The Occupy Wall Street “We are the 99%” solidarity march
The NYPD is only a new acquaintance of mine. Forgive me for sounding pre-emptively judgmental. I’m not basing my expectations on the fact that I heard hundreds of people chanting “We are all Sean Bell/ NYPD GO TO HELL” on the day after Troy Davis’s execution. No: there is an embarrassment of circumstantial evidence. In the last couple of days the NYPD ordered bus drivers to come to the Brooklyn Bridge to help transport the arrested 700 (and was – delightfully – told where to shove it by the Transit Union). Officer Anthony ‘Tony Baloney’ Bologna (“the vigilogna”) was ridiculed on the Daily Show for spraying “the fine mist of the law” indiscriminately into the eyes of penned-in female protestors. On a more personal note, an entirely cordial encounter with a cop on today’s protest resulted in (a) an arbitrary act of tyranny (b) my partner saying “I wonder why you joined the force. You’re a disgrace” and (c) the cop giving the response “Damn right.” Right – sorry – back to the issue at hand.
Occupy Wall Street is the situation in which you are supposed to suspend your ideological criticism temporarily, and channel its energy into participation. Because the assertion is “we are the 99%”. If there are too many people there – to your liking – who insist that they are “not against capitalism, but only against the bankers’ greed“, then go fix their false consciousness. If there are too many celebrity-led ‘heart meditations’ and – which is worse – Ron Paul supporters milling around OWS, then go outnumber them. It is too easy to strike the very radical-est cynical pose. It’s true, I saw a veritable ocean of smart-phones out, mixed up with the occasional hipster-haircut toting Sobrani cigarette, and placard written onto the back of some vegan kale-infused Quaker rice-cake packaging, or similar. I mean, I go to the New School, and I was with the students, you know? I also saw placards playing on this very theme, by the way: “So I was going to throw a soy latte party, but all I could afford was instant coffee (so I came to this lousy march)“. The issue of student debt (“indentured servitude“) was quite salient amidst the crowd. And dare I say, the New School had one of the best banners, a ten-foot long one predicting the hopeful sequence “Arab Spring, European Summer, American Fall.”
But guess what, world? – this is no student protest. It is a movement of diverse people, and if it were not, the claimed term “the 99%” would all too easily be used to mock it. In the formulation of the immortal Pierce Penniless, OWS seems to represent “a frequently synthetic extrusion of activist culture and Arab Spring mimicry” – and it is teeming with working-class indignés and impromptu turners-up: unusual suspects for the revolution. So, after I have quoted my friends, what do I think about Occupy Wall Street? Well, of course, it doesn’t matter, as I’m mainly just an onlooker. But in my heart of hearts I am hopeful. It will of course take a leap into overtly confrontational tactics to martial real credibility, but this can happen when the time is right. OWS shows no sign of dying down.
That said, this week I witnessed the thousands of gathered union activists and sympathisers marching meekly, like trained prisoners, through the narrow aperture created by the NYPD in the City Hall area with the help of steel fence-sections. Those mobile fences were crying out for the pushing aside. Occupy Wall Street’s supporting thousands are not ready to charge through the NYPD’s arbitrary route-boundaries – not yet. “Occupy Wall Street” means the collective take-over of the miniature, exclusive, ruling-class welfare state that is the world of high finance. There is no real way of saying ‘occupy Wall street’ and meaning some kind of liberal, moderately revanchist programme of redress. Some protesters were chanting “the PEople/ deMAND/ a change in the system” today, which made me giggle. I don’t think it’s hard to see why the idea of a ‘change in the system’ (rather than an entire system change), and the idea of ‘demanding’ that change, stand counter to the embodied autonomism of the OWS formation. Liberty Plaza has demonstrated the possibility of nurturing revolutionary pressure, largely without capitulating to the need to articulate demands. If New Yorkers want an anticapitalist coup to happen, they must genuinely occupy Wall Street. Perhaps the support, and the desire, are there. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ can come to mean more than ‘camping out in Zucotti Park’.