently, this is my conflicted face, since every
picture I tried to take of myself featured this expression)

I went to Occupy Wall Street a bit conflicted about how I felt about the whole thing.  I left feeling even more conflicted about it. 

1 comment:

  1. I think it's awesome that the participants don't have one demand that everyone involved has to prescribe to. Everyone can express their particular frustration. to me that's the point. and really it is suppose to be a movement, something more than a protest. i think it's awesome but i've been following it from the beginning and how it has spread to other cities. i think it's great.