Two articles about Occupy Wall Street penetrated the blissed-out miasma that was my past week in Los Angeles: this New York Times report on the #occupywallstreet meme’s* origin in Adbusters magazine and this link roundup on the “shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy.” They take different tones. The first is a straight profile piece about the world’s smuggest person, Kalle Lasn. The second is a semi-hysterical screed about perceived efforts to suppress the OWS movement, ranging from single-source-speaking-on-background stories that may as well be flash fiction to documented offers to coordinate anti-protest propaganda. It’s a lot to take in. The basic assumptions of each article—that OWS is a fun trend whose popularity reflects our dissatisfied zeitgeist, or that it is a repressed movement that has prompted collusion between the Department of Homeland Security and Wall Street—are impossible to believe at the same time. It’s almost as if what OWS is and what people want us to think it is are two totally different things. Or it’s like none of that is happening and we just think all the news about OWS is the product of a monolithic politico-media culture bent on deceiving us. Here we encounter the defining problem of the modern age.
“I’m calling you to update you on what we did,” Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson told the chair of the Lower Manhattan Community Board. “We came in the middle of the night.” Thus ended the occupation of Wall Street, after police executed Mayor Bloomberg’s order to clear Zuccotti Park of tents and protestors around 1am Tuesday morning. After a series of temporary injunctions and contradictory judicial rulings, protestors are no longer camping at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. They trickled back into the park during the day, but no one is allowed to lie down. As winter sets in, more than one person is probably relieved not to have to do the sleeping on the cold ground part of civil disobedience. Yet the clearing of the park feels undeniably like the end of something, and it raises plenty of questions. “Is it over?” is not the only one.
As Occupy Wall Street approaches its seventh week, the demonstration in Zuccotti Park seems most significant as a testament to how well kids these days can run a protest. They’ve constructed an irrigation system, for Pete’s sake. Regardless of politics, anyone who has managed hippies must acknowledge OWS in Zuccotti Park as a breathtaking achievement in preventing people from freaking out. Less so in Oakland, where police turned tear gas on OWS protestors outside Frank Ogawa Plaza and cracked an Iraq war veteran’s skull. Scott Olsen is in critical condition with a wound on his forehead that looks like the rim of a tear gas canister, and people are pissed. It turns out that a demonstration of the will of the people is a different thing when dozens of guys with plastic shields show up to make it stop. And as USA Today somewhat gleefully notes, municipal authorities across the country are getting sick of this disobedience crap. So now comes the question of what OWS is going to do.
Isn’t the government a drag? I understand that we need one in a vague, civics class sort of way, but from day to day the whole structure seems gratuitous. Other people clearly need a government. Maybe it’s just the location of my personal apartment, but other people can’t seem to go a day without trying to build a smoker in their house or getting drunk and punching each other or filling a milk jug with gasoline.* You and I, on the other hand, are completely self-governing. We don’t need cops or meat inspectors to keep us in line, and as a result the government is to us an endless series of clerks and taxes. Like the actual rules of Monopoly, it needlessly complicates a game that everyone already knows how to play. What we should do, you and I, is form a political party dedicated to reshaping the government according to our own personal needs. Things have been going fine around here without government intervention, so I propose we have stamps and an army and otherwise no government at all. I am not alone. This week’s link roundup is chock full of people who are operating without governments, and one guy whose plan is to grab the government and break it. Won’t you enjoy the war of all against all with me?
If the gap between rich and poor seemed like it was widening a bit more slowly this morning, it was probably because Occupy Wall Street is still going on. Exactly how it goes on remains a matter of conjecture, although certain non-televised journalists are beginning to pierce the veil. Michael Greenberg’s longish tour of Zuccotti Park in the New York Review of Books provides us with a slightly less vague picture of the movement than what we’ve gotten so far, including their use of “the people’s microphone.” Because city ordinances prohibit the use of amplification devices, public speakers at the OWS demonstration have their words repeated by the crowd. It’s a big ol’ objective correlative for a protest that has coalesced out of Twitter, Anonymous and maybe a few emails from the insufferable Adbusters, and now has to grapple with the problem of propagating a message when no one has been designated to speak first.