Among the many triumphs of the Occupy Wall Street movement (a campaign so alive with zeitgeist that I feel here obligated to reference its proper title – #OccupyWallStreet) is the remarkable sense of occasion that accompanies the phenomenon. Since it began a month ago I’ve been subliminally transfixed. Then, like a baffled alien abductee, I unwittingly found myself first transplanted from Los Angeles to Manhattan then suddenly somnambu-jogging through Tribeca to Zuccotti Park, lured by a peculiar certainty that I simply had to be there.
Leaving my apartment with an objective no grander than to go for a run I somehow landed amidst Zuccotti’s tarpaulin sprawl in unforgivable leggings and a headband that would have had Alice reaching for a shard of cracked looking-glass.
There can be few cultures that would unthinkingly welcome into their fold a man dressed as I was in the macabre attire of a spandex scarecrow but the occupants of this pop up civilization offered me first food, then shelter and then, incredibly, hope that we can change the world.
Of course, this may seem like cock-eyed optimism given that physically the site resembles a Kenyan slum, all slung together wigwams, a Toy-Town medi-centre and a cardboard-igloo library, but whilst the visible structures may be flimsy they are held together by an invisible scaffold of ideals founded upon the thing the establishment fears most; the will of the people.
During my first accidental visit I chatted with an enthralling bunch, notably a beautiful group of teenagers, righteous and idealistic and interestingly mellow. I suppose they differ from the London teens that last month took a starkly contrasting course of action from the same impetus of frustration, in that while they may be similarly disenfranchised, they believe in the possibility of change.
Brianna who is seventeen, pagan-pretty and dusky, is attending college by day and occupying Wall Street by night like some heart wrenching cross between Pocahontas and Batman, said that young people are entitled to an education without being bound to a lifetime of debt. Whilst “Messiah” (there’s a lot of those names flying about, go with it; it’s a small price to pay for Utopia) literally danced into the conversation and self consciously, but touchingly, divided up and shared a stick of gum in a “Sermon on the Mount” brought to us by Juicy Fruit. You might think, that given her name, that was the least she could do, but we’re talking about a sixteen-year-old girl here. If Fox News and the Daily Mail are to be believed I’m damn lucky she didn’t shiv me in the guts and film it on her phone.
Here in Zuccotti Square these young people clearly felt safe, purposeful, included and behaved with charm, compassion and respect. Naturally I was impressed but more agitated than ever by my jogging outfit. Really, it’s terrible, I mean if we’re going to bring about systemic and meaningful social change, I want to be dressed for it.
The next day I returned to learn more, in a very fetching scarf with my friend Daniel Pinchbeck the brilliant writer, radical and ludicrously, yet truthfully titled “psychedelic Shaman”.
One of the movement’s significant principles is that there are no appointed leaders. That said, there are more experienced and pragmatic inhabitants to whom Daniel and I chatted. We were given a tour of the site and in spite of the lashing rain and gales, which I, of course regarded as the winds of change and cleansing rain, all we encountered were bonhomous and welcoming. Much more than I’d anticipated. Let’s face facts, one of the campaign’s few edicts is to provide the unrepresented 99% with a voice, had I, when I fitted into that demographic, chanced upon a touring celebrity I would have used that voice to tell him to fuck off, no matter how nice his scarf was.
Perhaps it is this ambience of inclusion, of acceptance and indeed of love that has brought #OccupyWallStreet such success. There is a remarkable absence of anger and resentment which is why the movement resonates so deeply. Is this movement’s implicit goal to reengage our humanity? To reach beyond the political, the national and other illusory, temporary concepts and into our true, spiritual nature?
Justin, our volunteer tour guide was smiling and patient, especially with my incessant questioning about where people go to the toilet; mostly in McDonald’s it transpires – I’m glad Ronald and the Hamburglar at last have a chance to atone for their mucky past and eery jocundity. The sense of cohesion and civic duty in the square, which many call Liberty Square, its former title, was something I found appealing. In my country, England, and across the world there is amongst older people an irritation at the breakdown of traditional values, a grudge against apathetic and uncaring youth, atomized and X-box agog, indifferent to their culture, abstracted from their land.
Here young men who would typically be drenched in spittle-flecked “Get a job” rage diligently join committees for sanitation, cooking and on site security. A voluntary conscription to the cause of change. A nation founded on ideals of harmony and responsibility, on representing the whole, built here in a privately owned square. The ownership of the Square, explained David, a seasoned and visionary activist, is important as the New York Real Estate Group who represent the interests of the powerful institutions to whom this movement is a threat, are now desperate to implement legislative change that will ensure the Occupation will be curtailed and not repeated. Clearly this is no simple undertaking as demonstrated when the suspicious attempts to vacate the Square for cleaning were abandoned. It is unlike Mayor Bloomberg to back down but David outlined this movement is unlike anything this country has ever seen.
Other protestors took the time to educate me on the matters that had brought them to the square. One purple haired, perfect skinned occupant told me beneath the billow and crack of the turbulent tarpaulin that in 2009 24% of American families with children were at some point too poor to buy food. Hunger. It doesn’t get more basic than that. Another lad, black and bright eyed with spectacles that I suspect-acle didn’t have glass in them, informed me that 50 million Americans do not have health care. Perhaps that’s why his glasses weren’t finished.
Of course these problems are not unique to America, they are the symptoms of a global epidemic, said a lady who was there speaking on behalf of the Mexican Zapatista movement using the already iconic “Human Mic” system in which staccato sentences are truncated and repeated by the crowd. A charming and inspiring instant cultural artifact.
A Scotsman there told me that he considered this to be America’s class awakening, that the 99% are a contemporary proletariat existing in opposition to an oligarchical 1%. A business class that have been steadily waging a clandestine class war through market deregulation and psychopathic economic exploitation. The surprisingly sanguine Scot told me that now this exploitation is reaching critical mass, too many families are affected, too many people are losing jobs, too many people across our planet cannot put food on their family’s table for this behavior to continue unopposed.
As I listened, Johnny, a wild-eyed wolf man drummer, continued the burgeoning rhythm, a slow, comforting nocturnal heartbeat.
Later, leaving the McDonald’s lavvy (the staff were lovely and friendly and seemed to really like the protestors; recognizing perhaps whose interests were being represented) we exploited corporate facilities further by questioning Bill, a seasoned campaigner, in Dirty Ron’s boutique brand, Pret a Manger.
Bill has been an activist for many years primarily with the early campaigns to bring awareness and justice to sufferers of HIV and AIDS. He said there were similarities with the #OccupyWallStreet movement in terms of the bureaucratic obstacles and official reluctance, but that this huge issue of social inequality, of unbearable economic disparity has a veracity and velocity that was difficult even for those on the ground floor to anticipate.
Daniel Pinchbeck proposes that we are entering an era of profound change of consciousness. That capitalism has provided our civilization with the machinery of mass communication and with it potential global union.
It occurs that the relentless charge of vagueness leveled at this movement may be it’s great strength. The reason there is no candid agenda is because a spiritual shift this seismic is initially difficult to legislate.
I think another attractive distinction that #OccupyWallStreet has is that unlike a lot of pious “Lefty” movements it’s a riot down there – I mean in the sense of “fun” not the kind of riots I was arrested at as a boy. Why, I met a fellow in a skin-tight stars and stripes gimp suit, all covered with scribbles and slogans. I’m not ashamed to admit that in the giddiness of the moment I quite forgot myself and unzipped his mouth and planted a kiss on his full lips. Only after did I ask his sexual orientation which he described as “open minded”, the perv.
As I was leaving, my outfit compromised once more by the addition of a freely given plastic poncho (it wasn’t really a poncho it was a sack, I had to chew my way out of it to make a head-hole, even then I was hardly Clint Eastwood but I had to do something about my hair. Plus my ascot was by now ruined) a bloke I spoke to, a former US government employee, a Doogie Howser Deepthroat, told me of the fear the movement had generated amongst politicians. #OccupyWallStreet has no recognizable funding, an anomaly the government does not know how to address. Typically public protests are funded by non-profit organizations that are easy to hound, and behind them foundations that would yield to political intimidation. But this amorphous, righteous, global collective is impossible to buy, too popular to repress and too peaceful to oppose militarily. Those in power for the first time in two generations are being confronted with something they don’t understand, and they are afraid.
As I walked home to my 1% apartment I felt incredibly hopeful, the benevolence and enlightenment of the Zuccotti tribe alleviated my feelings of hypocrisy, at least for now. Looking back through the media trucks and flash bulbs it was apparent that they have colonized more than the formerly anonymous square, they have colonized the international agenda. All about the surveillance cameras observe, the police look on.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is already a success on the most basic of principles; it’s own simple objective as stated in its name has been met- Wall Street is occupied. At least Zuccotti Park is, this once architecturally banal plaza, framed by silently thundering corporate tombstones, is becoming both the graveyard of a deceased economic dogma and the cradle of the revolution.
America is awake and with it the American dream has awoken.