Notes on a protest: their presence is their message

What are the occupier’s demands?

Everyone wants to know what the protestors want.  It’s as if Occupy Wall Street took the world’s attention hostage and everyone wants to know what their demands are so they can get to the next stage of negotiations. This yearning for quantifiable answers was typified in an article by Ginia Bellafante of the NY Times called Gunning for Wall Street, with faulty aim. Bellafante was pretty selective in the sources she quoted and the way she framed the article. The thesis of her piece was that change is definitely needed, but these yahoos aren’t the answer. Bellafante was beat up all over the internet for the piece. I emailed Bellafante about the article and she had this to say:

I’m sorry but I don’t see my account as flawed. I returned to the protests today. There were many more people than there were on Thursday afternoon at Zuccotti Park (when there were about 30 people or so.) It’s good that the numbers seem to be growing but there is still complete incoherence in the message.

There is no message. I did not say that the sentiments behind this movement were misguided – to the contrary, the column states very clearly that a need for a movement that challenges the egregious inequality in this country is pretty necessary. The whole idea that this movement is without leadership or a clear cause remains in my view highly distressing given the acuteness of the crisis we are in.

The whole idea that there are kids in this group who are against government interference and believe that if they bang drums loudly enough rich people will simply start turning over more of their money to the poor, means that they have been more influenced by the get-government–off-our-backs right than the left. This is very disheartening.

The women’s movement in this country had leaders. So did the civil rights movement. So did the anti war movement of the 60s and 70s. Those movements effected real change in this country. This one won’t until it grows up. And I hope that happens fairly quickly.

 Ginia Bellafante, Sept. 26, 2011

I argued that in so earnestly looking for the protestor’s objective that Bellafante and the rest of the world are missing the point. The reason for the occupier’s presence in the park is self-evident and needs no justification, especially in the wake of the NYPD’s crackdown on the march to Union Square as well as the most recent crackdown on Oct. 5. The occupiers are in Zuccotti Park because there is gross inequality in our country and the government has failed to correct these inequalities as it is designed to do. Their presence is their message, especially now that the movement is doubling as a referendum on modern 1st Amendment rights.

Protestors shut down Broadway in Manhattan on Sept. 24.

The movement has grown exponentially. A fact that would be surprising if Bellafante’s article was the sole piece of coverage you read on Occupy Wall Street. To date, I’ve heard reports of 500 people sleeping in Zuccotti Park on a nightly basis. A handful of celebrities and some politicians have also endorsed the movement, including Michael Moore and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt). Occupy movements have sprung up in almost every major city in the U.S. and some international cities. The skeptics’ notion of the movement being a transient and unfocused gaggle of long-haired malcontents has been unequivocally obliterated. They are many, they are organized, they are funded – and they’re not going anywhere.

About Daniel Fitzsimmons

Staff writer for the Manhattan weeklies Our Town, Our Town Downtown and the West Side Spirit.
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