Monday, October 17, 2011
I Ain't No Revolutionary
...and usually I excuse myself from protests. I have zero patience with flower children, people who do not understand the concept of being on message, and people who take the opportunity to act out their authority issues. However, I gotta say, Saturday night's crowd at Times Square in support of Occupy Wall Street was much better than that. There were people of all ages, neighborhoods, incomes.
It felt like a party until the NYPD arrived to squash the fun out of it.
Their crowd control methods, like barricading people into separate pens, so as to impede the concentration to be unified in one large mass, is really frustrating, and since Americans are the best behaved crowds in the world, and New Yorkers so far the paragon of a smart crowd, the police's shtick is redundant, unnecessary and particularly offensive when the crowd exhibits stellar behavior.
The crowd was demonstrating happily and peacefully until a completely over the top show of macho force arrived in the shape of police in motorcycles, followed by officers brandishing the infamous orange netting, mounted police and even riot police. This was an overreaction, given the fact that the crowd was as chill as it is humanly possible to be as a crowd. I was right at the barricade in front of a line of police officers. Most of them were cool and restrained. One asshole policeman, a senior guy, pushed a protester quite violently for no apparent reason and everybody started screaming at him.
Absolutely everybody had some sort of camera, which made the histrionic and absurd police charade of videotaping the crowd, this pantomime of intimidation, seem even more ridiculous. I thought, if they videotape me, I'll blow them a kiss. The police pantomime is pure pageantry: at one point the officers deployed the white plastic handcuffs, in a sort of silent threat to the crowd. But every time I turned back to look at the crowd behind me, all I saw were the kind of people, like me, who could not get arrested if their life depended on it. Nobody was doing anything to provoke any sort of police response, except for a drunk, lice-infested Belgian hooliganette I kept wishing the police would arrest, beat the crap out of and send to some CIA prison abroad for more of the same.
What's with the police videotaping the protesters and the forbidding of megaphones or amplification? This last one has spawned that chanting method where the crowd repeats what someone says in lieu of amplification, that everyone but me seems to be enamored of. I find it corny and too self-ingratiating, even if it is effective. I guess I just really hate crowds. Luckily, I was standing on the west side of the plaza, where there was more space and we didn't feel so penned in. But the people across us who wanted to join us, had to deal with horses and police pushing the barricades and quite a bit of unpleasantness. If the police would allow the crowd to spill over Times Square instead of forcing it on the sidewalks, there would have been no tension. After about 15 minutes of the mood souring very fast, somehow the tension subsided. I assume the police wisely decided to push back their ball breaking tactics. I tell you, had this happened in a more hot blooded, less orderly country, there would have been severe abuses on both sides. Americans are way too well behaved, and the police, assholes that they are, could actually be much worse. I read that in Rome, where there were violent riots, there were 20 arrests. In NYC yesterday, between Times Square and Washington Square Park, where there was no real violence whatsoever, according to the New York Times, "at least 88 people were arrested". A bit too much, the NYPD, creating drama where there's no need for it.
It was very cool to see how many people showed up to support the OWS movement and the ideas behind it. And it was particularly cool that it happened in Times Square, a much more dramatically symbolic place than puny Zuccotti Park. Even though I understand the symbolism of camping out at Zuccotti Park, that place is too small and too insignificant, even if it is across the street from Wall Street. There is something about the camping that may quickly create public opinion fatigue, but if the movement can somehow continue to bring the support of a lot more people, as it did on Saturday, willing to concentrate in different significant public spaces; for instance, Battery Park, across the river from the Statue of Liberty; Central Park, where it is possible to bring together a lot of people, and in front of the White House in Washington, it may grow and resonate more. I'm not advocating that people go camp on Times Square, but that space was truly powerful, it was spectacular and dramatic, for the visual ironies were rich: below was a sea of flesh and blood protesters, and above them all the blazing neon logos of the American corporations who effectively rule this country.
In the end, protests are for nothing if there is no effective public pressure to really effect concrete change. The grievances of OWS are pretty clear: pursue accountability for those responsible for the financial debacle, bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, tax the rich more fairly, abolish the corporations are people law, reform campaign finance laws. All of these are rational and doable. There should be at least a third party or independent candidate, the American people should fire every sitting member of Congress regardless of party affiliation, and this popular discontent should leave the realm of the quaint sloganeering and somehow coalesce into concrete results in realpolitik. If you know how to do that, you may want to be the leader of this movement.