What follows is a journalistic piece by Neferiu’s own Jonathan Stoddart AKA Ricca Razor Sharp on his recent/current trip to New York to learn more about the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Fear and Loathing on Wall Street
by Jonathan Stoddart
Episode 2: Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!
3:14 AM Eastern Time, Sunday October 16, 2011.
My hostel, Brooklyn New York
My name is Jonathan Stoddart, and I am an independent journalist, based out of Calgary, AB, Canada. This is the second in a series of pieces I am submitting over the coming days documenting my trip to New York City to cover the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ (OWS) demonstrations.
The United States of America
I have arrived in the United States of America. The land of the free and the home of the brave. The motherland of jazz, baseball, Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh. Today, she is a land coping with class and ideological tensions that threaten to bubble over. Some say she has lost her way. That she tortures her prisoners, that she ignores her people, that she doesn’t make things anymore. The number one song in the nation this week is ‘Someone Like You’, by Adelle, a Brit. If somebody ever dare say to you that the world would be better off without her (America, not Adelle), consider them a wild guesser. For better or for worse, the US ties the globe together, and if she jumped off a cliff, her void would create a vacuum. Predicting what would fill that space is speculatory at best. Ultimately the United States is an experiment in freedom and liberty. She is a mere babe compared to ancient cultures. Just as in the 60s, she seems to be teething. Nobody said this would be easy. The best things never are. I’m no more an American citizen than I am a member of the Calgary Flames, but in both cases I’m an interested observer, a fan. I’m off in search of patriots.
The Scene on the Ground
Although the ongoing demonstrations are based in Zuccotti Park, Saturday saw the protesters stage an event at Times Square, in midtown Manhattan. Missing the core of the demonstration due to a busy travel day, I arrived in time to find the crowd preparing to march to Washington Square, closer to downtown, in the midst of the NYU campus, for a ‘general assembly meeting’ at 10 PM. One may or may not agree with (or even be able to pinpoint) the politics of the demonstrators, but there is no denying that weeks into their movement, they are a well oiled machine. Unable to secure the permit necessary to operate a public address system, the demonstrators have employed a ‘human PA system’ that works like this: Firstly, the speaker says his or her piece, a few words at a time. Pausing after each phrase, the circling crowd repeats the words in unison, so that all may hear. The result is an effective, and frankly intoxicatingly inclusive system of communication. A series of hand gestures are used to indicate approval, or disapproval, for the speaker’s comments or suggestions. Dissenting voices are welcomed, and consensus is reached. The logistics of running an ongoing demonstration of this magnitude are substantial, and the efficiency with which they organize and make decisions stands in sharp and obvious contrast to the gridlock that currently plagues Capital Hill. If Washington has no intention of acknowledging the grievances of these demonstrators, they should at least consider emulating the spirit of their processes.
Occupy Washington Square
As demonstrators filtered their way into Washington Square, they were reminded by the considerable police presence that the park closes at midnight. The occupiers were peaceful in nature, but daunting in sheer force, numbering in the thousands. Believing that the movement was outgrowing Zuccotti Park, there was a faction of the crowd who moved to occupy the larger Washington Square on an ongoing basis, a proposal that threatened to bring forth conflict with police, as the midnight hour approached. Others opposed, and through the aforementioned process, it was largely decided to delay that move for several days, in hopes that a permit to occupy the square legally could be obtained. Still, as midnight neared, the lingering thousands, combined with the growing number of police, loomed ominous. Not wishing to tangle with the long arm of the American law on my first day in the country, and in accordance with my promise to Mom and Dad, I moved to the streets surrounding the park, as did most of the other protestors. As midnight approached, helmeted police officers, many on horseback, stood ground. Protesters attempted to diffuse the situation, chanting at the officers ‘Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect’ and ‘YOU are the 99%’. Although stories of police aggression abound, it seems to me that many of the working class officers are not altogether opposed to the demonstrations. As midnight came and went, there were moments when the situation seemed ready to escalate, but as of 12:30 AM, when I vacated the scene, cooler heads continued to prevail. I made my way back to my hostel in Brooklyn, inspired by what I had witnessed.
Idiots and Lowlifes?
At one point during the stand off, a young woman gained attention by shouting ‘NYPD Go to Hell!’ She was immediately silenced by the masses. Her chant gained no steam, and was completely at odds with the sentiment of the crowd. Still, it occurred to me, that if one were so inclined, they could post a two second clip of this girl, in an attempt to depict the demonstrators as unruly hooligans. To do so would be irresponsible and misleading, but possibly effective. This led me to ponder my views of the right wing Tea Party movement, who’s political leanings I am less inclined to agree with. I have been baited by late night talk show hosts and hilarious Facebook links into dismissing their ranks as nothing more than impressionable bigots and lunatics. Certainly this element exists, but if I am not willing to allow one rowdy chanter to sour my view of the OWS crowd, how in good conscience can I write off the entirety of the Tea Party, based on a few clips of drunken Bocephus-loving malcontents screaming tired Sarah Palin-isms? Surely some of them are well informed and well intentioned citizens who wish to make their legitimate concerns heard.
This is What Democracy Looks Like
Demonstrators and activists can often come across in a way that is easy to dismiss. Certainly I have been seeing Facebook postings suggesting that the ‘OWS’ movement is full of slackers and ignoramuses. But what is the alternative? Beneath it all, the right to free speech and assembly are absolutely indispensible to democracy. Change does not come in a day. Cast a long look over history, and one is forced to acknowledge the gradual, yet undeniable change that has occurred as the result of civil disobedience and activism. Without getting too sentimental, I was genuinely moved by the democracy in action that I witnessed this evening. It is the right, and, in fact, the DUTY of a true patriot to demonstrate his or her conviction for justice, as they see it. Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party share this right, and no matter how one judges their ideology, their right to express it must be protected at all costs.
Looking Forward to Sunday
I heart New York is more than a t-shirt to me. This trip is only a day old, and already I have enjoyed numerous conversations with intelligent and articulate demonstrators, many of them native New Yorkers, all set against the backdrop of the world’s most vibrant metropolis. Sunday I venture to Zuccotti Park, to see first hand the epicenter of a movement that has spread to hundreds of cities world wide. Stay tuned for my findings.
Jonathan Stoddart is a freelance journalist slash market research analyst currently based out of Calgary, AB. He also performs hip-hop music under the name ‘Ricca Razor Sharp’. People wishing to repost this blog are encouraged to do so. Publications interested in potentially using this material can contact the author via Facebook or at email@example.com
Those wishing to express their opinions in the comments section are encouraged to do so. For maximum impact of your statements, please consider avoiding the use of name calling, and focus instead on a respectful interpretation of the logic of your argument. Thank you.
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