ZUCCOTTI PARK: The Collective Sigh of Exasperation
The absence of anger strikes me the most:
a protester acquiescing calmly to a polite request from a police officer to move his bedroll back onto the sidewalk when a barricade had been nudged away from the curb by his belongings. “Sorry about that,” the owner apologized;
a group of over-60s wearing nylon crossing guard versions of sloganed sandwich boards, warmly greeting parents who have brought their young children, and thanking them for participating;
the silk screeners who, asking for nothing in return, happily paint “Take Down Wall St.” or the now iconic 99% fist vs. the 1% figure on proffered t-shirts.
the guy carrying a sign reading “Fuck Unpaid Internships” above his smiling face.
Food arrives for distribution; buskers entertain and dancers invite partners; tourists snap photos. Placards are written and a map of the movement highlights which cities are participating. The ubiquitous grunge crowd sleeps through the noise. (How is it that a group of people who have tried so hard to be unconventional – usually androgynously thin and sporting spiked, razor-cut hair, pierces in all bodily protuberances; wearing camouflage or black clothes and ordinarily accompanied by a mutt of undefined breed curled up sleeping amongst the tangle of tattooed limbs and smelly sleeping bags – always look exactly the same in every city?)
Weekend marches and relatively few arrests aside, the Occupy Wall Street movement is more collegial than most would expect. Quieter. The park that is the center of it all is blocks from Wall Street, and small, but filled with people of all ages and ethnicities, all manner of dress.
This protest is less a protest than a weary admission that blame has gotten us nowhere and it’s time to take a deep breath and hammer out a solution. After eight years of outrage at Bush and Cheney and the war machine, after cuts in education and the arts are so de rigueur as to be expected each fiscal year, after the hope offered by the election of a young African-American President proved naive, Occupy Wall Street is the discouraged slump in the kitchen chair. It’s the political equivalent of the frustrated parent of a delinquent teenager sitting down with Dr. Phil to hear that anger, threats and knee-jerk reactions are never going to work. As Dr Phil would ask upon hearing of an impotent attempt at change, “How’s that been working for you?”
If 99% of us are out of work or living some variation of hand-to-mouth through no fault of our own, then we’re all in this together. Indeed, it’s difficult to tell on any given day if the person sitting in or strolling through Zuccotti Park is one of the 99% or the wealthy 1% (though I suspect that some folks in either group wouldn’t see it that way).
Like parents who will always love their wayward children, the citizens in Zuccotti Park love our country, which is why the movement invites everyone in. There is no television shrink – not even an official spokesperson – to carry the weight or get the credit if this movement succeeds. This egalitarianism is Occupy Wall Street’s greatest recommendation. The anger of years has dissipated to exasperation and takes the form of “Where do we all go from here?” Zuccotti Park is the first stop.
Anti-war protests require a volume to match the atrocities; the Tea Party needs the tremors of fear to gather its momentum. Occupy Wall Street needs only the knowledge that life isn’t fair, but it sure can get a lot closer to equality with some collective effort. This mouse of a movement has roared. Thank God for the little things in life.