Thursday, October 13, 2011

Some notes from #OWS

It was a warm day in October, of the kind that they might once have called Indian Summer, where the sun gave every inch of the pavement a gentle roasting warmth. Walking through the point of Manhattan, one there were thousands of people who placidly went about their business, bustling to shop, or court, or office without a concern. In parks there, old chinese men played Xiàngqí, and old women gossiped. On the sidewalk an actress tried to land an audition talking to her agent on the other side of her cellphone, a loud woman argued about a friend in jail over her phone. Turning the streets, the skeletons of the Victorian, were reflected off the ghosts of the modern.

A turn to City Hall brought no change, no sense of disturbance. In Argentina the pots would beat at all hours, coming in fistfuls, pouring down on the ears of any who would listen like monsoon rain. But here, not a sign, not a sight, showed discontent with the world.

But a few minutes later, down Broadway, brought into view the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, a privately owned, public space, and along its front edge, were people holding signs, a line of buses were filled with people staring at New York's latest tourist attraction. There were a dozen uniformed officers staring in, and a line of food trucks along Cortland Street.

New York goes on, but an area smaller than a football field – any kind – was filled with people. People sleeping, people chanting, people banging drums, people talking, people running the kitchen.

So it is here, amidst the signs and the people, that I set down what people had to say.

I did 40 interviews. My first question was "Why are you here?" Then, in some order "What do you think the problem is?" and "What would you do?" I would ask what they meant by some broad term, such as "Democracy" or "Equality." I did not prompt on Obama or current political leaders.

Here are the notes.

Almost all (38) mentioned corporate greed. The other two were Ron Paul supporters.

Almost all (35) wanted more regulation of financial transactions/tax on transactions.

Most (30) mentioned democracy as being important, and many of these (24) mentioned that they felt democracy was lost, or slipping away in America. Most who mentioned Democracy meant representative (22) not direct (8) democracy.

Most (29) mentioned "99%," which means it is clearly the meme.

Over half (25) mentioned the solidarity/support/community.
Over half (25) mentioned the wars/war machine/military industrial complex or synonym for it.

Over half (24) mentioned progressive taxation/tax the rich.
Over half (24) mentioned non-violence. OWS has brought in and is training non-violence communications people. It is a top down and bottom up value.

Over half (22) mentioned "Campaign Finance Reform."

Over half (21) mentioned "Freedom"/"loss of Freedom"/"Security state" or synonym for government over-reaching its powers. Less than at a similar group of the right, but only just.

Exactly half (20) mentioned fears/expectations of arrests.

Many (19) mentioned oil/energy depletion.

Many (17) mentioned equality as in political equality.
Many (17) mentioned labor/the people as the source of value.
Many (17) said that there was "a long list"/"where to start"/"too long a list" of problems to easily pick a one or a few.

Some (16) mentioned neo-liberalism/free trade/globalization.

Some (15) mentioned American values/founding fathers/the Constitution as the basis for their complaint.

A few (7) were redistributive socialists/levelers/radical egalitarians.

A few (5) were radical localists. There was some overlap with the above. This is much lower than one would find a comparable Tea Party gathering.

Only a handful (4) mentioned revolution as being necessary. That is a much lower percentage than one would find at say, a Tea Party rally.

Only a handful (3) were marxists. None of these were radical localists.

Now for some killer notes:

Not one mentioned amending the constitution.

Not one mentioned Barack Obama/The President. That's 0. None. Zero. Nil. Zip. 0 for 40 on left leaning activists in #OWS. He's invisible.

Only 2 mentioned working within the Democratic Party.

It was not, in real sense, a radical group of the left. In fact, the local folk festival will turn up more marxists and radicals and more revolutionary or localist radical sentiment.

It was moderately racially integrated, but less so than many corporate gatherings. There were no Asians participating while I was there. There were few latinos or people who preferred Spanish, though they did have a Spanish desk with a very helpful person there manning it. There were no South Asians. The African-American presence was under that of America as a whole, and certainly under New York City's demographics. It was about as white as the meetings inside Wall Street buildings around them, from my experience.

One important point I want to stress is that many, on the left and even more on the right, have described this group as "angry." It is not. I met exactly one angry person all day, and he was an Indigenous rights activist. I'm going to say that if you aren't bitter about how the government has treated the first peoples, you aren't an Indigenous rights activist, because it was the first land fraud, from which Wall Street's is only an echo. Other than that, the anger content was entirely on people covering the rally. Many people with microphones wanted these people to be angry.

In fact, on the scale of radicalization, I would say that all four of the legal aid observers/public defenders were more radicalized than almost all of the people I talked to at the rally. They were the only ones to use terms such as "fascism" or "police brutality" unprompted.

It is a disservice to this group to look at them as anything other than a very First Amendment assembly to petition their representatives for redress of grievances.

If you want to help, send donations of items to:

Re: Occupy Wall St
118A Fulton St. #208
NY NY 10038

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