Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

 The two men in the Guy Fawkes masks had "Undercover Cop" written all over them.

BY the time I left work last night my whole family was asleep, so I decided to stop by and check out the Occupy Wall Street protest site at Zuccotti Park. For those of you not familiar with lower Manhattan geography, the park is directly across from the World Trade Center site and used to be called Liberty Plaza. When I worked at the WTC it’s where I would eat my lunches and it’s where I usually end up to sit and reflect when I  visit the site on the anniversary of the attack.

Spending some time at the camp it was obvious that however you want to feel about the protest you could find lots of material to support your argument. There are goofs, kooks, stereotypes, hippies, and people spewing nonsense, and there are sincere, intelligent, rational people who are aware of the limits of their protest but feel it’s important none the less. Overall there was an earnest sincerity that I always find unsettling, be it in religion or politics, that is indicative of “True Believers” and usually the over-simplification of complex issues.

I’ve had a very mixed personal response to the protests, ranging from blind contempt to a vague anti-establishment solidarity. I agree with some of the criticism that the protest is too amorphous and abstract and seemingly devoid of ideas, but at the same time it’s refreshing to see people making sacrifices to express themselves. Make no mistake, these kids were out in a cold, hard rain throughout the night and all of them were prepared to get maced or punched and spend the entire weekend in The Tombs just to be a part of whatever this ‘movement’ is.

Regardless of your opinions on tax reform or government’s role in healthcare or Wall Street regulation, I would hope that you would fully support people’s right to peacefully protest without having a police officer pound their kidneys with a nightstick or spray their eyes with mace. The police that I saw at the park were incredibly respectful and polite. They didn’t seem to be looking to find reasons to arrest people.  In fact they seemed to turn a blind eye to some things that might otherwise get you arrested. That said there was a quiet tension between the protesters and the police, basically a “don’t be a dick and  make my life difficult” vibe that all of us have felt.

The media was there in force and most of them seemed to be tailgating with the hope of police clashes in the morning. Even if they are just there for the blood sport,  they are there, and that is a win for the protest organizers. At minimum the group has people talking about their issues of choice, and for that reason it can already be considered a success. I am interested to see how this all plays out, if it will strengthen or wither, if there will be any lasting effect, if some sort of charismatic figure will arise from the rally, etc.  Time will tell.