NEW YORK — I stand behind the tenets of Occupy Wall Street. But, Thursday night’s assembly at Foley Square and subsequent march across the Brooklyn Bridge was an exercise in futility and misguided sloganism. Commiseration does not equate consequence and without consequence for the targets of this movement, I fear it is quickly going the way of the Dodo.
I arrived at Foley Square just before 5pm and the park was abuzz. Rude Mechanical Orchestra could be heard above the din of cheers and chants. Entering the pool of my fellow Americans, I steeled myself for what I thought would be an emotional convergence of like-minded and like-hearted citizens. Instead what I got was a lesson in framing. And a headache, caused by excessive eye-rolling.
The microphone passed among the unseen faces of musical acts, union leaders, members of clergy and the assembly, projected songs and speeches made up of iterative clips and phrases about the 99 percent movement, meant to electrify the crowd. We were informed that Wall Street is corrupt we’re not going to take it anymore! We were told that “this is what democracy looks like” and “we are unstoppable, a new world is possible.” The commiserating stories shared by our fellow 99 percent-ers were meant to inspire solidarity and strengthen our resolve to keep going, but therein lies the crux of the problem. Aside from from our plans to successfully march across “our” Brooklyn Bridge, where were we supposed to go?
Occupy Wall Street is at an impasse right now. It has the spotlight, but the movement is lacking in both leadership and a clear message. An epitomizing example of this void came when the NYPD stopped half of the assembly from moving forward toward the bridge. An ensuing mic-check (a whisper-down-the-lane style of disseminating announcements among the crowds) informed those of us near the front that “50 percent of the assembly has been barricaded back at the square. What do we do?” True to form of an OWS mic-check, the crowd repeated the announcement. As the masses around me dutifully, if not robotically, repeated – for the second time – “what do we do?” I found myself stifling a growl of frustration. The crowd fell silent in response to this question and it became clear that no one really knows what to do next.
The highlight of the evening came in the way of a rogue bat-signal shining its beam of movement rhetoric onto the Verizon building. As the projection ran through the list of subsequent occupations around the globe, I remembered why I came to Foley Square in the first place – we are 99 percent strong and there are more than enough of us to truly revolutionize the way America does business. Unfortunately, until the movement outlines some clearer goals, I’m not sure I can stomach going back. What can I say? I just didn’t have the same ethereal experience as one Gothamist-quoted protester who said he could “literally feel the ground shaking.” Don’t get me wrong, I felt the ground shake too, but it wasn’t so much the energy of the crowd as it was the movement of the subways, directly below the park.
As I have said, I stand behind the tenets of Occupy Wall Street. I would like to see this movement make strides in the democratic process of America, but the pace of this movement has me so worried that I would like to humbly make the following suggestions to my sisters and brothers on the front line:
1. Occupy Wall Street needs to hone its message so that it resonates with more than just a handful of the 99 percent. OWS must do for the word “revolution” what Obama did for the word “hope” and Charlie Sheen did for the word “winning.”
2. When using the microphones to communicate with the crowd and it’s loud enough to be heard by everyone in a five-block radius, Occupy Wall Street should not employ the mic-check system. It is a painfully redundant waste of time. Furthermore, precious time on said microphones should be used to disseminate worthwhile information, not useless rhetoric. Fine, “this is just the beginning,” but it’s been two months. Can we please start talking about the middle?
3. Everyone should do their best to be vigilant with the truth when it comes to reporting about Occupy Wall Street, particularly about rally head counts and police brutality. Someone erroneously reported that there were over 32,000 people present at Thursday night’s march, which was just an absurd estimate that ran through the crowd like wildfire. NYPD reports the numbers were closer to 5,000. I surmise it was somewhere in between.
4. Yes, police brutality has occurred and excessive forced has been used, but not as much as the media glorification of these incidents would have us believe. These stories are being used to incite distrust and hatred and serve only to further the “us versus them” mentality the movement is trying to overcome. A general discourse among protestors and the NYPD needs to be met with clear and cool heads. We the people of Occupy Wall Street should start by refraining from antagonizing officers so that when brutality does happen there is no doubt as to who is to blame. Recent events at UC Davis are a perfect example.
5. Finally, please, for the love of all that is sacred, STOP LITTERING and shame those who do. Every once in a while, OWS should use a mic-check to have protesters take a moment and check their surrounding area for litter. It’s pretty difficult to buy the movement’s love of the land when we’re shitting all over it. If we clean up our streets while we clean up Wall Street, maybe we can have it all.
All photos by Sarah Berman for Blast Magazine.