Is This What Democracy Looks Like? Observing the Launch of Occupy Wall Street

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Ari Lipsitz
The Occupy Wall Street protest, now in its dwindling stage, started off as something of a shitshow. Around noon on Saturday, Runnin' Scared watched as protesters met at Bowling Green to march around the bronze Wall Street bull and begin their demonstrations. At first, the results were mixed--the journalist-to-protester ratio was totally skewed, and the combination of jugglers, vuvuzelas, handmade cardboard signs of Internet memes, cowbells, bongos, and V For Vendetta masks made the protest seem more carnival-esque than demonstrators may have hoped. The small mass of white college students, who seemed too self-conscious to yell "This is what democracy looks like!" for more than a minute or two at a time, marched around the bull until everyone seemed to tire of it. "Fuck the pigs!" someone wearing a hula hoop shouted halfheartedly.

After the revolutionary yoga session, the protest migrated to the southern corner of Bowling Green, where protesters soapboxed on the steps of the Smithsonian/Custom House building, cycling between grievances and speeches. Wizened baby boomers came on to remind everyone that the Sixties existed, drawing cheers and confusion in equal measure among the 800-strong crowd. The steps were off the path of traffic; half a block away, there was no clear indication that Wall Street was even being occupied.

As the afternoon wore on, the crowd grew to about 1,500 people, but it never came close to the 20,000 hoped for by organizers. Even with those numbers, which were more than most people expected, the chants for "Power to the people!" and "Democracy now!" didn't go far.

No formal demands had been decided upon before the occupation began, and after speaking with many protesters, it seemed that everyone had different reasons for attending. When asked why he was attending, Hunter Thompson (seriously), a 22-year-old from Albany, replied, "For the ladies!" and pointed to the sign hanging around his neck: "Ladies?" When pressed further, he admitted to having slightly more reasonable motivations. "I'm here because of general discontent over the economic structure, particularly big corporations who are hoarding all the wealth in the country and not using that wealth to create jobs," he said, pointing to a second sign that expressed his political discontent.

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Ari Lipsitz
In an endless parade of Guy Fawkes masks and bandana-wearing hipsters, it was pretty difficult to figure out where to start. But one group managed to stick out: the Protest Chaplains, pictured at right, "a bunch of Christians who have a complicated relationship with faith and understand all the harm that's been done, as well as the good," according to member Marisa Egerstrom of Boston. Wearing long white liturgical robes, the group was there to protest the mainstream religious right who, according to Egerstrom, are "hijacking the language and the tradition and the beauty of our faith for purposes of greed and waging war for profit."

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Ari Lipsitz

Runnin' Scared was surprised to find that grew more vehement as its numbers diminished. By Saturday night, the Redditors and the laughable atmosphere dissipated, leaving only the hardliners. Almost 300 dedicated revolutionaries hunkered down in Zucotti Park and, amidst random outbursts of chants and scattered guitar playing, spent the night in sleeping bags and surrounded by policemen who could only sit back and watch from the streets.

[@arisayswhat] [@beckynathanson]

Go to Runnin' Scared for more news coverage.


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10 comments
Palsimon
Palsimon

This revolution will go nation-wide as more people become aware of it. Do not under estimate the determination of the leaders and of the boiling rage in the hearts of most Americans over our corrupt political and economic system.

johnhay
johnhay

Amazing that today there are stories like this, and yet not a word about the president or the mayor or the governor. Until people stop playing politics and apply the same standard to both parties, nothing is going to change. Ditto with the so-called anti-War protesters. These people aren't idealists. They fall completely silent when a president they like is in office. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs somehow provides every treasury secretary no matter who wins.

Asfo_del
Asfo_del

The Village Voice coverage has been defeatist, snarky, and condescending. Why? The protests may not have been perfectly organized, but this is a heroic, important moment made up of dedicated people calling attention to a serious issue. It deserves much better than articles like this one.

GG
GG

What the protesters have been willing to do is admirable and courageous. However, there are some key weaknesses to the protest strategy that have undermined its impact, and forced the protesters into a diminishing cycle. This can be learned from and corrected, even by this weekend. The mistakes were...

1) On-line organizing was not sufficiently supported by on-the-ground organizing: As a result, protesters showed up to a 'self-organizing' event that had no plan, no demands, and no infrastructure in place. The people who showed up have done a great job despite this, but are spending so much time trying to figure things out on the fly, they cannot full seize the moment they have created. Lesson: on-line organizing cannot replace on-the-ground organizing, and is useful only to the degree it supports it.  

2) Insufficient preparation for escalation: once the protesters were rebuffed by police on Wall St. and sent to a nearby park, they lost momentum, and the ability to stay at the center of the spotlight. When this occurs, it  becomes absolutely necessary to regain momentum, and rejuvinate the 'spectacle' through escalation of non-violent tactics, such as direct action and in this case, risking mass arrest. This should have been planned for, as it totally predictable. However, without any direct action training in place in the days leading up to it,  people have been *far less* willing to take this risk. In contrast, with a couple hours training, people are far more willing to participate. This would have refocused the energy of the protest, as well as the attention of the media. Again, there was no on-the-ground infrastructure or plan by the on-line organizers. 

That being said, these are all correctable. The folks on the ground are doing a great job with what they have been handed. If they refocus, train people for direct action, then by friday or monday they can re-sieze the moment. This story is not over yet. 

Anonymous
Anonymous

They're out doing something, and you're talkin 'shit about it on the internet.

Anon
Anon

Why the condescending tone?  I love that these people are out protesting against the rich folks on Wall St who crashed our economy!

activity
activity

I would be there only I am all the way on the west coast, there is not much of an opportunity for people on this side to just walk over and show solidarity in force. The reality is also most people can not actively participate even if they wanted, especially if they have a current job but would have working hours and schedule that would prevent their participation. To leave and participate would likely mean in this economy, surrendering one's job to another who is less likely to show a political perspective.

I am so happy to see people rising up...its going to start with a dismissal as the tone is in this story. Soon, when the media actually must take these popular sentiments seriously, they will take it threateningly because all mainstream media benefits from this unfair model. They would rather be covering the stories the finance and banks point to.

anon
anon

There are several solidarity protests on the west coast, in L.A. and San Francisco at least. I know the SF people plan to hold another rally on Saturday September 24 at noon in Union Square. Look at the U.S. day of rage website for more info on these protests.

Joey Boots
Joey Boots

weak.....cliche'd and psuedo wanna-be socially conscious hippies.

Tsb1954
Tsb1954

Gotta start somewhere kid. Were you around in 1969? Didn't think so. We CAN change the World.

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