Occupy Wall Street Is No Band Aid

Special for HT by Matthew Whitt in New York

Photos by Allison Herbert

Photo by Allison Herbert

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 7 — Occupy Wall Street (OWS) could be the first real activist movement to enact significant change in the U.S. since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

With the young movement’s spotty media coverage, most of which is condescending and bordering willful ignorance, it is easy to imagine how this very real and dynamic protest had been initially overlooked.

This is especially the case considering how the mainstream media has mainly focused its gaze on the demographic of the protesters and their lack of narrowly defined demands.

Defining the group as a bunch of violent hippies, a label soaked in paradox, and forcing their message into one of the many conveniently stagnant political lenses in U.S. politics, is clearly an attempt at de-legitimizing the movement.

Naomi Klein, a liberal documentary filmmaker known for her movies “The Shock Doctrine” and “The Take”, among others, poignantly reminded an exhausted crowd at Liberty Plaza on Thursday October 6th that they were finally taking the fight to the root of the problem.

Coming to Wall Street, the birth place of the global recession is an American reaction that has been long overdue, said Klein. Inspiring the crowd to continue the fight, she noted that while political pundits have been asking what the OWS protesters are protesting, the rest of the world has asked, “What took you so long?”

Naomi Klein also drew a parallel between OWS and the 1999 Seattle anti-globalization protests. She noted that OWS, like the 1999 protests, is a “movement of movements.”

Goldi, a local musician from the East Village shares this sentiment. In regards to the great variety of causes that seem to encompass the spirit of OWS, Goldi emphasized that “of all the protests I’ve seen, this is the one that encompasses everything.” Goldi also insisted, in response to the impossibility of defining concrete demands, that “What we are doing here, it is so noble that it’s hard to make clear. The system is busted, there is no democracy, so who do you vote for? It doesn’t matter. It’s enough to drive a supposedly free man crazy. We’re not free.”

OWS now appears to be a growing legitimate movement, and its legitimacy stems from its growing role as a political force outside of the corruption and corporate influence in the established political structure. More importantly, it is a truly grassroots U.S. movement and draws its strength from a sentiment that resonates across the board with U.S. citizens.

That sentiment being, of course, that we no longer live in a democracy, that we no longer live in an effective capitalist society, and that we live in a country where the mistakes of the richest 1% are paid for by the remaining 99%.

Photo by Allison Herbert

One thing needs to be made clear here; Occupy Wall Street is not the Left’s Tea Party. This is not about creating a new political party; this is not about protecting and reinvigorating old socio-economic doctrine and this is certainly not funded by any leftist equivalents to the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch.

It is not the Tea Party because the threat it imposes on the current status quo is actually very real, and it is not, as the media has clearly demonstrated in its near blackout coverage of the occupation, something that only succeeds in selling newspapers. As Naomi Klein put it, this is not something you can “sum up in a media sound bite.”

OWS is not a political party. It is a grassroots organization of anger that is being funneled and directed, through extremely effective democratic means, to the root cause of that anger: the U.S. financial sector, and more specifically, Wall Street.  This is a movement fueled and driven by the people.

The reason that OWS doesn’t sell in corporate media might have something to do with the movement’s commitment to nonviolence. The NYPD’s response to the occupying protestors has been text book proof of the efficiency of morally just civil disobedience. In the three weeks since the September 17th “Day of Rage”, the police have been unable to expose any tangible evidence of violent unprovoked “rage.”

That is not to say that tensions have not been high, however, as protests have often devolved into bouts of temporary chaos after incitement by the NYPD. After the union led march from Foley Square to Liberty Plaza on Wednesday, October 5th, witnesses on the ground reported that following the arrests of about 20 protesters, and after the use of mace and batons, the situation quickly turned to chaos.

Zack Kennison, a newcomer to the OWS protests that was present during the march on Wednesday, expressed his feelings in regards to this, saying, “It is the sign of a generation that is waking up and shedding its apathy. Emotions are high and people are angry. As the numbers swell it is important for us to remain organized; becoming an angry mob will only serve to undermine and hinder us.”

Photo by Allison Herbert

For the time being, at least, OWS has no lack of order or organization. The level of internal solidarity and collective coordination in the seemingly chaotic camp is actually quite astounding. The Liberty Plaza camp itself is a case study in effective democratic socialism, and perhaps can be seen as an example of the kind of society the OWS protesters strive to create.

Naomi Klein joked to the crowd on Wednesday that OWS has taken matters into its own hands by creating a political environment that promotes direct democracy, provides food, free legal services, and free health care. This is of course in reference to not only the internal structure of the camp, but also to the massively generous donations of food, legal services, and health services by individual and organizational supporters around the world.

Allison Herbert, a freelance photojournalist, commented on the logistics of the camp itself. Expecting a squalid camp of disorder and chaos, she was surprised to find it strikingly the opposite.

“Hundreds of sleeping bags, air mattresses, and beach chairs in a sea of blue tarpaulin form long rows of adjoining bunks running the length of the pink granite pavilion. At its center sits a cafeteria – al fresco style – where food is stored, meals are served, and dishes are washed in an unexpectedly efficient manner. The South wall is lined with tents sheltering a meager supply of donations – everything from bakery bread to political nonfiction–while a huddle of sign makers sit in a pile of cardboard, wood, and markers on the North end. With no designated leader or the allowance of bull horns the group has cleverly adopted a system of repeat-after-me “Mic Check’s” in order to communicate messages in large groups – like organizing the crowd into a march on City Hall in a matter of minutes – during which time the loudest ‘mic checkers’ wear a perpetual look of strained patience and masked frustration on their faces. Spend an hour with Zuccotti Park’s residents and you see that they are in fact a group of angry people with no specific demands or solutions to the country’s economic problems, but they are also an assembly of citizens making their voices heard by their elected leaders. OWS at its core is an expression of pure democracy. And that’s the point the news is missing.”

Pure democracy and compassion is what OWS fights for, and in daring to challenge the corporate kleptocracy currently in power, they are setting the spark for a new wave of social dialogue that will shake U.S. politics and governance for decades to come.

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2 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street Is No Band Aid

  • Perhaps what is needed for the movement’s next step is for activist leaders in New York and around the country to call “regional” conferences on a specific day or weekend, with the express purpose of developing an agenda for a national conference, and the appointment of delegates to that national conference.

    If such a succession of regional and then a national conference should take place, the deliberations and the recommendations to the whole people would have a real, grassroots political legitimacy. There should be no prejudgement as to what the conferences should recommend.

    These conferences however should not be for “canned” sectarian rhetoric, but for open-minded discussion and collective brainstorming. The OWS movement has to take a concrete, logical next step, of the whole thing might be co-opted or might just fizzle.

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