Among the Filthy Hippies Naively Trying to Change the World:
It would be very easy, very easy indeed, to be nothing but cynical about the Occupy Wall Street protest occurring now in Lower Manhattan. So let's get all that out of our system: Yes, it's a core of about 100-150 people who are camped. Yes, they are fairly filthy fucking hippies (although rain has kept them relatively decent-smelling). Yes, they are using cell phones and laptops and other equipment that was manufactured and marketed by the very corporations they are protesting. Yes, every stereotype was there, including crazy painted people, slacker kids looking for a scene, communist speakers (who the crowd up there was listening to), and this girl right here:
She was singing "Who'll Stop the Rain," not as an ironic weather-related tune, but as it was intended by John Fogerty: a call to action, not faux activism or happy thoughts. The old man there was transfixed by the young woman. And she sang as passionately to him alone as if she were on a stage with a thousand fans screaming her name. It was the raw honesty of this moment that drained the cynicism away from the Rude Pundit last night as he visited the encampment within a block of the former Ground Zero to see what exactly was going on.
Here's what he saw: a group of mostly young people talking to each other, playing music, and listening to speakers; police stationed all around the perimeter of Zuccotti Park (which is a cement square with some flower beds on Liberty Street), with barricades up along the sides to contain the protesters, with a mobile tower set up so the cops (and who knows who else) could monitor the entire scene at all times; several volunteers with red crosses taped on their shirts to indicate they could offer medical assistance; a food station set up so any supplies could be shared; and hundreds of cardboard signs on the ground as an instant museum of their efforts.
The Rude Pundit was actually surprised at how much the signs and the speakers stayed on message regarding corporate power in America. Yes, there were a few "Save Troy Davis" posters, but that's to be expected. No "Free Mumia." No pro-drug legalization or pro-Palestine signs.
Listening for a moment to the speakers (who mostly just encouraged the group that what they were doing had meaning, although one got them to remember the phone number of the NYPD so they could lodge complaints about the protesters who had been arrested), talking to a couple of the people who had slept out there, and seeing the high spirits of those who ought to be downtrodden and exhausted, the Rude Pundit thought that revolutions have become infernos with even smaller sparks. What begins as an idea in a coffee house or a bar becomes a small action becomes a larger action becomes a movement becomes an engine of genuine change.
Of course the whole effort is naive and utopian, all very Paris Commune. But the Rude Pundit wants his hippies out there raging against the machine. He's sick of online activism taking the place of feet on the ground activism. Remember: the protests in Madrid didn't occur on the internet. They might have been planned there, but who gives a shit? Twitter is just a fancy version of flyers pasted on fences. Change doesn't occur because you have a clever Tumblr.
The protesters are there for now. Their numbers will no doubt swell on the weekend. They hopefully have some action planned for then in order to convince people to continue to join them. The Rude Pundit will go back. And even if (well, let's be real: when) this effort fails, think of it as a learning experience for future protests, practice for a fire that's look for the right amount of tinder.
(On Monday, I'll have a video of the evening up.)