Zuccotti Park is a few blocks above Wall St. and a five minute walk from where I work. When I’ve gone ‘down to the demonstration / to get my fair share of abuse’ during half a dozen lunch hours in recent weeks, I’ve approached the area from the north - I work downtown, but not in finance. All the same on weekdays I’m in a dress shirt and tie, braces and a graying goatee (of course I sport a graying goatee, I’m quoting The Rolling Stones). As I’ve walk through the crowd of mostly the young and the righteous I know I look like an incongruent Other, one of the 1% come to gawk at the freaks. When I’ve taken a seat, though, my roll has quickly changed, at least as viewed by the other gawkers. My first time visiting the Occupiers I got my lunch from a familiar Halal cart just outside the park and found a spot on one of the stone benches. Before I was half way through my chicken and rice a lady in a University of Michigan T-shirt approached me with a camera and a big smile. ‘Can I please take your picture?” “Sure.” “You’re so different, I just love the diversity!”
Maybe not so different. Forty years ago I was the kid in a park with a ‘Give Peace A Chance’ sign and a tired, determined expression, protesting the war in Viet Nam. I have a tender feeling towards OWS, whose encampment feels more like the make love, not war generation than the Tea Party gatherings, certainly, or last year’s Restore Sanity event. I’ve been wondering when the next generation of socially conscious hippies was going to show up; here they are.
For all the derision directed their way about lack of focus and unity in their goals, the organization and egalitarian nature of their community seems remarkably focused. There’s a speaker’s corner, an informational center, cafeteria, library, and a large area with tents and sleeping bags. Most remarkably, a leader has not yet emerged to become a household name and YouTube sensation. In a time when the next person in line for their fifteen minutes becomes famous in fifteen seconds, how is that possible?
Each time I’ve visited the park I’ve been relieved to see that they have not become distracted by pundits trying to explain to them who they are. They haven’t been ousted from their spot by a fall-cleaning crew or an exotic October snowstorm, but it doesn’t seem likely that they will outlast a full-on New York winter. Yet there’s a decided sense of in-it-for-the-long-run patience and perspective that transcends the hype that has grown around them. If the media is a thousand jolts of electricity a second, Occupy Wall Street is a gravity wave.
Until they take it on the road. On their walkabouts is when they endanger their ideals, setting up the dailies with photos of cops vs. crowds and the talking heads with talk of ‘mob,’ ‘chaos’ and ‘danger.’ As Occupiness has spread around the country and the world, adapting itself as it goes, it’s doing its darnedest to pull attention away from its purpose. Rioting in Rome and flash bangs in Oakland are stories unto themselves.
Zuccotti Park is not very big, and it’s only partially surrounded by police, barricades and media. I’ve yet to receive my fair share of abuse, either from those inside or those outside. The police are not threatening; they stand around the perimeter and observe. I’ve never seen an officer step inside. Are the people in this park really dangerous? Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to… find a job (a handful are yearning for a free lunch, but I can live with that). What they are looking for is a future they can live in. They are the children of 9/08.
When I was one of the kids protesting in a park we assumed, of course, that we were changing the world. It’s clear we had an effect for a time on the Powers That Be, but those powers are far more powerful and pervasive now than they were when I was young. Our representative democracy is threatened to the extent that the system is rigged in their favor.
I've defined what they want, who they are and what their issue is. I hope they aren’t listening. I hope they continue to sidestep the distractions. The irony is that their message may only be effectual if it is co-opted by a political party or another established influence group. But I hope it stays true, that Zuccotti Park has the same feeling about it the next time I visit. What I dearly hope is that it doesn’t one day have T-Shirts for sale, raising money for the cause, with the message ‘Occupy Wall St. – brought to you by Goldman Sachs.’
Causes Evan Sinclair Supports
OWS, Doctors without Borders, The Acting Company, American Humanist Association, Bat Conservation International