Like many of you, I have been following the Occupy Wall Street movement since its inception, which is now entering its fourth week. My initial reaction on hearing of the occupation was one of caution; I assumed—and I am sure I am not alone—that this was another case of young, white, privileged college students staging a demonstration out of genuine concern, but able to do so because they knew Mom and Dad would keep putting money into their checking accounts.
The crowds at Occupy Wall Street, New York City (Oct. 8, 2011).
As the occupation grew in time and numbers, my focus sharpened. I asked the natural questions: who are these protesters? What are their demands? Initially, after not receiving answers to these fundamental questions, I was frustrated. How could they hope to garner my support if they wouldn’t reveal their identities and their aims? Under which banners could I rally? On what common ground could I stand and wave my flag in solidarity? Or, how could I justify walking away from what could have been a flash-in-the-pan angry outburst?
Following the movement on the Internet, I saw familiar faces in the crowd, throwing their support behind the increasing occupation: Michael Moore, Cornel West, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges. It was enough to keep my attention, but not quite enough to gain my endorsement.
And then I went down there and saw for myself. (see video here)
The Occupy Wall Street movement is a remarkable phenomenon. Located in Zuccotti Park, which the protesters have re-christened Liberty Plaza, I was surprised to find a thriving, truly alternative community. It is difficult to convey the levels of imagination and cooperation occurring in the heart of the Financial District. There is a library, kitchen, sleeping area, music space, meditation space, a stage for entertainment, a space for teach-ins and lectures, and a General Assembly. There are working groups, press tables, legal aid, medical assistance, Spanish language translations, a free newspaper being printed (The Occupied Wall Street Journal), live streaming on the Internet, t-shirt making, art-making, recycling (of waste and waste water), and rules on sobriety.
The library at Occupy Wall Street (Oct. 8, 2011).
Around every corner and in every nook there is genuine debate and discussion happening about everything from banking to the prison-industrial complex to the role religion and meditation can play in the radical movement.
Decisions about the operations of the Occupation and about the movement’s direction are made horizontally (there is neither leader nor hierarchy). Decisions are based on consensus and are arrived at by completely democratic and transparent mechanisms.
Debate can be found around every corner at Occupy Wall Street (Oct. 8, 2011).
Communication across the plaza happens by word of mouth, free literature, and, most interestingly, by way of a call-back system. Since there are no microphones or megaphones on the premises, speakers shout their staccato messages, while the surrounding crowd repeats the words for others further back to hear. This happens with matters of daily activity (meeting announcements) and for bigger events, such as this speech, delivered on October 9, by the rock star philosopher, Slavoj Zizek.
All this is well and good, you say, but what are they protesting against? What are the goals? These persistent questions represent legitimate concerns, but they need not be answered immediately. What is clear is that the current social and economic landscape in the U.S. and across the globe is flawed, unequal, and unjust. The reasons behind the Occupy Wall Street movement are many (economic, social, environmental, and more), and they are very, very complex. Too many are falling through the cracks while an elite few profit from such misery.
Because it will take time to correct the many wrongs, it also takes time to proffer agreeable solutions.
Patience, the Occupy Wall Street movement urges.
The implications of the movement, however long it lasts, in the United States and across the world, are incredibly fascinating. The movement, its fuel, its antagonists, its people, its machinations, its promise, and its confusing nature are too immense for this initial blog post, or for any single blog post. In the coming days or weeks, I hope to explore the many facets in greater detail. I’ll visit the heart of Occupy Wall Street, conduct more interviews (see the first video here), get educated, participate, question, listen, and share.
At Occupy Wall Street, you can find education ... and entertainment (Oct. 8, 2011).
[all photos by Shaun Randol; Creative Commons usage allowed]New York City, Occupy Wall Street