No Time for Sound Bytes Now: #OccupyWallStreet is its Own Message

At Liberty Plaza, New York City (CC BY SA Carwil Bjork-James)

A formidable NYPD presence holds one side of the exit ramp while an equally-large throng of soaked, defiant youth face them on the other side. I’m heading back towards the ramp after witnessing a white-shirted police supervisor commandeer a public bus, ordering the passengers off and instructing the driver to turn around and head back to the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge has been shut down for over an hour now. When the bus arrives, hundreds upon hundreds will be arrested and boarded onto the bus, as well as police vans. Meanwhile, the protesters on the street begin chanting to the police: “We pay YOU! We pay YOU!” and “It’s OUR bridge. It’s OUR bridge!” as a cold, driving rain fails to dampen their spirits.

Police square off against protesters. Photograph: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

Arriving four days earlier, I had hoped for, and was greatly disappointed when, a short list of demands never materialized from the occupation’s General Assembly. Repeal corporate personhood. Remove special interest money from elections. Something. Yet by the fourth day, standing at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge with this standoff, it was clear to me that the Occupy Wall Street movement had evolved.

The occupation at Liberty Plaza may outwardly appear to be just a large encampment of hundreds of tired, exuberant, unwashed people. But it’s an incredibly subversive idea. What the occupation has managed to do thus far is set up a center for agitation on Wall Street’s doorstep, while simultaneously stand up to the most militarized police force in America. In that brave act of defiance, they’ve begun the process of recapturing public space to assemble and foment resistance against a corrupt system, a public space lost to us after 9/11 (with the introduction of “free speech zones”) and just as importantly, begin to remedy the fear and cynicism so many Americans have been feeling for well over a decade now under the hand of a police state and a domestic intelligence apparatus unparalleled in American history. The Founders clearly understood that the right to assemble was of key importance to those who wanted to correct wrongs done by their government. If they could not assemble, they could not achieve their goals. Liberty Plaza is a long-overdue civics lesson.

The protesters have collectively said, simply by holding the plaza: This is OUR square, the PEOPLE’S square, and we have a right to assemble and organize a campaign against the economic and civil injustices perpetrated by the plutocrats and their tax payer-funded security service, the NYPD.

They’ve managed to pull back the curtain and expose the police state which works to protect the ruling elite’s interests at the expense of the citizens they originally took an oath to serve: CIA-trained NYPD counterintelligence squads; videotaping the faces of peaceful protesters to feed into a facial recognition database; commandeering public buses for mass arrests; entrapment; kettling and pepper spray. And perhaps the most audacious: A $4.6 million bribe, ostensibly for new laptops, given by JP Morgan to the NYPD. All of this against peaceful citizens who are the living embodiment of a wildly-popular sentiment in America since 2008: the rich and powerful in this country have gotten away with too much. When Americans demand fundamental change and refuse to rely on or even trust a thoroughly-corrupt system to achieve that change, they must begin at the root of their oppression, and it’s as simple an idea as occupying public space in the face of police intimidation.

This movement is only getting started, with many, many cities developing their own occupations. Maybe I’m wrong, but perhaps it’s time to just let this people-powered movement grow on its own, because you can’t package an idea whose time has come into one or two pithy sound bytes. As one protester told me: “It’s bigger than one or two issues because it’s not about reforming the hopelessly corrupt system we have. This is about creating a new system entirely.”

If you would like to donate to #OccupyWallStreet, visit the New York City General Assembly website.

The Project is leaving Wall Street to report on the Boston occupation, and then to Washington D.C. for the major October 6th occupation in our nation’s capital, but we can’t do it without your help. If you enjoy my work and would like to help me cover expenses such as travel, food and gear, please consider donating to the David and Goliath Project’s #Occupy Media Fund.

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