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Broomberg, and Other Conversations about #OccupyWallStreet

Tomorrow morning will be a definitive moment for the occupation in Liberty Plaza. Broomberg will have succeeded or not. I hope it goes well, that the occupiers can hold their ground, that the police — really, the white-shirted thugs who seem to enjoy clubbing and macing people — do not get out of hand. But we’ll see. No matter what happens with the occupation of the park, I also hope that the nascent movement survives the night and continues to serve as a magnet for disaffection. Because that’s what it is doing: drawing incoherent discontent into media discourse, drawing physical bodies together so that people can learn to organize and relate politically, drawing strangers’ conversations back the occupation’s motivations, goals, and effects. I’ve had a lot of those conversations the last several weeks. Here are some vignettes.

1/ I was outside smoking, “looking mysterious,” an acquaintance tells me. I was supposed to help him move, but he had to cancel because the tenants in his new place weren’t out yet. It was a clusterfuck. To pass time instead we talked about the protest. “I stand with them, you know, figuratively. I support what they’re doing. But if I go down there, my business will fail.” I sympathize with that, because that’s pretty similar to my situation. I can’t afford to take a week off work. And if I literally occupied, I would lose my job and then literally be homeless. Not really what I want to happen. And not really a good way to handle the student-loan debt that I accrued to pay for my “education,” which is really, really not so much the sentimental sort.

2/ A friend who does ethics and I shift discussion from The Ethics of Ambiguity to the Wall Street protest. He listened to me describe how I was made uncomfortable by the human microphone, and then noted that this is what the legislation of dissent does. By forcing people to adapt to impossible situations (the problem of amplifying a voice without electric means so that it can be heard by hundreds of people), the powers that be reduce dissent to a form of clownery. Sure, the human mic is somewhat effective; it is also incredibly tiresome and annoying. The marginalization of dissent makes it appear somewhat ridiculous; we are not supposed to feel comfortable formulating alternative views.

3/ In Washington Commons, something like my personal Cheers, discussing Steve Jobs. “He was not a philanthropist.” “Fuck Steve Jobs.” Etc. Talk turns to the protest. A stranger: “I went with my friend, and it really seems to have affected him. We were there the whole weekend.” Said friend is apparently rather melancholic, so the gathering affecting him was seen to have been a Very Good Thing. Another friend then notes that she will be making a sign and taking sandwiches down to the square to hand out to the occupants.

4/ In a different bar on a different day. The overly chatty patron next to me is very pleased to have been up to the plaza. He wanted to know why it was that someone had chosen to call the occupation “Occupy Wall Street.” It was not the case, he felt, that Wall Street was any more a physical entity. And anyway, the children had chosen to base their protest at Zuccotti Park, which wasn’t Wall Street at all. So why call it “Occupy Wall Street?” Obviously, this person suffered from a very bad case of overliteralism. Explaining did not help. “It is like advertising. You can’t grab attention saying ‘Occupy Zuccotti Park’, or, as the occupants are calling the square, ‘Occupy Liberty Plaza’.” The battle of images seemed lost on him.

5/ Same bar, same day. A beer salesman: “Arrest all of them.” Send in the police. Bust some motherfuckin heads. “There are working people that they are disrupting. When they took that bridge? There were people trying to get to work! To get to bars like this one, to deliver beer. So people like you could drink it!” I told him that was sort of silly. Sure, not everyone could go down to the square and protest for four weeks — we’ve got jobs, kids, loans, and drinking habits to feed. But, we’re getting fucked ungently, and the people in the square are helping us, if for no other reason than that over the past two weeks, most the people I’ve bumped into have had an opinion about the protest, and are actually thinking about how they relate to the economic elite. “Sure, they’re complaining. But so should you.” This did not seem to convince.

6/ “The best we can hope for,” my friend is saying, “is that this is a staging ground. That next spring, next spring we will see a flowering of this sort of activism. That the connections and networks the die-hard activists are weaving now will support mass engagement in the coming months.” That would be something to hope for indeed.

Categories: Notes.

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