The media, bloggers and politicians have done their best to dismiss the Occupy Wall Street movement as unorganized, lacking in focus, and powered by lazy hippies with no clear objective. Certainly, you’ve heard people on TV and in person echo various “Not sure what they’re protesting” themed talking points.
Fortunately, you’re not a complete idiot—fingers crossed, really—so you understand that those criticizing the protests’ lack of focus are simply playing dumb, deliberately trying to dilute the movement’s message, and doing everything they can to protect personal agendas threatened by the conversation these occupations are starting up.
You know, the conversation about how our government is quickly becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of a corporate aristocracy?
The truth is that we all know what Occupy Wall Street is about, but some people have chosen to deal with the issue the way a child deals with an angry parent who wants to know why the dining room lamp is broken into roughly 500 pieces.
“What are you talking about mom,” the child asks with complete incredulity. “That’s not a lamp; it’s a puzzle.”
But you know better than to humor such evasions, and that’s why the next time someone tries to feign confusion over the intent of these protests, you’re going to do us all a favor and poke them in the eye. No, that won’t exactly solve anything, but you’ll feel better and, in my experience, it’s really hard to lie while wincing.
And while they’re trying to regain their vision, you can ask them how an unorganized mob with no direction or purpose has managed, in less than a month, to stage thousands of protests across the planet in which one universal message—“we are the 99%”—is championed by millions.
Though instead of waiting for an answer, I’d get the hell out of there; after all, you just poked them in the eye. They’re going to be pissed.
Now to be fair, I’m sure a few of you out there really are confused—I don’t know, maybe you huffed a lot of paint as a kid (or for breakfast), or perhaps you honed your critical thinking abilities while summering at Jesus Camp.
If so, why not do as I did and attend a local protest (not to join in necessarily, but simply to see for yourself how far out of their way the media and many politicians have gone to misrepresent this movement)?
Personally, I felt compelled to attend this Saturday’s Occupy Phoenix protest in Cesar Chavez Plaza. For starters, I was curious to see how the Phoenix iteration of an increasingly global phenomenon would pan out—how many people would show up, what the demographics of the group would be, and how many tanks Sheriff Joe Arpaio would use to disperse and/or deport us all. Plus, I thought the protest would be a great way to meet some like-minded people—and by people, yeah, I mean women.
Mainly, though, I wanted to add another body to the numbers, to amplify the message and to participate in any capacity that I could.
That said, I’m not normally the kind of guy that mixes well with large groups of people who are prone to chanting messages of peace and solidarity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a lefty at heart, but public displays of the warm-and-fuzzy sort make my ass clench up tighter than that kick-ass pair of jeans I’ve been holding onto since my college days (it’s stuffed in the back of my closet along with that gym membership I also will never use again).
For the record, there was a lot of chanting. A small group of young men—agitated by one protestor’s declaration that they “were all sinners and going to hell”—playfully chanted “where’s the love…where’s the love,” while onlookers stood close enough to hear the exchange but far enough away to avoid the cops closing in around the group. “Keep it peaceful” was another chant, a cautionary reminder various protestors would suddenly start bellowing out for 10 or 20 seconds before cycling on to “we are the 99 percent” or “fix our country, tax the rich.”
And yes, there was the chanting of the general assembly (which has garnered a lot of attention on YouTube and Facebook feeds), where one speaker would say four or five words which would then be echoed, mostly in unison, by the hundreds of protestors standing by. It was at these moments that I felt most out of my element—that I didn’t really fit in with these displays of passion and communal fellowship. Now, to be fair, I gave it the same college try I give whenever I’m in church and people start singing—which is to say I remain silent while moving my lips and contorting my face into a passion play.
That’s a sad admission, but what can I say? Maybe in a previous life I was the sommelier at Jonestown and have some seriously regressive guilt that’s triggered by choruses of the collective? Maybe I wasn’t hugged enough as a kid. I don’t know. But I do know this: I don’t watch Glee or High School Musical for a reason, and whatever that reason it’s also why I don’t chant and often feel the need to punch strangers when others do.
This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the protest. In fact, quite the opposite. Chanting aside, there was a vibe and energy to the occupation unlike anything I had felt before. For starters, the diversity of the crowd was extraordinary. The people weren’t a mob of 20-something pot heads, as Rush Limbaugh and FOX News would have you believe. For every person under 30, there was a person over 60, as well as someone smack dab in the middle. Black people. White people. Asians and Hispanics. There were Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Partiers and even some anarchists. Goths, metrosexuals, two drag queens, a quintet of people dressed as cows and one man who had clipped can-tops together into a chain-mail-like Rastafarian wig: and yeah, it was fucking awesome.
Regardless of their differences, they all shared one commonality. The people, all of them, were angry. But as their anger was focused with purpose, it was also righteous. Their anger had intent. They weren’t there simply to complain or to make a scene; this wasn’t about getting their face on TV or having a story to tell. And it was far more than a chance to come out and vent.
The people I met Saturday spoke of the urgency of this moment in time, of the absolute necessity of reigning corporations in before we all become debt-slaves to a corporate monarch with no geographical boundaries to limit its power. The people—myself included—were there to ask for change, and if need be to fight for it: not with fists or weapons, but with unity, numbers and persistence.
And yeah, with chants.
As I said, it was unlike anything I had felt before. I imagine it’s something that hasn’t been felt by many in this country since the ‘60s. Of course, I’m only 38, and by the time I was born in 1973, the energy and angst that fueled the youth culture of the ‘60s had been tempered by the combination of political fatigue, bad acid and the punch-in-the-brain that was disco.
But as I watched the occupation (participating in my own non-chanting way), I came to understand that while the energy that fueled the ‘60s might have taken a couple decades off—perhaps skipping my generation entirely—it was present here in the shaking fists of those older than me, present also in the increasingly explosive shouts of those younger. That presence could be felt in the synched voices of those standing in circles, in the waiving of signs at passing cars, in the honking of horns, felt in the clapping of hands, in the passing of water, felt in the smiling of a stranger and in the picture-taking of slogans printed on a shirt, of people lying in the grass and of the police amassed stoically on the outskirts of the crowd.
Fix the nation, tax the rich.
The people united, will never be divided.
We are the 99.
In every face I saw, in every conversation I had, I could feel the spirit of the ‘60s surging towards an as-of-yet unseen zenith. And if I were a corporate executive, I wouldn’t want that story getting out there either.