Tag Archives: activism

The Revolution That Got Away: Occupy Wall Street Four Years On

Sometime ago a small publication appeared, a pamphlet, apparently written for the needs of those who undertake cultural trips through Europe – of whatever use such a brochure could possibly be. It offered a concise catalogue of artistic festivals during this particular summer and the autumn as well. The reason for such a scheme is obvious: it permits the cultural traveller to divide his time and to seek out that which he thinks will be of interest to him – in short, he can plan his trip according to the same principle which lies behind the organization of these festivals: they are all embraced and controlled by a single comprehensive organization. Inherent in the idea of the festival, however, and of the artistic festival as well, no matter how secularized and weakened it might be, is the claim to something unique, to the emphatic event which is not fungible. Festivals are to be celebrated as they come; they are not to be organized only from the perspective of avoiding overlapping. Administrative reason which takes control of them and rationalizes them banishes festivity from them.

-Theodor Adorno, “Culture and Administration”

Calling out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat…

What exactly was Occupy Wall Street?

It’s been almost four years.

The culture at large seem to have forgotten it insofar as they knew it and those who knew it have repressed it insofar as they couldn’t forget it. The Wikipedia page captures nothing of what it actually was. The excited buildup, the community, the seeming realization of the left in the framework of a Millhauser story-the ones about buildings and amusement parks that grow to almost encompass the entirety of the world til a jealous God burns them to the ground out of spite-everything antithetical to formal histories, lost in the encyclopedia’s protocol whole Earth but present in Zuccotti Park, a town that popped up overnight, a place I could call home that just as soon disappeared while I was sleeping…

The only adequate form to convey what it was might be a love letter, a love letter written by someone young enough to know better than to know better. In writing my memoir of my time there, I stumbled into composing such a letter; my mind kept circling around the park and the women I’d briefly dated whose retrospects were still clouded by magic. For a 22 year old given to the matryoshkas of memory they were the park in miniature and the park was them, in the shared briefness of my association and in the possibilities they suggested by the enormity of the negative space of time before and after their presence, wide open fields where an over-active imagination can skip and curse. I eventually realized my mental relationship to these women was unhealthy and reading those portions of the book now brings on cringes. But the specter of Zuccotti remains and a better metaphor has yet to come to me.

It called out for love letters and all we got were journalists. Many of the journalists refused to go especially far into the park for fear the residents were “dirty.” Many non-journalists refused to explore the park because the people were “dirty.”  At the time this annoyed me. Now, having been out in the world a bit more and having had many unfortunate dealings with these kinds of journalists, I wish I could smell enough like garlic to ward them off without the attendant collateral damage.

The past might be tainted by the indiscretions of the self-proclaimed leadership; the Justin Wedes’, the shadowy self-seriousness of the Media and Accounting work groups that eventually tried to seal themselves off as an administration over the gloriously ordered chaos of the park itself by renting office space, who took a lot of the money and never accounted for how it was spent. But these things don’t seem to bother me much; perhaps I can separate the opportunists from the other aspects of the park because the opportunists generally acted like pompous dicks when I had to deal with them at the Info Table. It was a movement that denied leaders and claims to leadership, that defined itself from the bottom up; the petty actions of an avant-party too chickenshit to call themselves such doesn’t seem especially relevant to the larger story.

The experience of the park itself was America more than America ever realized itself as America; everyone co-existed with common cause but not under the umbrella of a false cordiality or superstructure of capitalism; there were numerous arguments but that’s because it was a place where you could actually argue with people. It was frequently compared to the Tea Party because the possibility of something not contrived by the moneyed was a threat to anyone too afraid to imagine there could be something that could work on anything besides the rationalizations on which they’d constructed their banal existences.

It took me a while to readjust to the outside world afterward. Society outside the park ran on carefully polite presentations of mutual disinterest between people who’d probably rather not have anything to do with each other, who denigrate as “not realistic” anything that stands in the way of their uninspired grabs for small amounts of power and the comfort of ignorance.

Ye shall know them by their call: “Get a job you fucking hippies!”

I’d try to describe what it was like to be there but it was like describing a UFO landing. Except because it was on the news so much, the listener was put in the uncomfortable position of not being able to write me off immediately as being crazy. In the park boomersplaining, wherein the generation that sold us out tried to explain how to protest, was present but it was recognized for the cynical garbage that it was and is. On the outside, the boomers have (some of) the money; the boomers remembered their failed revolution as simply an excitement of their youth to be written off with long condescending monologues reinforced to the level of unconscious conspiracy. They’d never wanted more from the world than tiny versions of themselves to reassure them on major holidays they weren’t going to die alone. Like they took the nonsensical Keynesian reassurances that “the market will come back around”, they took the privilege of the unprecedented economic opportunity of the time and place they were born as false legitimation of the rightness of their imparted “wisdom.”

This may seem like an unfair generalization. Not all boomers boomersplain, but then not all men mansplain either.

The promise of a world devoid of this bullshit, where the vapid cruelty of a narcissistic populace could be confronted head on by anyone willing to sit in a park and display the will to resist in whatever means they could muster or contribute, difficult and contentious as it sometimes was, paranoid as it often got, as unkempt and sprawling as it ended up, despite the eventual heartbreak of a brutal and coordinated crackdown by the powers that be that was cheered on by the blowhards, was the beauty of Occupy Wall Street.