Photo: cc David Shankbone, Occupy Wall Street Day 23
There is anger all over the country about what is happening to hard working, everyday people, anger because what Wall Street represents is wrong.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST JOSH POLLOCK
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When I went to march last week in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement I was wondering about how we can translate the enthusiasm we see on the Internet and in social media to action in the streets. I walked away from the day thinking what we actually need is a way to get the spirit of Liberty Plaza or even Tahrir Square everywhere.
How can we make the spirit of these places real life? Not everyone can go camp out in a park, or risk arrest to march in the streets.
I got on the subway last Wednesday afternoon at Union Square. To get to the stairs I had to weave my way through the crowds of people leisurely strolling through the farmer’s market. When I got off the train, ten minutes later at City Hall, I walked into a massive rally of community groups and labor unions that had come out to support the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Later that night, when I was walking home from the train it was eerily quiet in my neighborhood, like nothing at all had happened. On my computer, sitting in my comfortable chair, I watched youtube video of police beating protesters. I had been twenty feet away, behind another line of barricades, when this happened:
I was not able to see what was going on very well through the crowds, but I heard it go down.
I didn’t care about getting arrested, but preferred not to. What I really didn’t want to do was hurt someone or get hurt myself. I may one day discover the limits of my commitment to non-violence, but I did not in that moment.
Carpe Diem, or the moment that we have
Surrounded by that many people, it feels like it looks: as if something is happening and no one is sure what that “it” is. Liberty Plaza is not Tahrir Square. We are not facing what the Egyptians were up against, and we are not at a “Tahrir Square Moment,” in spite of the hype. What may be happening though, is a step towards a world where this country doesn’t back dictators like Mubarak. Anyway, that is one of my hopes. I don’t know if that is the case, but what I do know is what it feels like there – like something powerful is happening.
Occupy Wall Street has been criticized for not having any specific demands. Mayor Michael Bloomberg complained to the New York Times that the city couldn’t resolve the situation because the movement had no leaders and because the protesters “don’t coalesce about one issue.”
It doesn’t really matter that such a set of demands were adopted on September 29th (you can read them here.) I don’t think there is a need for any rational argument for what has been going on for over three weeks now.
There is a sense all over the country that what has happened because of what Wall Street represents is wrong.
Mind the gap? Yes, we do.
People camping out in the park are driven by an anger that many people share. It is the anger they feel when they see banks forecloseing on homes, while taking government bailouts and paying huge bonuses. When people demand to march down Wall Street itself and are violently prevented from doing so, they are expressing an anger that is shared by most people in this country today. It is the anger they feel when they think about Walter Reed Hospital, Katrina, ten-years of war in Afghanistan and see politicians squabbling with out end.
What is wrong with the financial system or the government cannot be reduced to any simple explanation. There is also no simple solution, but the anger with it is justifiable and real.
So let’s sit with that emotion. We are right to be troubled by the current state of our government, but this state of affairs isn’t a sign that democracy doesn’t work. What it shows is what happens when only the voices of those with money are heard.
The 99% stands up – political and personal
Occupy Wall Street is attempting to do something positive with this anger: turning it into a voice that can’t be ignored. This movement is bringing people together and demonstrating the effectiveness of direct democracy through forming General Assemblies. They are also highlighting the fact that little has changed since the financial crisis began in 2008. They are reminding people that they are not alone in their frustration. People are figuring out how to do this on the fly and what is happening is far from perfect.
Not everyone can drop everything in their lives and join the movement closer to their homes (it has spread to hundreds of American cities so far.) People are busy with their lives and the lives of those who rely on them.
We can all ask ourselves what these emotions we have say about how we live our lives and relate to others. The financial crisis was brought about by a small number of people doing incredibly greedy things, but we are all greedy in our own way.
The Occupy Wall Street Protesters say, “We are the 99%.” They have carved out a tiny fraction of lower Manhattan to vocalize a popular sentiment, but this is work that must be done anywhere: make the personal political.
Constantly asking why big corporations are so greedy and the government is so corrupt isn’t going to get us anywhere. Asking these questions of ourselves, our friends and our loved ones — not in an accusatory manner, but in a productive way—that is the first step to a society that wouldn’t give birth to the Wall Street that we know today, a Wall Street that requires hundreds of police officers to prevent anyone from walking down it.
Josh Pollock is a student of Environmental Studies at Goddard College, where he studies practical sustainable design for urban areas. He lives in New York City and works as an audio engineer and web designer. His website is www.ComplexWaveform.com.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.