My Brief Experience and Reflection on Occupied Wall Street

Over the past several months I’d become sadly aware of my growing cynicism. The last time I’d been politically active was during the ’08 presidential campaign, and though I’d had no regrets about the position I’d chosen at that moment in history, I’d become disillusioned with this administration, particularly after Obama’s quick concession on extending the Bush tax cuts. While I think there is such a thing as a healthy level of cynicism, I had become very reluctant to get involved with any struggle, which of course is the opposite of what an ‘activist’ is.

I became aware of the #OccupyWallSt movement the day before it happened, because I was in Oberlin and a bus was leaving that afternoon for New York. Remembering such expeditions from my own undergrad, I didn’t think too much of it, until two weeks later I was in New York and it was still going on.

I think my main outrage with this administration and this political system in general is how compromised it is by corporate interests, not only in lax regulations but in corporate subsidization and privatization of goverment functions, which amounts to private industry pillaging public wealth. #OccupyWallSt’s first official statement as a group came out yesterday and while I’m not completely on board with everything in the document I’d say we share the same spirit. But that’s not what won me over. What got me was being there.

I went over with my friend Melissa on Friday afternoon. The atmosphere there was calm, warm and communal, and I was actually quite encouraged by this. As I tweeted at the time, “People criticize #occupywallst for being unfocused, but I preferred it to a protest where I’m whipped into a frenzy with chants…Not just another crowd. We need a gathering instead.” And also, “I like the idea of protest without end, just like war or occupation or corporate subsidy without end.” It’s one thing to chant ‘Heck no, we won’t go’ and it’s another thing to actually DO IT. Some douchebag on Twitter wrote something about how the protesters were the ‘future minimum wage earners and welfare recipients of America’ (don’t feel like looking up who exactly penned this abhorrent, bigoted remark, and besides why would I do the favor of linking to him?); but the truth is the reason that the occupation has been able to sustain for so long is because so many of the 99% are out of work, laid off or just have never been able to find a job after school in the first place. They’re there because it’s quite literally their only play, and that is a powerful thing.

I hope this peaceful, even energy carries them for a long time. They’re going to need it. For my part, I don’t have the resources to order them pizzas or donate cash (which is awesome if you do), but I am considering trying to attend an #occupy event in every place I visit for the rest of tour. I know it’s valuable for me to lend myself to their numbers even temporarily, and I think I’m in a unique position to witness and document it.

3 thoughts on “My Brief Experience and Reflection on Occupied Wall Street

  1. An addendum: I never thought I would say that the Left should emulate the Tea Party in any fashion, but I’m saying it. One critical thing that they have figured out is that the absolute most important thing is to be visible. Not to be coherent, not to be preened, but to be visible. Visibility first, image later (if ever). In this way they’ve successfully made all mainstream politicians accountable to them. They’ve made their own wingnuts more viable, moderate Republicans either have become more conservative or unelectable, and all Democrats have pulled strongly to the center-right. Perhaps it was naive of me ever to think that Obama has authentic Leftist feelings ‘in his heart’–or, even if that is the case, that it makes a bit of difference if there’s no one to make him act on them. So many Obama supporters have become apologists for him, but we’re not showing him–and the media, and the Right, and everyone else who’s watching–that there is an Angry Left that he’s accountable to, we’re not doing him any favors.

  2. I love your final sentence in the addendum. That’s absolutely right.

    The crucial difference between the Tea Party and the Occupy movement is their visibility in the media. The mainstream media heralded the very formation of the Tea Party, but waited weeks to acknowledge OWS, long after the alternative media was exploding with info about it. Of course, there was also tremendous dissonance between how the two movements were portrayed. Still, the Tea Party knew from the start how to mobilize; their mistake lay in accepting support from parties like the Koch Brothers, who rerouted the movement’s free-floating discontent to fit their own agenda. While I know you applaud OWS for rejecting a clear directive, I’m concerned that a lack of centralization will steer the movement into chaos. It is possible to project a concise message while remaining all-inclusive; simply assembling a mass of people isn’t enough. Now that we’ve got the world’s attention, it’s time to zero in and force them to get the story straight.

  3. Thanks for chiming in Mike. It might be helpful to read the two more recent posts I’ve made: https://shareefali.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/nola-austin-san-antonio-tucson-music-and-occupations/ and https://shareefali.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/my-vision-for-the-occupy-movement/. My short answer to your concern is that while I think it’s valid, I don’t think it should be addressed by a central authority, nor could it. I do think that every occupation has, and values, a high degree of autonomy, and from what I’ve seen, there are a lot who share your mindset who, who on the local level, are helping to draft mission statements and lists of grievances, which, while at least a step removed from making demands, do help to create a unified vision. And to paraphrase two different thoughts from Naomi Klein, whose recent involvement in the movement I feel has brought a lot of clarity: 1) one thing we’re doing right is that we’ve got the right target in corporations and corporatist government policy (unlike the Tea Party, who focus almost all their outrage on government, and in all kinds of nonsensical critiques); 2) what we’re doing is not engaging in a negotiation with power, but engaging in dreaming of and test-running our visions for a better society.

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