- Published on Sunday, 16 October 2011 01:00
- Category: Letters From OccupyAmerica
Friday morning’s scheduled confrontation between OccupyWallStreet protesters and Mayor Bloomberg’s Police Department was averted in the wee hours, with the Mayor rescinding eviction threats and allowing protesters to remain camped out in Zuccotti Park. Interestingly, announcement of this high visibility reversal came not from the Mayor, who was described as “appearing frustrated.” Rather, it came from Deputy Mayor, Cas Holloway.
Much like Tahrir Square, whose protesters utilized both traditional and social media to bypass President Mubarak, so, too, did New York protesters utilize these media to circumvent the Mayor. In a city beholden to Wall Street revenues for its tax base and financial well-being; in a city whose Mayor made his billion dollar plus fortune catering to Wall Street’s wants and needs, such a crucial policy reversal was no small thing. Instead, it may be the first visible crack in an American political system which no longer represents its constituents.
Still, there was one added element which tipped the battle: support for the protesters by the AFL-CIO and other unions. Latecomers to the battle, the unions were nevertheless wholehearted in their embrace. Late Thursday night and early Friday morning, with the scheduled eviction just hours off, union leaders sent out mass, emergency e-mails, urging members to stand by the protesters at Zuccotti Park. Despite a seemingly epic thunder and rainstorm, hundreds of members responded – and it doing so transformed the nature of the occupation. The protesters were no longer just a bunch of kids who had overstayed their welcome and were being evicted by reasonable if long forbearing adults. Rather, they were a microcosm of America – young and old, black and white, those with jobs and those who can not get one in today’s economy.
The “kids,” if we can so call them, played it smart, too. The alleged reason the Mayor and Brookfield Properties, the park’s proprietor, gave for throwing out them out was to “clean it up”. The park had gotten too dirty, too unsanitary, too dangerous they alleged. Like any good set of parents, the Mayor and Brookfield Properties, (on whose board, incidentally, the Mayor’s live-in girlfriend sits) only wanted to set things right. But the kids beat them to it – sweeping up the park, hosing it down, and even hand-scrubbing the park fixtures more diligently than the hired help would ever do.
No doubt, few protesters are so clean at home. But, driven by idealism and a newfound sense of collectivity, they were ultra-clean here. Or, as Steve Sachs of Hightstown, N.J., told the New York Times, “I did not come here to look for a fight. I’ve never been in a fight in my life. I’ve never been arrested. But I was ready to be arrested over this.”
Like the unions, TV news also came belatedly to the scene – but once there, covered the story with gusto. The narrative became the good, clean kids, their ranks reinforced by hundreds of every day, working Americans, doing their best to help right a country their often corrupt elders had brought to the very edge – while their elders threatened them with a brutal crackdown. What kind of outcry would have been generated – not only in New York but across the U.S. or even in the Arab world- had the police charged against such protesters peacefully locked arm in arm. Wouldn’t it have been, once more, Sheriff Bull Connor and his dogs charging the unarmed black protesters in the Jim Crow South?
Of course, not all protesters were clean and peaceful. Unruly protesters and crazies infiltrating a mass, is often inevitable in a grass roots movement. Having won the battle of Zuccotti park, some followed up with a march on Wall Street - and were arrested. That number, however, was in the dozens, not in the hundreds.
The upshot of all this, then, was that in New York City, as in Tahrir Square, traditional leaders lost at least some legitimacy to the protesters’ non-violent tactics and resonant message. Whether or not well-financed government leaders have the ability or desire to prove that Wall Street honchos have broken the law, the heart of the protest remains true: that these Wall Street honchos and their business counterparts have broken an ethical agreement with their fellow citizens. They have tilted the table so far in their favor that all sense of fairness, of equal opportunity, of the chance to make good have been lost to despair.
Here, as in Tahrir Square, that desperation has transformed into action. Nearly all who have witnessed Egyptian and Libyan and Syrian protesters beaten and even murdered by leaders who purportedly represent them viscerally felt the protesters’ desperation. Can the OccupyWallStreet protesters connect as viscerally with the rest of the world, communicating the outrage about our well being, and about our very survival?
Just how these protests transform American politics – just what their effect will be on the 2012 elections and beyond – remain to be seen. But one thing is sure. In America, as in the Arab world, the genie has escaped the bottle. And there is no putting it back.By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist