The Occupy Wall Street protest is nearing its fourth week and shows no signs of ending just yet. A march across the Brooklyn Bridge drew over a thousand people and led to the arrest of some 700, and similar protests have begun to pop up around America. Hoping to gain some insight into the whole affair, I went there myself last Friday, September 30th. That day, the protestors marched to One Police Plaza ostensibly to demonstrate against police brutality.

There has been ample criticism that those occupying Wall Street lack a unified purpose or comprehensible demands, and the accuracy of this criticism was the most useful takeaway from up-close observation. Among the several hundred people at a protest directed specifically at police brutality, I noticed signs or pamphlets in support of the following causes:


-Ending the NYPD "police state"

-Arresting bankers

-Denying police protection to the wealthy

-Occupying more things

-Troy Davis's innocence

-An end to "war profiteering"

-Socialist revolution

-An end to nuclear power and nuclear weapons

-Ending the Fed

In addition to this smorgasbord of causes, there were as expected a great many generic attacks on the police and the NYPD in particular, with one particular sign declaring "You are 8x more likely to be killed by a cop than by a terrorist." Despite their complaints, an implied hope seemed to exist among the protesters that the police would lash out and thus lend legitimacy to their cause. Protestors have never missed a chance online to decry alleged brutality and accuse police of luring protesters into arrest, while failing to acknowledge police warnings that certain actions would lead to arrest:

At the Friday protest itself, though, protestors' chants turned from the police to opposing corporations, with a cry of "No more capitalism!" getting the evening's biggest cheer.

A journey to the occupiers' main campsite in Zucciotti Park (called "Liberty Square" by protesters) revealed an even more jumbled set of attitudes. Everything from Communists to anarchists to 9/11 Truthers could be found, all coexisting in a Woodstock-like atmosphere of drum bands, tie-die, and wacky hairstyles. Protestors have crafted their own gift economy, sharing food, books, gadgets, and a sense of rage. The only thing they have yet to share, it seems, is a cause.

An official manifesto released online by the protesters last week is equally flaky. It jumps all over the place and frequently veers off into the ridiculous. Corporations are blamed for the death penalty and weapons of mass destruction, both government endeavors. They are said to hold students "hostage" with entirely voluntary student loans, and are even accused of using "the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press." The manifesto relies wholly on blanket statements; all corporations are impugned for discrimination, pollution, and "colonialism" with no effort to separate the innocent from the guilty.

For all their sense of righteousness, protestors are apparently bereft of a sense of irony. The driving forces behind the entire protest have been Facebook, Twitter, and iGadgets of all sizes, and at the center of their "Liberty Square" is a computerized control station which uses the Internet to coordinate the movement. None of this would be possible without the corporations the protestors hate so much, and inventions like Twitter seem odd coming from the same forces apparently bent on using "military and police forces" to silence dissent.

Despite the silliness underlying the whole matter, protestors seem convinced that they are changing the world. "I'm your Tea Party, Obama," one sign read, "now what are you waiting for?" Unless the occupiers can build a more coherent message, it seems like they will be the ones left waiting. Alternately, if they cannot correct their current aimlessness, protesters may find themselves co-opted by other movements. There are already significant signs that the protests are becoming increasingly enmeshed with old-fashioned labor organizations. The event schedule at shows that union events dominate much of the agenda, with a Teamsters rally, labor outreach working group, a union march from Foley Square, a show of support for locked-out Sotheby workers, and more all occurring just in the last 3 days. As my current office is located above a site of recurring union protests, I need no introduction into the power of labor demonstrators to be bothersome. If the Wall Street protests continue along this arc, a great many others will become acquainted with this power as well.


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