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occupy wall street: a personal narrative

What is Occupy Wall Street?

The website does a pretty good job (I’ve bolded the parts that are most relevant):

Occupy Wall Street is a people-powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. #ows is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.

The occupations around the world are being organized using a non-binding consensus based collective decision making tool known as a “people’s assembly”. To learn more about how to use this process to organize your local community to fight back against social injustice, please read this quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies.

Personally, I hadn’t thought much about my own role in Occupy Wall Street until I actually went down there. Two documentarians I know had asked me to help interview and record people at Zucotti Park on 15 October. He gave me a DSLR camera to document the filming process, which was amazing because simultaneously placed a bit of a buffer between me and what was happening but also got me just a little closer to the action.

The scene at the park was not quite what I was expecting. It had a pretty even mix of a tented sleeping area that reminded me a music festival, it had large spaces on either end for speeches, there were food carts, drum circles, musicians, and an area in the middle that provides quality food to all those involved with OWS. There was also a library, electrical outlets for computers and generators and a multitude of people walking through any of these areas at all given times, talking to each other and somehow documenting what was going on. It was exciting to be a part of it on that level alone, to be swept up in something that felt bigger than myself.

As the day went on, I found out that 15 October was the chosen date by most of New York City to “Occupy Times Square”, which meant a long march from the middle of Manhattan back downtown to another park to celebrate several new cities — global and international — joining the Occupy movement.

The people we talked to were there for different reasons. The crowd, to me, was the absolutely most interesting part of the entire experience. The group of people was totally varied, ranging from hippies, to journalists and photographers, to “baby boomers” i.e. people our parents’ ages, to quite elderly, to suits, to hipsters, to families (with children!) and everyone in between.

The media here in the U.S. has done a pretty good job of painting the Occupy Wall Street movement as majority dissatisfied youth who have no understanding of how the economic collapse occurred, no tangible goals to be met and no process by which to operate. Some of that is certainly there, but what’s vastly more interesting and important is the fact that all different types of people are coming to support the movement from totally different areas and ideologies because they’re standing up for an idea in which they really believe: a return to democracy is possible, and we’re the ones going to make it happen.

The movement has earned the “decentralized” label rightfully so. But that isn’t a bad thing. All of the conversations that I listened to, documented and participated in were somehow related to the economic crisis that has been affecting the U.S. for most of recent past, but the most amazing part was that each of these people were coming at it from different angles. During the day and night I was there, I talked to people who were concerned about things like the effects of global warming, the alleged illegitimacy of 9/11, libertarian politician Ron Paul‘s main ideas, the legitimacy of the United States Federal Reserve bank, dissatisfaction with student loan debt, religious issues, gender issues and a host of other topics.

This unity is the singular greatest achievement of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The organizers and participants are achieving something much more important beyond standard protocol of a protest. They’re building social, political and cultural power from the ground up by having legitimate conversations, the free-flowing exchange of information and ideas, about complicated aspects of the U.S. government and economy that the general citizen spends the majority of their lives ignoring.

Part of my fascination with my experience at Occupy Wall Street comes from the impeccable organization and structuring of the movement. Although there is no defined leader (again contributing to the “decentralized” label), the logistical organization is clear as soon as you walk into the park. The more time I spent there, the more I realized that this large group of people working in shifts were there to make sure that the protestors are taken care of so that the conversations don’t stop. On a more organizational level, the “human mic” method of communication or “people’s assembly” methodology the OWS website mentioned was amazing to me. This video does a good job at explaining how powerful that was to see in person because it recalls a sense of democracy in the truest sense of the word. Also, it has to be mentioned: the social media channels help participants reinforce the communicative methods, constantly being updated to let people know where to go, when to go, who to meet and what to do.

After I had spent some time there, I was ready to join the conversation and bring people in my daily life who remained unaware into it. I am not sure that this was a conscious or subconscious effect of everything I experienced that day, but the conversations about Occupy Wall Street outside of Wall Street brought a generally polarized reaction. What I mean by that is when I am in New York and talking to the right people, it’s clear that this movement is the biggest revolution of our generation. When I talk to people who don’t care or are ignorant for any reason, it doesn’t matter so much. When I leave New York, I see that there are people who are interested in the movement but unable to really generate a point of view on it. Overall, I think the movement needs to grow more quickly. I believe that exposure through videos like the one I linked to previously and coverage from a media more willing to listen than to judge will help a broader spectrum of people both in the U.S. and abroad understand that what’s happening is really fucking important. Once more people are made aware and motivated into action, the tangible goals of the movement will become defined and actionable change will happen.

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