The “Occupy” Movement Celebrates A Birthday

For those of you who somehow forgot, today’s a special day:  the first birthday of the “Occupy movement.”

The Occupiers celebrated the big day by staging some protests in lower Manhattan.  About a thousand protesters gathered and tried to block access to the New York Stock Exchange and various office buildings, and about 150 were arrested for disturbing the peace.  The stock market and other capitalistic activities went on undeterred, but one Occupier was enthusiastic about the turnout.  “It is encouraging getting 1,000 people out to do anything,’’ he said.

It’s hard to believe that the “Occupy movement” started only a year ago.  For a time the media and some politicians acted like the “Occupy movement” was going to be the next big wave, and there was a seeming obsession with breathless reporting about how the Zuccotti Park protestors engaged in self-government, used the “human megaphone,” and had drummers pounding away day and night.  It seems like ancient history now, doesn’t it?  What was supposed to be the next big thing now can only command a thousand protestors to commemorate a big day for the “movement” — and you’d be hard pressed to identify anything that was truly accomplished as a result of the urban encampments and drumming.

There may still be “Occupy” activities going on somewhere in Columbus, but if so I haven’t seen or heard of them.  On its first birthday, it seems like there’s not much movement in that “movement.”

A Curious Course

Sometimes you have to wonder about the intellectual rigor and objectivity of college courses.

A new class to be offered by Columbia University will focus on the Occupy Wall Street protests.  The course, called “Occupy the Field: Global Finance, Inequality, Social Movement,” will be offered by the anthropology department and taught by Dr. Hannah Appel, who is a veteran of the Occupy protests.  Appel says she will be able to be objective about the protests — but according to the article the class will require students to become involved with the Occupy protests outside the classroom.

I’m not sure how objective a course can be when it requires students to become involved with the “movement” being studied.  That fact, alone, makes the course seem like more of a recruiting device than a true academic exercise.  And what, exactly, is going to be studied in the classroom?  News clippings about protests that lasted for a few months in which only an infinitesimal fraction of Americans participated?  Or, how many of the “Occupy” sites had problems with crime?  Or, how the “Occupy” protesters developed their “mike check” technique?

The “Occupy” protests have been called a “movement” by some, but I think there’s no real basis for that characterization so far.  There’s no comparison between a few protesters huddled in a few parks and the long-term, broad-based, mass activities that characterized the civil rights movement, or the temperance movement, or the women’s suffrage movement.  At this point, are the “Occupy” protests really any more deserving of study than other short-lived fringe political activities in America, like declaring “nuclear-free zones” or “sanctuary cities”?

Zuccotti Park, After OWS

Today we were in lower Manhattan and decided to drop in on Zuccotti Park, lately the home of the Occupy Wall Street gang.  You can find it in the financial district, very close to the location of the Freedom Tower and the 9/11 Memorial.

Zuccotti Park has a sign that says “Open to the public” but, ironically, it was totally blocked off from public access by temporary fencing — presumably because it was being cleaned by a guy riding a street sweeper machine — and there was a significant police presence in the immediate area.  The area also featured a decorated Christmas tree and lots of holiday lighting, rather than tents, so it didn’t bear any resemblance to the encampment of protesters that was the subject of so much media attention.

Still, we could make a few observations.  First, Zuccotti Park is not really much of a “park.”  Instead, I would call it a plaza.  It’s almost entirely covered with concrete and stone, with stone benches and a few trees.  It couldn’t have been a comfortable place to camp, or sleep.  Second, it’s much smaller than I thought it would be — a small square, really.  It’s hard to imagine it was the site of dozens of tents, a working chow line, and so forth.

The Occupy Wall Streeters appear to be largely gone from their former headquarters, although I did see a few people with signs — including one guy who seemed to be protesting Occupy Wall Street and what its leaders had done with the money they received in contributions.

Black Friday Showdown: “Occupiers” Versus Shoppers

According to news reports, some “Occupy” protesters are calling for “occupation” of outlets of large, publicly traded retailers — that is, virtually every store found in America — tomorrow.  If it happens, it would set up a monumental clash of the titans on the biggest shopping day of the year:

Ladies and gentlemen:  Welcome to the Black Friday throw down!

In this corner, a ragtag band of “Occupy Wall Street” protesters with a bad case of “bed head.”  They’re scruffy, angry, and utterly convinced of the righteousness of their cause. 

And in this corner, legions of amped-up holiday shoppers.  They’ve been up for hours, they’ve chugged gallons of black coffee, and they’re gunning to get all of their holiday shopping done in one stressful 18-hour period. 

The contest has begun!  The Occupy protesters have blocked the door to the Wal-Mart!  They’re doing their annoying human microphone shtick and trying to explain why large corporations suck.

 But the shoppers aren’t listening!  They’ve formed a flying wedge of shopping carts handled by angry plus-sized women who want to take advantage of the big Black Friday sales!  They’re ramming the Occupy protesters.  Wait just a minute!  Some of the shoppers have fainted from that special “Occupy” odor!  And the “Occupiers” are demanding free stuff from the shoppers!

Ladies and gentlemen, the confrontation has turned into a general melee.  The shoppers are clubbing the Occupy protesters with their heavy purses!  But now a phalanx of “Occupy” drummers has entered the fray!  Their loud, discordant drumming has momentarily stunned the shoppers!  Hold on a moment — the shoppers have regrouped!  They’re slashing at the Occupy protesters with the edges of their credit cards, and the Occupy protesters are giving way . . . .

If the “Occupy” protesters follow through with a Black Friday attempt to occupy stores, I’m betting on the shoppers.

Zuccotti Park Debris

New York City sanitation workers have been sifting through the debris removed from Zuccotti Park when the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters were evicted by police — and in the process are helping to flesh out the tale of the protests.

In all, 26 dump trucks of material was removed from the park.  (Twenty-six dump trucks!  The protesters must have been doing some serious accumulating and consuming.)   The people charged with sorting through the pile of refuse found at least two dozen hypodermic needles, rotted food, discarded personal belongings, and lots of broken glass.  There was so much broken glass mixed in with the other items that workers had to stop protesters looking for their stuff from sifting through the debris pile, so as to avoid injury.

Life at Camp Zuccotti sounds like it was pretty dangerous and dreadful in the days before the police closed it down.  I wonder how many of the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters secretly were relieved when the police took action, so the protesters had an excuse to leave the squalor and go back to their parents’ suburban homes for a hot shower, a hot meal, and a good night’s sleep?

Checking In On “Occupy Columbus”

This morning I walked over to the Statehouse to check out the “Occupy” protest, Columbus version.  It’s changed a little since my first visit.  Big doings were planned today for the Occupy Wall Street folks in NYC, so I thought the Columbus chapter might also be kicking into gear.  That turned out not to be the case.

As the photo I took indicates, the Columbus encampment is small and shabby — a few tents, a few wooden pallets, a cooler or two, a few garbage cans, and some stray signage fastened to steel fencing on the sidewalk in front of the Ohio Statehouse.  At least one of the tents was occupied, but no one was out chanting or doing anything else.  It was cold, so maybe the Occupy protesters decided that tapping on their laptop keyboards inside the tents was the smarter course.  The people waiting at the nearby bus stop, who far outnumbered anybody huddled in the tents, were trying to stay warm in a brisk wind and weren’t paying much attention to the Occupy folks, anyway.

The whole point of the Occupy protests still seems pretty obscure to me.  The signage at the Columbus camp didn’t provide much clarification, either.  Here were the signs that were visible this morning:  “The finest democracy money can buy,” “Monopolies kill off competition,” “Kill your TV and Do Your Research,” “Integrate the Federal Reserve,” and “Commercialized Culture TV, Radio, Music, Art, Religion.”  Is there a common, articulable theme in those signs, other than reflexive opposition to whatever might attract their attention?

Camp Closure

Overnight New York City police cleared Zuccotti Park, home to the Occupy Wall Street protesters.  According to the police, the decision was precipitated by health and fire safety concerns and allegations of criminal activity — the same issues that seem to have plagued the OWS camps elsewhere.

From news reports, it appears that most of the protesters left peacefully, although a number of them resisted and were arrested.  Some of the protesters chained themselves to trees and other objects in the park.  After the park is cleared of all of the tents, tarps, and debris and restored to its original condition, protesters apparently will be allowed back — but not allowed to stay overnight or set up an encampment.

After the last protesters are removed this morning, three questions will remain to be answered.  First, will the OWS protests continue with the Zuccotti Park semi-permanent headquarters closed down?  Second, what kind of stuff was found in the debris removed from the park?  And third, who gets the thousands of dollars that apparently were contributed in support of the OWS protests?

Edited to add:  A judge has upheld the city’s decision to evict the protesters and to refuse the erection of tents and other structures in the park.