I unofficially joined the Occupy Wall Street movement on August 2nd of 2011, not because I wanted to demand anything from the government, but because I wanted to use what I had learned over the past several years as a data analyst at a global advertising agency to somehow attack the system. I had, and still have I suppose, an agenda to somehow turn corporations upon one another, make them divide and conquer themselves so that we (I) can stop working for them and so that they’ll start working for us. Many of my comrades abhorred my ideas and proposals, like the one I had discussed in a private email to Micah White about having corporations actually fund us while we camped out. However, no one told me I was unwelcome, and I actually have met other individuals who found my ideas appealing. I, furthermore, have yet to be told that I am unwelcome at camp in spite of the fact that the same email thread was publicly leaked, and I have since been accused of being a corporate stooge by several conspiracy theorists with blogs. The movement is tolerant of diverse and extreme opinions, which is its strength as well as the reason why there isn’t a coherent message. Or is there?
I’ll confess that I never really imagined that Occupy Wall Street would actually happen. I knew the turn out wouldn’t be anywhere near the 20,000 that Adbusters had called for. There had been 200 at most at the New York City General Assembly meetings leading up to the 17th, and the occupywallst.org website didn’t even begin receiving more than a few thousand visitors until the 17th. I didn’t bring my sleeping bag to Wall Street. I ran home and returned to the park with it. Waking up in Liberty Plaza on the morning of Sunday, September 18th, was surreal. I thought the cause was lost on the morning of September 20th while in my office cubicle I typed out an unanswered email for help from the New School community as I helplessly watched on www.livestream.com/globalrevolution an acquaintance being thrown to the ground, cuffed and dragged off in the rain for pitching a tent. However, the camp was teeming by the time I returned after work. I wasn’t the only person who thought that the police would sweep through and arrest the entire camp on the night of Saturday, September 24th, after the brutal Union Square march, but then a photograph from the march made the cover of the Sunday morning edition of The Daily News, the police backed off and sometime shortly after that moment I and others I had talked to began to seriously believe that something much bigger than any of us was beginning to happen.
I also began to feel completely useless to the movement after that first week. It felt like every problem that arose at camp seemed to be addressed before I could even try to help address it. This wasn’t at all a bad problem to have. The camp seemed to grow on its own. Two others and I, using hand clickers, counted an average of 163 people sleeping in the camp on the morning of October 3rd. The count was up to 603 the morning of October 10th as news of occupations springing up in other cities continued to pour in. One of my closest comrades from Arts & Culture put it this way in a group email he sent out on October 12…
“For the sake of keeping your head sane and your heart still engaged, be aware: we are not in control. You are not in control. We at the NYC occupation are not in control. The website hosts are not in control. No one is in control of this hurricane. This realization is liberating. Think about this thoroughly.”
Why is Occupy Wall Street growing? No one in the media at least seems to even know what it is. The NYPD may have been the movement’s primary antagonist the first week, but the media took that role the next. Much like early Christianity, however, this movement has grown every time it’s been persecuted. Antagonistic news sources such as Fox, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal were so intent on framing the movement as a failure due to a lack of a single soundbyte goal that they were oblivious to the ways in which their derisive coverage actually stirred interest in the movement. This same coverage failed to resonate with the masses as well as the social media coverage we produced and which had beaten the mass media to the story by over a week.
Mainstream political attention came with mainstream media attention. Fox and others have tried to portray Occupy Wall Street as a liberal answer to the Tea Party. But it’s definitely not a political movement. A fellow member of the Occupy Wall Street PR working group told me to throw the term “post-political” around a lot and that our “goal” was to see as many people as possible attend General Assembly meetings across the country and globe while prepping me for a tense interview on Fox this past Monday on the occupenial of October 17th. My senior colleague Hector R. Cordero-Gusman of CUNY Graduate Center and I found that 70% of 1,619 responses taken from a nonrandom survey sample of occupywallst.org traffic on October 5th identified as politically independent as opposed to Democrat, 27%, and Republican, 3%. 93% of this sample supported the movement. 71% of 3,076 respondents from our latest survey, which is currently collecting data, identify as politically independent, which suggests that the finding is no fluke. A comrade I have yet to meet wrote this in a working draft of a non-cooptation statement sent to the Arts & Culture email group list…
“As the world continues to be galvanized by this movement, we wish to clarify that Occupy Wall Street is not and has never been affiliated with any established political party, candidate or organization. We are not a mouthpiece for any political organization. Our only affiliation is with the people who make up the 99%, those individuals who suffer from the exploitation by and collusion between the 1% and the representatives of their government, those individuals who are neither left-wing nor right-wing, conservative or liberal, but both. We are the economic 99%, joined together to re-establish the people as the authentic voices in democratic societies ab initio.”
Occupy Wall Street has nothing to do with empowering politicians, it has everything to do with empowering ourselves. But what is Occupy Wall Street if not a political movement? Social struggle perhaps? The bankers have expressed their prejudice towards us by attempting to pour champagne on us from the balcony of Cipriani on the afternoon of the 17th. I was informed that they were prevented from doing so by the NYPD from a reporter from The New York Times. I happened to meet the reporter at a counter-protest he was covering, which the bankers had organized and foolishly advertised on Facebook for the afternoon of September 23rd at the corner of Wall and Broad Street in order to sip champagne to our “good-riddance.” They thought we were about to leave due to an incoming storm. We called legal observers from the New York National Lawyer’s guild in the hopes of having them arrested for violating open container laws, but the bankers never showed due to some light rain, which never managed to stop us from continuing our protest.
It seems to me that the level of dissatisfaction with the country’s and the world’s political, financial and mass media systems has finally become so pervasive that respondents who are white (83%), male (62%), straight (85%), single (48%), full-time employed (47%) with a college education or better (92%), yet who make less than $24,999 (46%), have come to fully embrace and support the actions and ideas of a new revolutionary community of people. They do in fact strike me as a group of ethnically diverse and sexually adventurous anarchists who smoke marijuana on a habitual basis such as myself, but who would never actually jeopardize the movement by giving the NYPD a reason to arrest us by doing any of this in front of them or the media. I’ve heard reports from a couple that arrived at my apartment around 5:00am on October 16th after being released from jail that they overheard members of the NYPD direct other detainees not with the movement that they could eat and sleep at Liberty Plaza.
Occupy Wall Street is not a mainstream political movement in spite of the fact that it is now a mainstream social movement. It began with a relatively small group of people who all must have read the same books at one point or another, and it has quickly become an autonomous social organism with a deceptively sophisticated electronic collective consciousness whose mass has grown in increments of individuals from morning to night and from week to weekend. It is a leaderless, directionless, self-regulating community, with independent media capabilities now powered by solar and bio-diesel energy. Food and space to sleep are free for anyone, and everyone is always welcome to freely come and go as they please. It strikes me as a community built on values which demand that that we do our best to embody the sort of changes we want to experience rather than demand them from a politician from the failing capitalist system that surrounds Liberty Plaza. Similar camps have been autonomously established across the country and globe, and I can’t imagine them growing any smaller over the long term as our global society enters a second global recession.
My tentative hypothesis is that Occupy Wall Street isn’t a social movement as much as it is the beginning of a social change, a forward return to form of communal social organization that is beginning to re-exist now that the capitalist social system, which supplanted it, is no longer willing nor able to meet the needs of the masses.