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 3: There’s Something Happening Here (And what it is, is at least sort of clear.)
1:28 AM Eastern Time, Monday October 17, 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 third in a series of pieces I am submitting documenting my trip to New York City to cover the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ (OWS) demonstrations.
For episode 1 or 2, click below:
I arrive at Zuccotti Park, on Sunday afternoon, eager to observe, for the first time, the scene of this ongoing occupation. What I find is less an event than a functioning society of individuals, an anthill of industrious citizens protesting, discussing, socializing and otherwise managing the demonstration at the epicenter of this now global movement. What started out in September as a few hundred demonstrators has swelled to several thousand daily, filling the park to capacity. A word about Zuccotti Park: It is not really a park. It is a concrete area that serves as a place to sit down between several busy downtown streets. I would compare it to Olympic Plaza in Calgary, but OP seems slightly larger. In contrast to the stand off at Washington Square on Saturday evening, the police at Zuccotti Park basically just stand around placidly. It seems agreed upon that this demonstration has a right to exist, and that this is where it should be.
One would be wrong to assume that these occupiers are of any certain ‘type’. There are, of course, youth, and bongo drums, and dreadlocks, but alongside them I found grizzled union workers and war veterans, people of Black, White, Hispanic and every other descent. A section of the park is home to sleeping bags and makeshift campsites, while the perimeter is lined with tables and outdoor offices for the various committees that have sprung up to manage and expand this movement (Press liaisons, sanitation, food distribution, etc.) Real sacrifices are being made. Let me make this clear: there are people, with warm beds to go home to, who have been living in this park for weeks. As outlined in episode two, the methods used to communicate, reach consensus, and generally run the day to day operations of this movement are staggering in their operational efficiency. Knowing what I know about human nature and organizational behavior, I find myself amazed that these proceedings avoid melting down into chaos. As night falls, ‘general assembly’ begins, and a deceptively slight, college aged female commands the floor. Through the speak and repeat system, she diplomatically voices her displeasure with the fact that several individuals from the ‘demands committee’ went rogue, and reached out to a New York Times reporter with some unofficial ‘demands’ meant to represent the movement. The general assembly disapproves, (by holding their hands up and waving their fingers in a downward direction, the agreed upon symbol for ‘uh uh’) and it is decided that this behavior should not be repeated. The girl is poised and articulate. If I owned a corporation, I would attempt to hire her. Nothing about this movement is half assed. This is New York City.
So Watcha Want?
The number one question aimed at these demonstrators is, roughly, this: What do you want? They have been criticized as aimless, due to their lack of specific demands. Generally speaking, I can tell you that they are not fans of ‘corporate greed’. It sort of just goes outward from there. Surveying the signs, brochures and chants of the park, one finds concerns about labor, foreign policy, campaign finance reform and a host of other issues. It is political grievance, a la carte. Lively discussions fill the air, and it becomes clear that the various demonstrators themselves are not totally united in their political views. But then, what crowd of this size would be? It is worth noting that the debates I observe never escalate into arguments or shouting matches. These people really put the civil in civil disobedience. But without specific and unified demands, how do the demonstrators hope to achieve their goals? It is my perception that their primary goal is simply to receive attention. I don’t mean that in a ‘put me on TV, and make sure you get my good side’ type of way (although, surely, some of that exists). What I mean is that these demonstrators want these conversations to make the leap from their tent city, to your supper table. They see apathy as the opposite of patriotism, and they want people to get fired up about what they perceive to be corporate induced slumber. Get the people excited, and change will be inevitable. They seem savvy to the dangers of crossing over into the overtly political during the incubation stages of this movement. They seem to want to grow their power first. If it is attention they want, then they are surely getting it. The movement went global this weekend, and Zuccotti Park itself was teeming with media, both mainstream and independent. John Oliver, (the funny guy with the British accent from the Daily Show) was running around all day. I hope somebody PVRs that one for me. Also present: Eve Ensler, author of ‘the Vagina Monologues’.
A Note on Geography
For those who are not familiar with the lay of the land in lower Manhattan, I should probably point out that Zuccotti Park is exactly kitty corner to the Southeast extent of the construction site that used to be the World Trade Center. One could throw a baseball from this park into the hole that exists as a result of the September 11 attacks. It is worth noting that among the theories that I did not hear being discussed today was the one that claims 9/11 to be an inside job. Being that I am neither a demolitions expert, nor a close confidant of the secret men who supposedly run the planet, I have never thrown my weight wholeheartedly behind that particular movement. All I know is that several thousand mothers, fathers, sons and daughters went to work on a Tuesday morning, and met horrific deaths as a result of something they had nothing to do with. I stop to reflect.
Several short blocks in the other direction is Wall Street, the financial capital of the world. Not only is this a symbol of capitalism, but this an actual place where people go to work in the morning. The demonstrators are not, in fact, occupying Wall Street, but a nearby park. Still, they are pretty hard to ignore.
The two events that will come to define the previous decade will be, in my estimation, the September 11 attacks, and the 2008 financial crisis. Wall Street, the symbolic epicenter of the latter, and the World Trade Center, the physical location of the former, are right there beside one another. And nestled in between them, on a relatively small slab of concrete, are a group of occupiers who have started a movement that, just this weekend, spread to countries around the world. Will lower Manhattan make it three in a row? Will this movement reach the magnitude of a world changing occurrence, the third such global shake up to originate from this small chunk of island in just over a decade? Or will it fizzle out, largely forgotten to history? On Monday, I will walk the streets, pondering this question. Also, I may attempt to score a ticket to the Jets/Dolphins Monday Nighter. I Heart New York.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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