Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
The park is not big but it is full. It is overwhelmingly, though not entirely, stocked with young people – post-grad school age feels about right. It smacked of a Dead concert: blankets spread out on the ground sprinkled with dozing twenty-somethings, people situated on planters playing a melange of instruments, an old hippie gingerly stooped over a square of cardboard with a paintbrush painting a sign declaring protest. I was tempted to just keep on walking – looks like hype. Looks like some of the reporting is right – these are just a bunch of disgruntled kids that have nothing better to do.
But so what if it was?
Back when Wisconsin rose up, my hopes lifted. Finally someone was doing something – a lot of someones. People who had been kicked for the last time. I thought about the implications of Wisconsin (then Ohio, then…) and what mass demonstrations would mean to other causes, like the trampling of a woman’s right to a legal abortion. What if people everywhere poured out into the streets until someone – they - took notice? They would have to at some point.
While walking through the park the lion share of conversations I overheard contained these phrases like these: What are we doing? Are we marching? I don’t know, I was told to come down here?
I talked to a representative in the media and information area – apparently command central if there is such a thing for a leaderless movement. He was able to give me information: “We have raised over $50,000 cash and have gotten like $50,000 more in equipment and stuff,” that they are going for 501c3 status, that they were occupying 60 cities so far and he rattled off a few websites for on location blogging and updates about the movement. I was given a copy of “The Occupied Wall Street Journal” a beautiful broadsheet fresh off the press (and the result of an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign). But he couldn’t tell me why they were there except, “To rise up and start a revolution.”
The movement doesn’t need specific demands to be legitimate but it does need them to be effective. The Occupation has to continue. But at some point, it needs to be defined – at least from a top level – to create policy/democratic change. I was down there briefly and left confused but hopeful – with a sense of some gelling happening.
Unfortunately for some following the OWS movement, leadership is probably the only thing that will yield results – if actual results are what they – the Occupiers – are looking for. A leaderless movement, disjointed and ad hoc is vital to generate interest, excitement and get to people moving, but if they want to accomplish goals that will have long lasting policy implications they need some form of leadership and desired outcomes.
It is a wonderful fantasy to think that a park occupied is a revolution made but that’s our problem as liberals – we are wonderfully idealistic (rightfully so) but unmoored when it comes to sealing the deal. That may reveal more about me than I care to: but I want this to work. I want people in the streets in perpetuity if that is what it takes. So for now, I am learning to get comfortable for with the fantasy because that is where these things start.
My being critical is not condemnation – it is caring enough about the possibilities of this thing to think this thing through. How do I talk about it effectively? I am Occupying from my couch – how can I communicate it to people? What do “we” want? What do I want?
Several Facebook chats makes me settle on this as a comfortable way to deal with the my misgivings about the OWS soup: We Are The 99%. This is simple and provides a big tent. There are more of Us than there are of Them.
At the park there was a group of CUNY and New Jersey school teachers. The CUNY faculty were painting signs blasting budget cuts, the New Jersey group sat under a tree grading papers. This group stood out to me because at least on that day, they didn’t look like everyone else. Don’t be mistaken, that is not a judgement I am visiting on the rest of the people in the square. It was an easily observable contrast and especially salient one.
Unlike people uniting under a like cause. We Are The 99 % is a big enough and cohesive enough tent to bring in the gaggle of CUNY and New Jersey school teachers, the aging hipsters, the gutterpunks and mainstreeters under the movement. The ability to appeal to all stripes will be vital – the people that can’t see themselves in a twenty-something college student will see themselves in a teacher, a healthcare worker or an unemployed electrician.
And what is success for us? What will it look like? Will it be like Egypt – like some hope? Or Wisconsin? A movement that serves to educate us about democracy. WI managed a historic number or recall elections. Some successful – installing a Democrat – others failed. But it was all success – right? The movement in Wisconsin is still evolving. Those people won’t rest. They continue to take on new challenges – to voting rights and a Republican hill that seeks to continue to marginalize the middle class and alienate an entire swath of voters. With each wave of thousands and each John Deere that circled up in Madison, we saw ourselves. We will see ourselves on Wall Street. We have to.
On October 5th there is a march – a big one as it is going to comprise of the student walkout, OWS and several unions coming together to descend on Wall Street. Will this one get proper media coverage? Will the NYPD be pepper spraying peaceful assemblers or locking up 700 people off the Brooklyn Bridge? Come to Broadway and Liberty in Lower Manhattan at 4:30 PM to be a part and find out: