Today you get a break from the Bear’s usual rant. After reading an article written by Jim Bellano who recently visited the OWS camp in Zuccoti Park for ctpost.com, I invited Professor Bellano to repost his article here and he was kind enough to agree.
As a dedicated professional teaching political science at Western Connecticut State University, I felt it was incumbent upon me to observe the Occupy Wall Street movement and give my students a first-hand account of the phenomenon that, recently, has dominated the headlines. That, and I had to be in New York City that weekend for a friend’s 50th birthday party.
In any event, after my sojourn to Zuccotti Park, I came to the conclusion that most media accounts have it wrong and Occupy Wall Street could be summed up in one word — unimpressive.
Conservative media has painted the protest as some kind of modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.To the contrary, the protesters were polite, organized and extremely well behaved.
The park was relatively clean and there was a concerted effort among the protesters to keep it that way. There was no evidence of any of the “shuns” that I had been hearing about. No urina-tion, fornica-tion or defeca-tion as far as I could see.
Conversely, the liberal media has been portraying Occupy Wall Street as a grand movement, perhaps, the ideological counterweight to the Tea Party. Not likely.
While Zuccotti Park evidenced all of the trappings of the hyped-up protest I’d been reading about — acoustic guitars, a woman breastfeeding, a large Che Guevara flag — at the end of my visit to the protest, I couldn’t help feeling that the gathering was nothing more than a cliche.
Protesters generally expressed two messages: one, anti-war (“End This Endless War,” and “U.S. End the Occupation of (pick one) Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Palestine;” the other, articulating anger at Wall Street (“The road to hell is paved with stocks and bonds,” “Human needs not corporate greed”).
Some, more creative types, managed to incorporate both onto one placard: “How do we end the deficit? End the war, tax the rich,” and “Wall Street bankers are the enemy, not Iran.”
Some signs were contradictory.
One man wanted to “Arrest the Banks.” Close by, another professed that “Corporations are not people,” a statement, that if true, would put the kibosh on his fellow protester’s initiative to incarcerate financial institutions.
The People’s Library bore an entrance sign that read “Books Not Bombs.”
One major criticism of the Occupiers is that they do not have a coherent message. After interviewing about a dozen people, I found nothing to rebut that assertion.
Among the protesters I spoke with was Terry, a Hula Hoop-wielding Bennington College student. Her biggest concern was her educational debt and the prospects for getting a job after graduation. I asked what she was studying.
“Social Practices In Art,” she replied. According to the Bennington website, tuition, room and board for 2011-12 is approximately $54,000. If I were her parents, I’d be concerned too.
Then, there was Tommy, a Teamster who was carrying a “Stop the War on Workers” sign. But rather than lamenting the loss of American manufacturing jobs to the global economy, Tommy’s issue was personal.
The Professional Art Handlers of Local 814 have been in a labor dispute with Sotheby’s over salaries and pensions. Recently, the vaunted auction house locked out the union, trying to save on the cost of moving around Monets and Picassos by replacing union rank and file with temporary workers
Of all those I observed and interviewed, I had the most empathy for Tommy. His expressions of “angst” and “loss of pride” over being “squeezed” by Sotheby’s — a group of unsympathetic one-percenters if there ever was one — were the most concrete and real.
I also met with Bill Dobbs, one of the Occupy organizers.
Dobbs had all of the relevant facts on the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, hedge fund manager bonuses, and income disparity in the U.S. at his fingertips.
He characterized the atmosphere at Occupy Wall Street as one of “fun and anger,” but “with a positive message.”
He spoke in terms of “achieving economic justice” through “policy change,” but was adamant that he “didn’t want the movement to be co-opted by politicians.”
It’s not that Dobbs wasn’t sincere. I could see he was passionate about his cause. But beyond his oxymoronic rhetoric lies the problem at the heart of Occupy Wall Street.
While Dobbs sees it as a “mass movement,” most of the occupiers — like Terry and Tommy — were there for parochial reasons.
We all should be ticked off about the bank bailouts and absence of Justice Department prosecutions. But neither Local 814’s dispute with Sotheby’s nor Terry’s job situation will be resolved by singing “Kumbaya” at a park in lower Manhattan.
Equally vapid as their signs were the protesters’ chants. “All day all week, occupy Wall Street” and “the whole world is watching” had the creativity and relevance of a high school pep rally.
All of the individuals I spoke with proudly made comparisons with the protests of the 1960s.
In the end, maybe that’s what the Occupy protest is all about.
From what I observed, Occupy Wall Street was more of a “happening” than a “movement.”
Zuccotti Park was filled with Baby Boomers seeking to recapture their Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme memories of a by-gone era and idealistic twenty-somethings trying to stake out their own version of the 60s, so that years from now, and after they retire from a career in corporate America, they can pass the stories on to their grandchildren.
James V. Bellano teaches political science at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. Professor Bellano also writes a blog at http://letspeeltheonion.blogspot.com/
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