I visited Zuccotti park on Sunday (Oct 16, 2011) and it brought back memories of marching against the Vietnam war in the 60’s – and yes, despite the fact that I remember the 60’s I really was there. In once sense the message was the same – Power to The People. A group feeling cheated and wronged were trying to change the course of those in power. But there were differences as well. Here are some random thoughts about those differences.
I hear a lot of complaints that OWS (Occupy Wall Street) is unfocused and needs a more succinct list of demands. I disagree. I think the lack of simple demands engenders a lot of conversation. And conversation was one thing that impressed me on at Zuccotti park. People were talking to each other. For the most part, the protesters were engaging others – media, tourists and just curious folks in conversations about what they believed. And the lack of a consistent message kept those conversations going because everyone I heard talk was there for a slightly different reason.
This contrasts sharply with my recollections of the “peace” marches in which I participated in the 1960’s. We were marching for peace against the war, but our rhetoric and behavior was anything but peaceful. We chanted slogans at people rather than talk with them.
The people in Zuccotti park showed a lot of concern for others. The place was cluttered but clean, their own sanitation department was organized to keep it that way. Even flower beds were fenced off and people were respectful of that. This contrasts markedly with my recollections of anti-war protestors looting stores and vandalizing property back in “the day”. I saw a man with tattoos all over his face reach down with a rag in his (bare) hand to wipe up dog urine while keeping others from stepping in it.
On what appears to be the “official” OWS site, they are talking about first aid just 1 minute into the 7 minute video.
Amenities – a strange word to use in a situation like this, but I can think of none better – ranged from a food line where anyone who wanted to could get a meal to a people’s library. There were probably a dozen buckets holding over a hundred books and even chairs set nearby so folks could read. Someone was even handing out blank calendar booklets
There were cops. Lots of them. But mostly I saw them just standing around. The only people I heard them admonish were the tourists. They had put up barriers to distinguish the park from the sidewalk and if you were on the sidewalk side, you had to keep moving. If you wanted to stop, you had to move inside so as not to block the walk way.
I’ve seen the videos and read reports of beatings and arrests. So I know terrible things happened. But none of the occupiers (or cops for that matter) seemed to hold a grudge the day I was there.
I saw none. I know there had been some by authorities against the protesters. But there’s much less violence from either side than I remember from the 60′s. I’m aware of the front-page picture of the man tackling a cop. but I’m also aware that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. When I marched in Washington DC against the war, protestors openly looted from local stores and trashed the place, and it was almost expected we’d get tear gassed – and we did. The tone was far from peaceful when I marched but it was on Sunday.
I hope it’s a renaissance – a re-ignition of the idea that our society functions best for those at the top as well as the bottom when the top and bottom are not so far apart. Even the IMF seems to think so. Hell, Eric Cantor is even pandering up to the idea. I doubt he’s sincere but one of the things that happens when people stake out a claim like OWS is it moves the conversation in that direction.