September 19, 2012

Dear Occupy: Sorry We Missed Your Birthday

While the movement’s first days did not receive much news coverage, it soon turned into a media frenzy, with some columnists comparing its importance to that of the Arab Spring, which led to the overthrow of leaders in several Middle Eastern and African countries, spurred by social media. Images of the Wall Street protesters getting arrested were looped on news channels and featured on the covers of newspapers. Big banks — and the famous Charging Bull statue that is an icon of Wall Street — were fortified with barricades. By the end of the year, Time magazine had named the protester its Person of the Year, perhaps rightly given the revolutions taking place around the world, but the magazine also lumped Occupy Wall Street in among the many meaningful movements taking place….

But now, 12 months later, it can and should be said that Occupy Wall Street was — perhaps this is going to sound indelicate — a fad.

— from: Occupy Wall Street: A Frenzy That Fizzled Andrew Ross Sorkin/NYT

I do get where Sorkin is coming from, that Occupy hasn’t become an active movement, or created a governing structure, or spawned formal instruments of social change. Still, its impact on the cultural consciousness and its shifting of the political calculus is undeniable. You can’t think about Romney’s dissing of the “47%,” for example, with its implicit association to “two Americas” and the power imbalance anchored by Wall Street without appreciating how “the 99%” has become embedded in the political mind.

Because the conditions that motivated Occupy’s existence remain largely unchanged from a year ago, it’s truly painful to see the protests in the streets of Manhattan this week ignored as “same ol’ same ol’,” and primarily dismissed as a birthday party. Of course, it’s one thing for the people in the streets, waxing nostalgic, to sport the party hats, float the balloons and hoist high anniversary props. But for the traditional media to bracket that is another thing altogether. Even if Occupy remains largely reactive rather than proactive, that’s no justification for dismissing people just as beaten down and angry and anguished this September as last. Certainly not when those citizens remain just as intent on expressing their voices and their hopes and their creativity (far from wading in any pool of victimhood) while, at the same time, largely dismissed by most everyone — except for The Man’s manhandling and ever more staunch police force.

In contrast to the festive photo leading this post that illustrated the Sorkin article, what these latter two photos attest to is that, despite the presence of the balloons, its was not exactly a party out there.

(click for larger sizes)

If anything had changed from a year before, perhaps it was the efficiency of the security state, the dominant symbol above all the symbols (courtesy @sachalecca) being those ubiquitous plastic handcuffs complimented by all those paddy wagons at the ready.

In light of the revolutionaries pacified, the colorful events now no danger to the status quo, what is perhaps most revealing is simply where Mr. Sorkin’s head is at, the thought of “fads” being a luxury of the haves.

(photo 1: Marcus Yam for The New York Times caption: Occupy Wall Street protesters gathered on Monday near Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan.  photo 2: John Moore/Getty Images caption: Occupy balloon John Moore Police keep prostesters on the sidewalk during a march marking the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement on September 17, 2012 in New York City. Occupy protesters converged on the city’s financial district to demonstrate what they say is an unfair economic system befefiting corporations and the wealthy instead of ordinary citizens. photo 3: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/GettyImages caption: Participants in Occupy Wall Street are arrested during a rally to mark the one year anniversary of the movement in New York, September 17, 2012. Police in New York on Monday arrested at least a dozen demonstrators marking the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, witnesses said. At least eight people were taken into custody when they tried to block an entrance to Wall Street, representatives of the National Lawyers Guild at the scene, told AFP. Others were arrested when they started moving from Zuccotti Park toward Wall Street as police on horseback blocked side streets on horseback, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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