Occupy Wall Street recently celebrated its one year anniversary from September 15-17 with a group of potheads, balding hippies, fake punks, and students "occupying" various locations from Washington Square Park in the East Village to Zuccotti Park in the Financial District. While the movement certainly dwindled in size since last fall, Occupy’s base and core mission seemed to have remained relatively constant. What exactly is Occupy's core mission? VICE sent Jonathan Krohn into the fray to find this out.
Tea Partiers wear tri-cornered hats. Occupiers hold snake staffs. (Photos by Jonathan Krohn)
Occupy’s message is unclear. It’s so unclear, in fact, that its participants have no idea why the fuck they’re there. While the general “issue” being protested seemed to be the influence of extensive private funding in politics, none of the participants seemed to actually have a grasp of what that means and how it should be fixed. Last Monday, I went down to lower Manhattan to engage in the festivities of the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and discovered that things were just as if not more unclear than they were 12 months ago.
The first protestor I spoke with was a scrawny, polo-wearing representative of the Coffee Party—an organization that apparently focuses solely on the issue of, you guessed it, coffee—explained that his group wanted to get rid of all private funding and replace it solely with the amazingly flawed system that is the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Wearing a scraggly beard and thick, round glasses, he handed me a flyer listing Koch-brother-backed companies whose products I should not buy. (Because, you know, a college student boycotting Dixie cups is totally going to diminish the wealth of two of America’s wealthiest men.)
Another man at the protest explained that he too would like to see an end to pay-for-play politics, but that he wanted the political process to be completely divorced from all major private and public funding. When asked who would fund the necessary (but admittedly flawed) inner-mechanics of ensuring diversity in government, he said only those in the middle- and lower-income brackets should pay. And I’m sure there was probably another person or two loitering around the front of the Goldman Sachs building or Bank of America who would’ve told me everyone else I had interviewed were moles from the government sent to disrupt OWS’s finely honed plans.
On the other hand, an angry, middle-aged “anarchist” angrily discussed how people shouldn’t eat at Dunkin Donuts because “every time you go there there’s a cop there who’s getting fatter and fatter [and] they probably just beat a protestor up.”
Another segment of the protestors seemed entirely hell-bent on pissing off the police. For instance, when I first arrived at Zuccotti Park with the Occupiers I watched a blond, middle-aged woman attempt to set up a loudspeaker. Of course, a cop walked up and simply attempted to explain to her that you can’t just set up a loudspeaker in a public place—never mind at night, in the middle of the biggest city in the country—whenever the hell you want. She began throwing like she was a baby whose pacifier came out of her mouth while in a high chair, shouting for her fellow Occupiers to take down his badge numbers.
It should be noted that America has a rich tradition of important, issue-oriented Left-wing movements responsible for important, achievements that have resulted in true progress: the Civil Rights movement, anti-war protests during Vietnam, the Labor Day marches in New York during the Depression, the woman’s suffrage and feminists movements, the passage of welfare reform by LBJ, and the United Auto Worker’s strike in the mid-30s that led to the union’s recognition by Detroit automakers, or any of the other dozens of strikes and protests of the 20th century. Even the most hardline of American activists, such as the Abraham Lincoln American Brigade that fought to defeat Franco’s fascist army during the Spanish Civil War, have had laudable success. And, yes, even the passage of the Health Care Act by President Obama is one of the nation’s finest hours in terms of the pliability of the US government and public interest.
The above is the list to which a lot of people, including the Occupiers themselves, wish to add Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots. But for doing what? Sitting in a park? Redirecting police manpower at the probable expense of taxpayers? Shouting stupid slogans like “4,5,6, fuck the bourgeoisie?” Smoking pot? Dressing horribly and not bathing? What has Occupy Wall Street really accomplished to qualify it as a bona fide and important Left-wing movement?
Some argue that the movement has already realized many of its goals, chiefly bringing awareness to a neglected and disenfranchised segment of the population, and the incorporation of their vernacular—“the 99 percent,” etc.— into the language of the mainstream. But isn’t that argument a bit fallacious? If you’re representing all but 1 percent of the population, how can you possibly claim that everyone has been ignoring you for far too long?
Occupy Wall Street “occupying” the Bowling Green
Since the movement began last September, a lot of commentators have enumerated the similarities of Occupy and the Tea Party. Having experienced both of them personally (indeed, having spoken at Tea Parties in my previous life as a Conservative writer), I feel somewhat qualified to say that this is a valid comparison.
On the Tea Party circuit, when I said things like “Obama is not a socialist” or “Nancy Pelosi isn’t a communist” or “Obama was born in the US” the dumbfounded expressions I received in response are the exact same looks I got when I told Occupiers that it isn’t a good idea to yell “fuck you, pig” in a cop’s face unless you wish to be arrested and possibly whacked with a nightstick. (This look is called “confusion,” by the way.)
What’s more, neither Occupiers nor Tea Partiers are issue-oriented. While Occupy protests are centered around chants like “1,2,3,4, this is fucking class war,” Tea Party rallies focus on slogans like “T.E.A.: Taxed Enough Already.” The former group claims that the problem is Wall Street; the latter claims that the problem is Washington, D.C. and big government. And while both point out various “problems”—the massive deficit, how the political machine is funded, too many wars, taxes that are too high, etc.—neither side offers constructive solutions because the complexity of these issues cannot be distilled in a fucking nursery rhyme or acronym dads say to feel smart.
In short, your bowels probably have better movements and more conviction than the great majority of the incredibly-angry-but-probably-not-too-bright protesting against wide swaths of foreign and domestic economic policies (and whatever spillover that entails).
Because computers are too mainstream for a group that maintains an official website and Twitter feed.
So what does Occupy really stand for as it celebrates its one-year anniversary? Nothing, as far as I can tell. Unless you count doing a disservice to more than a century of great Left-wing movements and, quite frankly, being all but a personal affront to the great men and women of the Left—from Elizabeth Stanton to JFK. What is Occupy? It’s a self-serving group of wanna-be, fake Leftists who have helped Americans forget what being “on the Left” really means. Figure it out, dudes, and soon.
Jonathan Krohn is a writer, nerd, indie filmmaker, and humorist. He collects comic books and watches lots of sci-fi, anime, and classic films. He thinks Kevin Smith is overrated and that the Star Wars prequels sucked. George Carlin is probably his guardian angel.