Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Random Thoughts on #Occupywallstreet

Being in NYC right now is pretty fascinating timing, from the events surrounding the commemoration of the decade since 9/11 to the helicopter crash yesterday to the string of sexual assaults in Brooklyn to #occupywallstreet.  I've been down to #occupywallstreet a few times as an observer.  I say that for reasons that will hopefully become clear after reading my observations below.

Also, while I shouldn't have to say it, the opinions on my blog are my own and not that of my employer, those providing the fellowship that allows me to live in NYC, or anyone else on the planet.  Got it?  Good.

Is confusion an emotion?  When I think of the primary thing I feel about everything happening, confusion is what I feel most (with some sadness and anger thrown in).
  • Saturday, September 24, was the day that protestors were maced as they walked north.  Here's the thing that starts my confusion.  I was leaving my place to get lunch somewhere when I got to Broadway and saw the march.  But I didn't know what the march was for.  Some of the signs were clearly about Wall Street, but this was the weekend after Troy Davis was executed in Georgia, and a good half of the signs carried by the marchers were about justice for Troy Davis, so I thought the march was about that.  Also, I was apparently about two or three blocks before they were maced, but the police I saw looked so bored that I thought the group had a parade permit and that officers were following along, cordoning off traffic, and moving everyone to Washington Square Park (I heard later that they were trying to get to Union Square).  Then, later, I heard about the mace or pepper spray and that it was the #occupywallstreet group.  Hence, the start of my confusion.
  • The park this is serving as headquarters is a private park catty-corner from the World Trade Center.  It's an expanse of cement with a few trees here and there.  I am curious as to why they chose a private park and not, say, the public park at City Hall.  It's just as close to Wall Street and can hold more people.  The group has looked the same the last few days, with a couple of hundred people looking like they are in the group sleeping there.  And hundreds of other join in at various moments, especially the marches (see below, though).  The guy who owns the park was on the news saying that he's cool with everything, but I'm betting this is going to end when he decides to shut down the park.  I'm also wondering if he's going to end up putting a fence around it (like most of the public parks in the city).  And if there is any violence in the park, will he be liable since he owns the land?
  • People regularly drive by and yell some version of "Get a job!" to the crowd.  At first, people would yell back.  Today, no one responded.  The police kind of chuckled, but their eyes were looking at the crowd, wondering, I am just assuming, if things would escalate, but it's become a bit ordinary, I think, to hear people drive by and yell that they should all get jobs.
  • And this gets at another point of confusion that leads to sadness.  The signs that are printed say "99% work for the 1%."  Anyone see the potential problem in framing it that way?  On the local news, the protesters who are on camera are ones who talk about having a job but living paycheck to paycheck or just not being able to pay their bills after working forty hours a week.  A minor skirmish I happened to see on Monday was between a homeless person telling a group of these people that they should be happy they have a job.  A few people started raising their voices to the homeless guy, but most people looked a little freaked out, including me.  I get why the homeless man was upset.  He's hearing people complain about working, and he wants to work.  But the workers protesting are right to protest.  Still, I have started to wonder about the whole 99% nomenclature and if people think of that group as containing only people who work and earn money for the 1% or everyone who is not the 1%.  I'm betting there's a lack of consistency.  Actually, I'm betting most people haven't thought about it that deeply.  But a fight between protesters and the homeless would be a really bad idea.  That dust-up got shut down fast, and I wonder if there have been more.
  • And now the anger.  Recently, there have been at least ten sexual assaults in Brooklyn.  It looks like two men are involved.  Obviously, a lot of people are upset by this, and I should probably write a separate post on it, especially the way that SlutWalk has been brought into this.  Today, at 6:00, there is going to be a march in Brooklyn about these assaults.  I got the email about it last week.  Then, #occupywallstreet decided to have another march today at 5:30.  I think they have been wanting to do something during the week when Wall Street employees are actually around.  Now, it happens that groups plan events that overlap, especially since each is about something happening right now.  I plan to go to Brooklyn for that march, and anyone who knows me should not be surprised one bit that I would choose that one.  When I was there this morning, and someone passing out flyers about today's march tried to hand one to me, I said, "No, thanks.  I know about it, but I'll actually be at the Brooklyn Rally against Sexual Assault."  His response?  "This is more important."  I say, "I think both are important."  He said, "We need people more."  I knew to keep my cool and just said, "Do you want to say that to any of the journalists around here?"  And we walked away from each other.  I left soon after.  I know that people will have their own reasons to choose one over the other if they would normally attend both, but to say that one is more important?  To say to me (and, yeah, the guy didn't know me, but still) that sexual assault is something "less than"?  What an ass.  And I know he is an individual ass, and his views are not necessarily the views of others, but it did piss me off.  Maybe I should have lied or kept quiet, but I honestly thought that we were all kind of on the same side.  I was wrong.  But, really, don't pick fights with the homeless or sexual assault survivors.
  • Two other random things.  First, it smells great down there now because all the food trucks are all situated along the south side of the park.  Second, the vendors have shown up, including a guy who has a table of bronze or brass bulls like the one on Wall Street.  Really?  Do you think these protestors want to take a replica of the bull home to remember this?  Ah, capitalism (which is what this all comes down anyway, I guess).
  • Oh, one other important thing.  I have been taking photos, but I decided today that I will not post them online.  In fact, I may delete them.  Why?  This has already become a tourist attraction, and there are tons of people with cameras around, and people are starting to make signs that say some version of, "Please do not exploit us by taking our pictures."  And that hit me.  I felt uneasy taking photos of people as I usually do, which is why so few of the photos I ever take are of people, and seeing that sign today made me flinch, but I immediately agreed.  The computer where I do my photo work is at home, so I have posted nothing yet, but I planned to do so.  I even have a photo where a woman to the side is wrapped up in a sleeping bag and drinking coffee from Starbucks.  I admit I was going to post that photo with a comment about the irony of it, but I thought of that as only a giggle and nothing to be that critical of.  But seeing that sign about exploitation made me remember one of the basic points of visual rhetoric.  If I post a photo, someone could publish it somewhere.  It happens all the time since I use a Creative Commons license, and my photos are usually background or used like stock images would be used (most recently, a real estate company wanted to use this one, for example).  But I suddenly got the image in my head of someone taking that photo of the woman with Starbucks, cropping it, and somehow creating an image to promote hypocrisy.  I don't want that to happen.  I actually think that the Starbucks coffee along with the pizzas and Subway sandwiches are often donated.  I've seen people walk into the group of people actually staying there 24/7 to bring food and drink.  But, yeah, me just posting random photos on Flickr could lead to exploitation.  I know a lot of people are doing it, and it's not something I think everyone should stop doing.  We need to images.  But I'm going to leave their creation and distribution to those who have been invested in this from the beginning and not just some basic tourist like me who has spent less than a few hours watching over a couple of weeks.
Now, I admit that I have not read a lot about #occupywallstreet online because I have barely been online these past few weeks, so I'm not sure what issues have or have not been mentioned elsewhere.  I have watched the local NYC and national news (since I'm also living without cable, and there's really nothing else to watch at 6:00 PM).  Frankly, I imagine what has been said in the media contains several versions of truth.

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