I’ve been having a difficult time trying to write about Occupy Wall Street. The movement is a phenomenon, as some pundits have described it, that first stormed Wall Street, and then the city, and then the nation, and now the world.
An event of this magnitude invites many extras. There is the constant media coverages from every different kind of channel, from news to entertainment. Such attention oftentimes (in fact, it’s pretty much a guarantee) distorts, or in the very least inflates, a subject into a caricature. Protesters are described as many different kinds of things, from heroes to clowns. And because the fog of media attention remains ever present, some protesters even transform into their caricatures.
As one can presume, there are liberals who support it, conservatives who denounce it, and cynics who berate it. (There are also liberals who denounce it and conservatives who support it, but why talk about them?) Despite agreeing with the pure tenets of Occupy Wall Street, I was hesitant about the movement during its first month because of all the theatrical extras. I’m oftentimes wary about adding my opinion to a large sea of other opinions, especially those that are so often irrationally conjured. Before setting foot in Liberty Plaza, my mind was already preoccupied with what to think and who to fight.
I went to Liberty Plaza for the first time last week, partly with the intention of writing this article, but mostly with the intention of simply understanding. As impossible as it was, I pretended to be an alien just touching down on Earth, whose sole knowledge of the planet’s history coming only from books it has taken out of the APL, or Alien Public Library. I tried to ignore the preconceived notions and judgements I had heard and/or formed. I arrived grasping onto a default mindset, somewhere between neutral and contemplative, teetering both ways on the verge of being at turns curious and pensive. I did not want to go there with any sort of extreme emotion, be it angry or scared or excited, because I did not want to cloud the possibility of attempting to feel anything else, nor fail to understand the protests in their purest forms.
There were countless people taking video and still pictures. I refrained from taking any pictures, which is why the post contains none. (On a separate visit to Liberty Plaza, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and, acting as if she knew me, asked ‘No camera today?’ She must’ve had me confused with all the other people snapping away.) It was rather difficult turning down the image of a book in a bin, sunbleached and possibly thirty years old, a thin periodical one gets in the mail despite never ever requesting it, titled Life in America the Beautiful.
The caricatures were present, some of them embracing their roles. There was a shabby-looking gentlemen holding up a sign that read ‘Arrest the Bankers,’ ranting incoherently to no one in particular. There was a cynical pair of mid-twentysomethings, one remarking to the other, ‘The Left has never been good at organising.’ There were three clean-cut gentlemen, each wearing a different colour of the same department store shirt (no tie) cutting through the scene on their lunch break, snickering and smirking.
I even eavesdropped on a conversation that belonged in a bar (‘Come here often?’ ‘Where are you from? What do you do?’) Despite the mention that one of them was unemployed, I heard no other talk of the protests and its implications, nor did I stick around the couple to wait for any. (Such things really do cheapen the story of meeting your future partner at a political rally.)
Last Sunday, after feeling a bit less confused and more optimistic, I returned to Liberty Plaza, which was even more crowded than my previous visit. After listening in to a few conversations, I escaped the crowd and made a point to myself to walk down the actual Wall Street. The road itself was closed off to vehicles, either due to construction or some other reason. Apart from a handful of European tourists and the fact that it was Sunday, Wall Street was completely deserted, except of course the presence of policemen, of which there were at least two to every entrance of every building that lined the long street. I heard somewhere that crime in New York City has risen in the last few months, and some people are trying to blame Occupy Wall Street. To that I just sigh, which echoed quite clearly throughout the hollows of that particular part of the Financial District.
Last week on The Daily Show with John Stewart, the Reverend Al Sharpton credited Occupy Wall Street with ‘changing the conversation’ of political discussion, and I agree. But what I’ve found personally is that it has also succeeded in doing funny things to my insides. A political movement this big has the ability to calibrate what you think you believe in, and it can indeed be preoccupying.