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If Occupy-palooza were a rock band

October 24, 2011  |  Share

Op-Ed Columnist Charles Blow wrote that he was sitting next to a young woman in Brooklyn who was having dinner and planning to head to the Occupy Wall Street Protest the next day … This is a reprint of that article that talks about the Grateful Dead trek atmosphere around these protests.  I personally think this spontaneous eruption of young people in the streets is probably no accident but an attempt to engage the young hipsters who helped Obama get elected in 2008 but sat out the mid term elections in 2010.

By Charles Blow, The New York Times

“Between a morning boot camp workout at the local Y.M.C.A. and an evening meeting with friends for drinks, she was planning her first trek to Zuccotti Park to take part in the Occupy Wall Street protests.  “Why?” I asked. “What specifically are you protesting?” I was curious.  I hoped that she’d respond with some variation of the umbrella arguments about income inequality, the evils of corporate greed and corruption or removing corporate money from politics. She didn’t. “I don’t know. It’s just cool,” she said. She went on to tell me about how she felt that this was a movement of people with whom she felt some kinship, banding together and making history, and that she wanted to be a part of that in the same way that people from previous generations were part of the civil rights, women’s liberation and antiwar movements. She hinted at inequality but never quite got there. Yet she was passionately convinced that she must get involved. That is part of the magic and mystery of these protests: a near magnetic attraction drawing in both the hard core and the hangers-on alike. While there are some people with very specific goals taking part in the protests and supporting them, there are many others who come with no particular, refined mission or message other than a desire to show solidarity, to rise up and be seen and heard and to display their disaffection for the status quo. And that may well be message enough for many. If the Occupy Wall Street protests were a band, I’d say the closest corollary would probably be the legendary ’90s grunge band Nirvana — both meaningful and murky, tapping into a national angst and hopelessness, providing a much-needed catharsis and gaining a broad and devoted following while quickly becoming the voice of a generation. Needless to say, that doesn’t cover everyone. The protests have a Lollapalooza-like eccentricity and diversity to the crowds. Some come to revel in the moment. Others come to rage against the machine. But they are all drawn together by the excitement of animating a muscle that many thought had atrophied: demonstration and disobedience in the name of equality. This has energized two groups who are notoriously apathetic and lacking in civic engagement — the young and the poor — and has done so outside the existing architectures of power and politics. This excitement has attracted the attention of progressive politicians, pundits and celebrities, many of whom are making pilgrimages to the protests to lend support while reinforcing their own street cred and pondering how to best harness the energy on display. After all, civic energy is a precious commodity in an election season. You can almost see some leaders and luminaries drooling at the thought of using the protests to their political advantage. But there has been an even stronger reaction by some on the right, who, out of fear, are seeking to pre-emptively stain and marginalize the protesters. Herman Cain has called them “jealous.” Bill O’Reilly has suggested that they are “crackheads.” Glenn Beck — I guess in an attempt to be king of the hill of hysteria — has gone so far as to call them killers: “Capitalists, if you think that you can play footsies with these people, you’re wrong. They will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you.” The irony is that all these people are at the top of the food chain in an economic ecosystem that many protesters seem to view as fundamentally flawed and in need of radical realignment if not wholesale deconstruction. So the protesters have defied efforts to be led or labeled by either side. This independent positioning may be serving them well. Early national polls taken about the movement have found that although many Americans aren’t clear about the protesters’ goals, they support them. A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted last weekend found that nearly two-thirds of people who were asked didn’t know enough about the goals of the Occupy Wall Street protests to say if they approved of them or not. Yet a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, also conducted last weekend, asked if people agreed with the goals of the protests from what they “know about the demonstrations.” Fifty-nine percent said that they agreed. That may well be because even if there isn’t a single, clear message of the protests that people identify with, it seems as if they do agree with many of the disparate ideas being put forward. A Time Magazine/Abt SRBI poll conducted last week found that among those familiar with the protests, 86 percent of respondents believed that “Wall Street and lobbyists have too much influence in Washington”; 79 percent believed that “the gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is too large”; 71 percent believed that “executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 should be prosecuted”; and 68 percent believed that “the rich should pay more in taxes.” Closer to the epicenter, the mission is clearer and public support even stronger. A Quinnipiac poll of New York City voters released this week found that nearly three-quarters said that they understood the protesters’ views at least fairly well, two-thirds said that they agreed with those views, nearly 9 in 10 said that it was O.K. “that they are protesting” and nearly three-quarters said that as long as the protesters obey the laws that they should be able to remain as long as they wish. The Occupy Wall Street protests may or may not grow into a political force pursuing a specific legislative agenda through normal systems, but there can be little doubt at this point that the protests have struck a chord with a large swath of Americans. If nothing else, the movement has established itself as a cultural phenomenon with surprising staying power, and as someone who wasn’t sure that it would catch hold, I must echo the young woman in the restaurant: that’s just cool.”


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